In Bambari, 200 kilometers through rainforest tracks from the capital of the Central African Republic, I met Gertrude Mandaia and Marie Claude Gbaida. Until recently, they had earned a living carrying out female circumcision on girls across their community.
Gertrude and Marie Claude told me that they had felt pressured by tradition to circumcise local girls. But with Mercy Corps’ help had stopped — and persuaded more than 20 others to stop, too.
I asked where the circumcisions were done and how, and they told me of the traditional open air procedure, using razor blades, special knives and no pain killers of any kind. They could earn between £5 and £10 for each girl they circumcised.
But Gertrude and Marie Claude told me they had been scared, and that they had wanted to stop. They had heard of young girls dying during the procedure or soon after, and of other ‘nurses’ who had been prosecuted and jailed for being involved.
So a few months ago, when Gertrude and Marie Claude heard about Mercy Corps’ work on women’s rights and empowerment on the radio, they got in touch.
With our team's help they have formed an association with others who have stopped the traditional practice and are discussing how they can find alternative ways to earn income. They want to start trading in some way, so over the next month Mercy Corps will give them training in good business practice and administration to help them get started — from how to keep basic accounts and manage money to presenting a selling pitch at the market.
I felt privileged to see the work of our team in the Central African Republic firsthand, saving girls from the dangers of female circumcision and helping women like Gertrude and Marie Claude make a new start.