Friday 18 August 2023

The Snip

Photo by Anton Kudryashov on Pexels

By Ruth Ajawu

Today, I am finally going to become a woman!

“Zinnia!”, I hear my mother yell from inside. “You’re wasting my time.”

“I’m coming Mother.” I respond. 

I hastily gather the pretty yellow flowers I just cut from the garden behind our house and hurry in. 

I have a strong affinity to flowers: I love how lovely they smell. I love how beautiful they look, and I make sure to never leave home without placing fresh flowers in the house. I stop at the kitchen and replace the dying flowers in the big red vase on the wooden table with the fresh flowers I brought in. I step back to admire my handiwork with a big smile on my face. Today is going to be a good day.

It is an extra special day today not because it is my birthday, but because I am turning the ripe old age of 12. This means I finally get to experience the rite of passage into womanhood. 

From a very young age, every girl child in my community is told about the glorious experience that awaits us on the day we become 12 years old. It is said that no one can be called a woman until they have successfully gone through the process which is known as ‘The Snip’.  

I always wondered why it was named that, but it is taboo for any woman to give young girls any details of The Snip. I heard if anyone is caught disclosing any information about it, they will have to go through the process again. The women hush the whole process up and that adds so much intrigue to it. All they tell us is that it is the only way to preserve our purity and chastity, and to guarantee our eligibility for marriage and childbirth. 

I head into my room to see mother has already laid out my white dress on the bed for me to wear. For some reason, it is compulsory to wear a white dress for The Snip. It is said that it signifies our purity, yet another thing I do not understand. Maybe I can finally get answers to all my questions about The Snip today.

After I put on the dress, my mother and I walk hand in hand to the ‘Purity Chamber’ where The Snip always happens. The clouds are clear, the sun is shining brilliantly, the flowers are in full bloom, the grass seems greener than ever, it feels like nature is as excited as I am about today.

My mother is holding my hand in a death grip so I let her know it hurts. She releases my hand and apologises with a tight smile that doesn’t quite reach her eyes. 

“What’s wrong Mother?” I ask her. “You don’t seem excited about today.”  

“I’m happy for you, my beautiful Zinnia.” She answers. "I am just sad that once you become a woman, you can get married at any time and leave me all alone with your father and brothers.”

I do not know how to respond to that so I just give her a hug. I really hope I do not get married soon. I still want to spend a few years at home with my mother before having to become a mother myself.

The closer we get to the Purity Chamber, the higher my excitement level. I am skipping ahead of my mother to get there faster. I am so giddy with delight. 

The red roof finally comes into view. I have always thought this was the prettiest building in the community: with its brilliant white walls always gleaming in the sun and its extremely tall fences that can sometimes look a bit intimidating. From as young as I can remember, I have always wanted to see the interior of the building. Unfortunately, no one is allowed in except it is your turn for The Snip.

My mother knocks on the towering black gate and a sturdy looking older woman opens it for us. She lets me in but refuses my mother's entry.

“What’s happening?” I ask in confusion. “Mother, are you not going to be with me?

My mother kneels before me and holds my face in her hands. 

“It’s alright my love.” She gives me a sad smile. “This is something you have to do on your own, but I will be waiting right here for you okay?”

I nod my head in response.

“Remember, this is for your own good.”, she says. “If you don’t do this, you will be impure, unfit for marriage, and you will be bringing shame and disgrace to the family.”

“I know all these, Mother.” I say confidently. “I will not let you down.”

My mother gives me a kiss and a long tight hug then lightly pushes me ahead. 

The woman shuts the gate with a resounding bang and orders me to follow the path ahead while she walks closely behind me. The compound is really big and surprisingly bare. There is nothing in it except the one building with the red roof. 

The walk from the gate to the building is quite lengthy. My heart is beating fast, like I just ran a race. I don’t know if I am excited or nervous, I just want to see what is in store for me. 

As I get near the door of the building, I hear a deafening scream from inside the building. I immediately turn to the woman behind me and ask her what that is. She ignores me and pushes me to the door. It is a wooden door that has been painted brown. She brings out the keys to unlock the door and I hear another scream. My skin pebbles with goosebumps and I consider running back the way I came. She unlocks the door and tells me to enter, but I am reluctant. She picks up my hand and roughly drags me in, then quickly locks the door. 

The first thing that hits me is a distinctive metallic smell. It takes me a while to realise its blood, the entire place smells of blood. I look around and see that I am in a white room with cracked walls and peeling paint. There are two doorways facing me, two on my right, and two on my left: six doorways altogether. Contrary to its pretty exterior, the purity chamber is quite ugly on the inside. 

There is a pile of what looks like surgical instruments on the floor beside the door I came in through, they look unclean and some are even rusty. 

I hear another scream: it is muffled this time and somehow scarier than the previous ones. The woman that brought me in bends by the pile of instruments and selects a few, then stands up and grabs my hand again. She drags me to one of the doorways on the right and moves the curtain aside to reveal a dark musty room with a small narrow bed at its centre. I notice the bed has ropes attached to its headboard and footboard. Before I can fully ponder on why the ropes are there, the woman starts pushing me to the bed. I begin to struggle but she is stronger than I am and easily overpowers me. She pushes me to the bed and sits on me to keep me still. She then begins to tie me to the bed one limb after the other, starting from my arms to my legs.

I am so scared I begin to cry. Is this how The Snip is meant to be? Or is something going utterly wrong with mine? This is definitely not shaping out to be the ‘glorious experience’ I was told so much about. 

“Stop crying!” the woman retorts, disgust clear in her voice. “As a girl, this is the only way to bring honour to your family. When you are eventually given away in marriage, this will let your husband and his family know you are pure and can give him many children. Every woman in this community has gone through this, so shut up and make your family proud.”

This oddly strengthens me and I am able to stifle my cries. I have to make my family proud, I will not bring shame to them, I have to secure my future, I can do this. 

I keep repeating this mantra to myself and I feel my confidence slowly creeping back in as she finishes tying me up. That is until the woman takes out a scalpel and pulls up my gown.

“What are you doing?” I scream at her. 

She ignores me and rips off my panties. I begin to scream and struggle with extra vigor, although I am greatly limited because of my tied hands and legs. The woman pauses, calls out for assistance, and waits. 

I hear the curtain at the doorway rustle and two more women step in with stern expressions on their faces. They definitely do not look like they are here to help me or explain to me what on earth is happening here. 

One goes to my right, the other goes to my left. Without any words, they both spread my legs wide open and hold me down so hard I cannot even wiggle. 

“Please!” I beg with tears flowing down my face. “Please just tell me what is going on.”

I get no response. They all ignore me like I did not just speak and continue holding me down. The first woman then spreads open my private part with her fingers. I begin to sob.

“Please. Please. Please. Please. Please!” I cry out continuously till the word begins to lose meaning in my head. 

The woman proceeds to pinch the sensitive pointy thing in my private part, and to my greatest shock, she slashes the top of it off with the scalpel.

Pain like I have never felt before envelops my entire body. 

“Arghhhhhhh!” I let out a great scream and one of the women quickly places her hand on my mouth to muffle it.

I am bleeding. I am screaming and sobbing, shaking and weeping. I am crying and begging them to stop, but they do not.  The woman spreads my private part open again and through my haze of tears and pain, terror grips my heart. What is she going to do next?

She proceeds to start cutting off some of the outer skin of my private part and I cannot take it anymore, I feel my vision get blurry and I black out from the pain. 

When I regain consciousness, my private part is being stitched close. 

This is torture, this is torment, this is agony. 

My voice is hoarse from screaming, my private area is on fire from the mutilation. I am bleeding profusely, and it seems like it will never end.

“Mother.” I utter raspily. “Where is my mother?”

But my mother does not magically appear to save me.

Finally, the two women holding my legs open release it and begin to untie me. I guess it's over. Someone wraps a sheet around me and they all leave the room.

I am crippled with pain. All I can do is stay still and cry, but crying hurts. Everything hurts, even breathing hurts.

After what feels like hours but probably isn’t, someone comes in, lifts me up, and carries me outside. My mother is waiting outside, just like she promised. She rushes towards us and takes me in her arms.

“Why is she still bleeding so much?” I hear her asking the woman as she cradles me in her arms. 

“It should stop soon.” the woman responds. “Not everyone stops bleeding quickly. Just take her home, she will be fine.”

I black out again from the pain.


When I regain consciousness, I realise I am on my bed. My mother’s face is buried in my hair and I hear her muttering the same thing over and over again: “I am so sorry, my beautiful Zinnia.” 

She notices I am awake and gives me a teary smile. 

“Every woman has to be sewn shut if they are to remain pure and eligible for marriage," she says to me. “We have all gone through this. That is the price of being a woman.”

She looks down and her face pales. I'm too weak to ask her what is wrong. I look down but all I see is red. Everything is soaked with my blood.

I black out again, hoping I was able to make her proud.


I regain consciousness to the sound of my mother’s voice talking to someone.

“She is losing too much blood.” I overhear her say in a voice filled with panic. “She should have stopped bleeding by now, it has been almost an hour. What is happening?”

My eyes feel too heavy to open, I feel too weak to breathe, I just want to keep sleeping and not have to wake up.

I think my mother notices that I am awake. She comes to me and takes my hands in hers.

“Forgive me, mama.” I whisper weakly, hoping she can hear me. “I have brought great shame to my family.”

“You’re going to be okay, my beautiful Zinnia.”, she says over and over again. “You’re going to be okay.”

I want to tell her that I don't think I will be okay. I want to tell her that I don't feel so good. I want to tell her that everything hurts. I want to tell her that I love her, and I want to apologize for failing her.

I can't summon the strength to do any of that. Instead, I take what feels like my last breath and think about how excited I was to become a woman.

Today, I failed at becoming a woman.


Female genital mutilation (FGM), also known as female genital cutting or female circumcision, is a deeply concerning practice that involves the partial or complete removal of external female genitalia. It is prevalent in various African countries and some parts of the Middle East and Asia. This harmful tradition is often rooted in cultural and social norms, though it has no medical benefits and can cause serious physical and psychological consequences. 

FGM poses significant risks to the health and well-being of women and girls. The procedure can lead to severe pain, infections, difficulty in urination and menstruation, as well as complications during childbirth, and death. Additionally, the emotional trauma and long-lasting psychological effects of FGM can have a profound impact on a woman's self-esteem and mental health. 

At Shades of us, we stand against all forms of female genital mutilation and call for increased legislation against this harmful practice, social and behavior change communication to end this practices, and justice for victims of this gruesome act against the rights and agency of women and girls. 

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