A Ghanaian pop star has revealed the horrific moment she watched her two-day-old baby cousin be ‘cut’ as she calls for better education to combat FGM in countries across Africa.
Noella Wiyaala, 32, is from Funsi, an African village in the Upper West Region of Ghana, and is currently touring British and European music festivals.
While she is now a successful singer, Wiyaala’s life could have gone drastically different if it wasn’t for her mother, who was a victim of FGM, refusing to let her daughters also undergo the ‘barbaric procedure’.
Wiyaala’s mother, who was respected and listened to in the village because of her better education, stood up to the social and cultural pressures.
Yet unfortunately, Wiyaala still didn’t escape all the horrors of FGM, which was outlawed 30 years ago in the UK, and witnessed a ‘cutting’ when she was eleven-years-old.
Noella Wiyaala (pictured), 32, is from Funsi, an African village in the Upper West Region of Ghana, and is currently touring British and European music festivals
Speaking to the MailOnline, the singer described the terror of seeing her two-day-old baby cousin go through FGM at the hands of the tot’s mother’s love rival.
She recalled: ‘A baby girl was born to my auntie and about two days later the senior wife of the husband (he was married to three wives) came into the house where I was staying because my mother was in another village working.’
The little one was placed on the legs of the woman while a basin of hot water sat beneath her feet, before the procedure was completed.
‘Her mother looked on from the door of the house,’ Wiyaala said. ‘She was very sad but did not resist. The baby was screaming. She wouldn’t be comforted.
Wiyaala (pictured left, aged 12) didn’t escape the horrors of FGM, which was outlawed 30 years ago in the UK, and witnessed a ‘cutting’ when she was eleven-years-old (pictured right, second from left)
While she is now a successful singer, Wiyaala’s life could have gone drastically different if it wasn’t for her mother, who was a victim of FGM, refusing to let her daughters also undergo the ‘barbaric procedure’
‘Today, remembering this makes me feel sick. At the time, I knew the baby would suffer and I was asking myself why is this happening?
‘I knew I had not been cut. I wanted to ask why was this necessary? But in those days, a child did not question a senior wife.’
The singer admitted that she could have become an ‘angry and bitter person’ but instead decided be positive and try to use her experience to help others.
She said: ‘Many of my female cousins were victims of FGM and are very sad about it because they cannot enjoy full sexual relationships. They feel cheated.
‘But for all that, I admire my sisters who have suffered, they don’t complain. They work hard, raise families and get on with their lives in very positive ways. These are the women I celebrate in my music and videos.’
Wiyaala’s mother, who was respected and listened to in the village because of her better education, stood up to the social and cultural pressures. The singer, pictured right, at the age of six
Wiyaala (pictured aged 14) also revealed she had to deal with childhood marriages in her everyday life as a youngster
Wiyaala also revealed she had to deal with childhood marriages in her everyday life as a youngster.
‘Sitting in the classroom as a thirteen year old teenager, you would suddenly discover that one of your classmates had disappeared,’ Wiyaala recalled.
‘You would later learn that she had been given out for marriage (against her will) by her parents.
‘Sometimes to a much older man who already had several wives. Almost always, this was done because of poverty.
‘The girl’s parents would get some money in return. Some years later, I would see the same girl in the market, looking old beyond her years, with a baby and a toddler sitting on the ground selling a few tomatoes or peppers.
WHAT IS FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION AND IS IT ILLEGAL?
The UN estimates that over 200 million girls and women have experienced FGM, which is a life-threatening procedure that involves the partial or total removal of a woman’s external genitalia.
Girls aged 14 and younger represent 44 million of those who have been cut, most commonly in Gambia, Mauritania and Indonesia.
The procedure is mostly carried out on young girls between infancy and age 15.
Once girls have been cut, they are deemed ready for marriage and taken out of school – but FGM causes health problems and can be fatal.
FGM became illegal in Uganda in 2010 but continues in secret, according to officials and police.
It is practised by both Muslim and Christian communities and by followers of some indigenous religions. People often believe FGM is required by religion, but it is not mentioned in the Koran or Bible.
In 2012 the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution on eliminating FGM, but it remains legal in certain African countries including Mali and Sierra Leone.
The practice is illegal in the UK, but according to figures it’s thought around 137,000 girls from Britain are taken to countries that still perform the procedure.
‘She would say that her husband had thrown her out for a younger wife and she was just trying to get by and raise her children as best she could.’
UNICEF date suggests that less than five per cent of girls of a reproductive age (15–49) in Ghana have undergone FGM. However, in Wiyaala’s region this rises to more than 40 per cent.
More than one in every five girls in Ghana is married before the age of 18 and 5 per cent are married before their 15th birthday.
Wiyaala said: ‘That’s why it is important that women like myself use their platforms to help their communities understand that girls should not be cut and they should be in full time education rather than suffer the consequences of being married off as a child.
The pop star (pictured performing) is an activist for the abolition of FGM and early child marriage
The singer admitted that she could have become an ‘angry and bitter person’ but instead decided be positive and try to use her experience to help others
‘The steps to help girls to grow up FGM and child marriage free are simple. Better and more accessible education for all children and more public service programmes increasing awareness amongst the population, especially in the more deprived areas.’
But despite the horrors she saw, the singer says some of her ‘happiest childhood memories are in the village’.
‘We were a gang of kids roaming free,’ she explained. ‘And I was the leader! Sure we were often hungry and didn’t get much to eat, but we were very resourceful.
‘Some nights, under the moonlight, we would have community nights which we called jaasi nights.
‘The drummers came out, the girls and boys danced, romance was in the air whilst the old men and women told stories and gossiped. We were happy.’
Wiyalla’s new album ‘Sisaala Goddess’ is available on all streaming platforms now and to buy via her website
And Funsi will always be the pop star’s home – despite her roaring success, as BBC News Africa celebrates Wiyalla as one of the ‘Amazing African Women 2018’.
‘Whatever my international commitments, I will always return home to Funsi, my home village,’ she insisted.
‘My success has enabled me to build a house for my mother and family. My sister owns and runs a restaurant.
‘I have started an annual music festival in the village, The Djimba World Music Festival, and eventually I hope that foreign visitors will come to it and enjoy a real African experience.
‘Africa and Ghana has much to offer. We are warm, generous spirited people. Ghana is not a dangerous place and we have a culture to die for. I want to change western perceptions of Africa and Ghana in a positive way.’
Wiyalla’s new album ‘Sisaala Goddess’ is available on all streaming platforms now and to buy via her website.