Hope breaks free from gender oppression

Note: The name has been changed, but the facts have not.

Warning: This story contains potentially traumatizing descriptions of violence.

Hope is beautiful, tall, and highly intelligent, which she applies to studying architecture. Most central to Hope’s character, however, is that she is fiercely resilient.

Before her new chapter in America, Hope recalls a difficult childhood in Guinea. At age 6, she was sent by her parents to her aunt’s home for a short visit. Hope’s aunt dressed her in a traditional loincloth, which Hope recalls was much too large and fell around her ankles. They set off walking.

Unbeknownst to Hope or her parents back home, Hope’s aunt was marching her to a clinic for a genital mutilation procedure. Hope was too young to know such a procedure even existed.

She did notice that other young girls were dressed in similar garments en route to the hospital. When they arrived, she saw a line of these girls outside, many crying, some looking younger than her. The girls were brought inside, one by one, and all later exited in hysterics and tears.

Fear now welled inside young Hope, as her turn came to enter the room. She remembers two women, one holding metal scissors while the other stood to the side. The woman with the scissors commanded Hope onto the table, where Hope horrifically realized there were scraps of human flesh.

She was ordered to open her legs, and when she screamed at the first cut, the woman barked at her to hush. Hope was in too much shock to scream again or to cry. Afterward, the woman applied a bandage, then escorted Hope back to her aunt while Hope’s legs shook uncontrollably.

The woman reported to the aunt that Hope had been brave and did not cry, then congratulated a shocked and shaking Hope on becoming a grownup. Hope’s aunt brought her to a celebration for all the newly circumcised girls. Older women washed the wounds and applied an ointment. Hope remembers that she held back crying at the pain again since she was a “grownup” now.

The recovery was terrible, and Hope had trouble urinating due to pain. Adults told her to wash with nearly scalding water every time she urinated, but this was a painful and tedious task for a child, so Hope would hide to urinate, and not wash after. She later developed itchiness and infections.

When Hope returned to her family, her mother was unhappy to learn of the circumcision but could not complain since it is a customary practice.

Hope learned later of three girls who had died – one during the mutilation and two afterward due to hemorrhaging.

Years later, at age 12, Hope was considered old enough for marriage and lived in fear every day. At age 13, she realized the frequency of her infections was not normal compared to other girls who had been mutilated. She mentioned the problem to her close friend, who was shocked and asked why she had been mutilated at all.

Hope was jarred by the realization that not all girls were circumcised. It was not a necessary rite of passage, and she now saw it for what it was: torture. She continued to learn about female genital mutilation, and some things now became more clear, like why so many of her cousins died during childbirth who seemed otherwise healthy. 

She hated her family for letting this happen. She hated her aunt for forcing her into it. She even hated herself, thinking perhaps she had let it happen or deserved it in some way. She shut herself in her room, falling into depression, living in fear, and thinking of ending her life.

A few years after Hope graduated high school, a distant cousin asked for her hand in marriage. Culturally, Hope was forbidden from saying no, since he was a member of her family, and because both sides of their families had been present at the proposal. If she refused, she would have caused a potentially irreparable family rift.

After accepting the proposal, Hope spoke privately to her cousin, now fiance, who said he only wanted to marry so that he could have legitimate children and inherit his father’s wealth. Even worse, Hope learned there was a possibility she could be circumcised again after the wedding.

Desperate for a way out, Hope begged her parents to let her study abroad. They agreed, under conditions that Hope return after a year and get married. Hope was accepted at Portland Community College. 

In March 2014, LCSNW’s Safe Route Immigration program filed an affirmative asylum application for Hope. In November that year, she was granted asylum status. Sworn in as a citizen in September 2022, Hope lives in Beaverton and is studying engineering.