Directed by Kim Longinotto, The Day I Will Never Forget gives voice to women’s experiences surrounding female genital mutilation (FGM) in Kenya. The documentary foregrounds perspectives from healthcare professionals, traditional circumcisers, social workers, and girls and women who have had the procedure themselves—or are fighting to prevent it. Through this critical look at the arguments around the practice, the film presents a compelling discussion of women’s needs, concerns, and dreams. (AEL: 4/5)
Review by FF2 Contributing Editor Amelie Lasker
Female genital mutilation is a weighty topic in Kenyan society and culture. Many people in the film explain that it is tradition, something that has happened for generations and won’t be easily eradicated. For some people, it is primarily religious; for many, it represents the preparation of a girl for marriage and a guard against sexual promiscuity. Egregiously, it is perceived as a way to remove a “dirty” part and make someone “clean” and even “beautiful.”
The Day I Will Never Forget centers on Fardhosa, a nurse who meets with community members to support women suffering from physical and emotional complications from their FGM procedures. She talks with families and adults to educate them. While she rarely explicitly argues against FGM, she discourages it by facilitating reflection and helping families recognize the suffering it causes.
In an early scene, a very young girl, Amina, prepares for her wedding. Nurse Fardhosa asks her why she’s getting married so young, and Amina explains that she wants to be able to settle in one place. Following her own FGM, Amina requires a medical procedure to make it safe and comfortable for her to have sex. But Amina doesn’t get to decide whether to have that operation; her husband does. And he doesn’t want her to have it, saying “his friends will laugh at him.” Nurse Fardhosa asks him to think about his wife’s own feelings and comfort, but he doesn’t listen.
Nurse Fardhosa helps point out the hypocrisy in the religious argument for FGM. “It says so in the Koran? Where?” she asks Amina’s husband. He doesn’t have an answer. She’s drawing attention to the fact that FGM comes more from misogyny and patriarchy than it does from religion, making an important argument that FGM does not have to be included in Kenya’s religion and culture.
The documentary doesn’t shy away from discussion of the FGM procedure itself. We learn that the procedure can cause severe health complications. People can bleed out from it, and, as Nurse Fardhosa explains to families, it can make patients vulnerable to infection; it can lead to lifelong pain. One girl featured in the documentary, Simalo, suffered severe complications from her procedure and ended up running away from her family as a result.
We even see two young sisters as they have their FGM procedures done. This unwavering portrayal helps us understand the toll and why it produces trauma that makes this, for many people, “the day they will never forget.”
Groups of women meet to talk about their opinions on FGM. In a focus group, a young woman points out that so many girls die due to the practice, asking, “Aren’t you afraid of Judgement Day?” Khadiga, a traditional circumciser, talks about the positives: it makes women more desirable and confident in themselves; it promotes health by keeping people “cleaner;” it’s “not that painful.” But even her relationship with the job is complex. “If I didn’t need the money, I don’t know,” she says.
Two women speak to a group of young girls, explaining how important it is to receive the procedure. There’s a sense of community around it: it’s collective trauma, but it’s also something to giggle about, something that brings them together. They portray it as a rite of passage, something necessary for girls to achieve femininity, be desirable brides, and labels them acceptable as friends and neighbors.
Female genital mutilation comes with so many entanglements: it’s social and cultural, but it’s also financial. Although the parents are generally the ones forcing the procedure on their children, they often see it as the only way to ensure a daughter has a secure future in marriage. The multitude of perspectives presented here helps us understand why this practice remains so common and what people are against when they’re fighting it and educating communities around it.
In the latter half of the film, a group of girls at a school go to court to stop their parents from forcing the procedure on them. Young Fouzia makes a deal with her mother to stop her younger sister from having the procedure as she did. Simalo works with a social worker and is placed at a boarding school to build her own life, free from her parents’ impositions on her. These victories leave us with a sense of hope. The generational trauma of FGM doesn’t have to go on forever. Girls are standing up for themselves and each other, recognizing that it doesn’t have to be this way. And maybe, for many people, it’s already on its way out.
Many parts of this film are hard to watch. But this open discussion of a traumatic practice illuminates a deeper understanding of gender and sex in this society, that misogyny is perpetuated, and how girls growing up deal with their own identities and family and romantic relationships. It’s filled with kind, resilient people fighting for themselves and others; I highly recommend it.
© Amelie Lasker (11/18/20) FF2 Media
Featured Photo: Nurse Fardhosa.
Bottom Photo: Amina.
Photo Credits: Kim Longinotto
There are so many conversations between women here. I love the kind, thoughtful discussions between Nurse Fardhosa and her patients.