Global Feminist Profiles highlight feminist leaders all over the world who are creating change and empowering their countrywomen to demand equality.
This month’s Global Feminist Profile features Mariatu Kamara, a young women who was born in raised in Sierra Leone in West Africa. She was a child victim of war when she was captured by the Revolutionary United Front (who were fighting to control Sierra Leone during its civil war) attacked the village near her home in 1999, at the young age of 12. Kamara is now a college student at George Brown College in Canada. During the war, she witnessed a young mother murdered before her very eyes; shortly after that incident a teenage soldier tried to chop off her hands: “It took the boy two attempts to cut off my right hand. The first swipe didn’t get through to my bone. He brought the machete down again in a different spot, higher up on my arm. This time, my hand flew from the rock onto the ground,” Kamara states in her memoir, Bite of the Mango. You can view a preview of her book in the video below:
In her book, she recounts how “the nerves kept it [the dismembered hand] alive for a few seconds,” and afterwards, she “saw the rebel boys give each other high-fives.” She could hear them laughing. She also gave birth to a boy at the age of 13 as a result of a rape by an older man who wanted to take her in as a second wife and wouldn’t take no for an answer. In 2002, a Canadian family read about her story in a newspaper and arranged for Kamara to visit Canada and shortly after arriving, she was granted residency for humanitarian reasons.
Kamara is now a UNICEF Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict (and previously worked for the nonprofit Free the Children) where she travels around North America telling her story of war. Mariatu says that in recounting her experiences of war at various speaking engagements: “It’s difficult,” but, she says, “it’s something that I’m willing to do, because I’m ready to make a difference. And I can’t make a difference without telling my story” she says in an interview to Ian Gillespie of the London Free Press. Kamara received a 2009 Voices of Courage award from the Women’s Refugee Commission. In the future, she hopes to work for the United Nations, raising awareness of the impact of war on children, and to run her own foundation to raise money for homes for abused women and children in Sierra Leone.
There are many stories out there like Kamara’s waiting to be told. But unlike Kamara, many women and young girls are not given the platform to speak for a variety of reasons. Though Kamara’s story may be difficult to tell, she helps people to realize not only the atrocities of war but sheds light on the rarely told women and girls experience of war.