I don’t know where to start…This Zero tolerance Day gives me the opportunity
On International Day of Zero Tolerance of Female Genital Mutilation, an RCM member shares her personal experience of FGM and why she hopes fellow midwives will stand with her in calling for greater access to services and support for survivors. WARNING: This blog contains details which you may find distressing. If you are affected by any of the issues discussed, you can seek help from:
I had so many questions about what was happening. I didn’t understand why I was being put through so much pain. Age 10, I left Somalia and went to Kenya, where we eventually got permission to come to the UK. The only two things I remember from Somalia are a bomb which injured my siblings, killing my oldest brother, and being cut. I remember everything about that. The pain, my screaming, the old man and the blunt blade.
At 13, I came to the UK. I didn’t speak a word of English and I’d never been to school. I didn’t know what to ask, what to say to anyone. Then gradually, I started having small conversations with my sister and cousins. One day they heard me urinating and told me it didn’t sound like theirs. Their main concern was whether I had reopened the wound and whether I’d have to be stitched up again. It wasn’t a kind conversation, it was accusatory, that if somehow, if my wound had opened, it is something that would be shameful.
It wasn’t until I joined a local charity that I began to really question what was done to us. I learned it wasn’t Islamic. I had so, so many questions but I was lucky to have somebody to talk to, someone who listened to me and answered my questions. But I am still angry and upset, and I still find myself wanting to cry, to shout out in anger and rage.
Most survivors of female genital mutilation (FGM) have grown up in a culture where women’s sexuality is so taboo, they’d find it so difficult to talk about this. When I did eventually talk about it my mother’s first comment was ‘make sure your father doesn’t hear’. Eventually she apologised and said she now understood it was wrong.
Once the support clinics opened, I really wanted to go, not only to address the trauma I’d been through, but the physical complications I experienced too. I wanted to learn what that man had done to me, what ‘type’ I’d had. I wanted to be opened, I wanted to be like every other girl. When I told my mother, she was horrified and said I shouldn’t do it, as I wasn’t getting married yet. And that was another trauma, finding her earlier apology had been empty.
Now, I feel so many things. I feel ashamed of my genitalia. I wish I was ‘normal’ and, however often I’m told my FGM doesn’t define me, I can’t get rid of that thought. I want to work through the trauma, the anger, the feeling of being inadequate. And even if, on a logical level, I can convince myself momentarily that I am normal, it’s always there.
Survivors need support, even thought they may find it hard to ask. So, when we speak, we need people, professionals, to listen and to care. Even the process of deinfibulation – cutting open the sealed vaginal opening – scares me, as I am frightened of relicing what I went through as a nine-year-old girl.
There is a place that I can go to get deinfibulated, and counselling services where girls like me can go to and get help. But these services are not as widespread as they should be, which is why I am asking my colleague midwives, to help make the case for them in the areas where they work. Many young girls have been at risk of FGM during lockdown, where they have been away from schools and other services. The practice of FGM will continue unless we protect those at risk and care for the survivors.