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When FGM hits close to home

FGM – No it’s not another throw away abbreviation like OMG or ROFL, but a rather more serious acronym for a practice, oftentimes described as sinister. What am I talking about? Female Genital Mutilation. What is it? Female circumcision - the removal of some or all the female’s genitalia followed by the closing or stitching up of the outer lips. This practice was a tool used to keep young women virgins; culturally young girls were more valuable to their families if they were virgins and many countries have adopted the custom

My grandmother came to the country when I was 8 or 9. She was fresh off the boat. Coming to the UK with all her customs and values. My grandmother is stubborn and she questioned my mum and her parenting style. I remember her asking "have they had it done," and my mother's response simply saying " No, and they will never ever get it done." I didn't understand what was going on, I didn't understand what she was asking of my mum and we never discussed the topic again.

Fast forward a few years into my teens. I was a little more mature than my relatives, with a curious mind. I would always be sitting in the corner of my aunts living room, like a fly on a wall. The day that changed my life, the room was filled with familiar faces. The topic of childhood came up and from my corner I asked, "what is FGM," in Somali. The room went quiet for a split second and the look on all of their faces suggested a recollection of a shared traumatic experience. Some had a slight shiver, almost rejecting the memories that had surfaced and others adjusted themselves in their seats - one 

by one they imparted their own stories.                               Leyla Hussein FGM activist on What's Up TV

The stories all had one thing in common,

that there was an injustice. In that moment I saw these women as people and not just as their title, mum, aunt - but as an individual.

"I was placed on a bed, I say a bed but it was a thin mattress on the floor. (a quiet chuckle) I remember walking past other rooms and seeing other girls. Silent cries. I started screaming as my mum held my legs open. the women who was doing the procedure was using a razor blade. It was quick and excruciating and I screamed ‘til I was numb. They tied my legs together to reduce the swelling."

The naive, innocent me at the time asked “why?” to which the reply came that “It's always been done, my mother's mother experienced the same thing. It's a tradition, culture and it’s a part of our faith."  

So was I lucky to be born in the UK, having the freedom to not experience such a traumatic experience  as many others? While the practise of FGM is widespread throughout Africa and other parts of the world, talking about it has become more commonplace and my generation largely rebuke the ‘custom’. Perhaps then, we will be the generation to stop the tradition.

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