Photo: Getty Images. Posed by model not related to this story.
As the United Nations announces a global ban on female genital mutilation (FGM) this week, one Australian FGM survivor opens up about her personal story.
I come from a community where the men of religion believe that by cutting off some part of my genitals, I am unlikely to engage in premarital sex and bring shame to my family. They have misinterpreted and abused certain sayings of the Prophet Muhammad to suit their own means which they propagate freely in their communities expecting conformation. I am a female genital mutilation (FGM) survivor and this is my story.
When I was young, I desperately wanted a Barbie doll to play with but I came from a country where the dolls were outrageously expensive. So when I noticed my mum having whispered conversations with my grandmother and aunts, I started getting excited. My sixth birthday was only a couple of weeks away; could my dream be coming true? The final confirmation came when I heard her talking to my father, “it needs to be done now that she’s almost six”. “Do what you have to,” replied my father casually as I heard his newspaper rustle. A few days later, mum took me out one afternoon, presumably to go doll shopping.
I still remember my surprise when we pulled up in front of an ordinary looking house. I looked around me wondering where the doll shop was. Mum held my hand and we walked over to the front door. An old lady opened the door and gestured towards the sitting area. I noticed a friend from school present with her mum. We both smiled at each another. “Is she also here to buy a doll?” I asked mum who either didn’t hear me or pretended not to. Shortly, my friend was led into a room and a minute later I heard a bloodcurdling scream then my friend limped out of the room, supported by her mum. She was crying so hard that she was bent over double. I started feeling scared, why was my friend crying like that, and where was her doll?
The lady who met us earlier asked us to go into the room. Even at six years of age, I knew something was wrong, that someone had done something bad to my friend. I was led to a square table, next to a bed, and mum bent down to remove my panties. My mum shook her head at the old lady saying she would wait outside; my auntie who had accompanied us would be present instead. As mum turned to leave, I started to cry. I tried running after her but auntie lay me on the table holding my legs apart, and pinning them down so strongly that I couldn’t move. My next memory is of the old lady removing a razor blade from its cover right in front of my eyes and then such blinding, searing pain between my legs that I screamed, yet I don’t remember hearing my own screams so intense was the pain. The procedure must have lasted for less than 10 seconds yet I kept on screaming. The suddenness and pain intensity of that act was so shocking; it shook me to my very core.
I knew then, on a deeper level, I had been violated in some way when I saw the blood running down one side of my leg as I tried to stand up. I was having trouble focusing so auntie helped put on my panties, the bottom of which now held a huge wad of cotton wool. Through my tears, I saw mum pass over an envelope to the old lady. My aunt carried me out of the room, with me sobbing all the way home.
I bled for at least a week. The diluted disinfectant used for healing purposes, literally burned every part of my vagina that it came in contact with. Peeing brought another flow of blood and pain. I couldn’t play with my sister or cousins as every physical movement sent a burning bolt of pain straight through my insides. I tried explaining to my uncle and grandfather what had happened to me in that house. Instead of a loving explanation and hugs, I got blank and confused looks. My mum quickly shushed me, ordering never to mention what had happened to anyone. I never got any comfort or explanations from her either that traumatic experience got buried deep into the recesses of my mind.
I suffered through extremely painful menstrual periods when I reached puberty and then came painful sex after marriage. I thought that all females went through this ‘procedure’, but none of my non-Muslim friends had even heard about it and looked shocked when I talked about what had happened to me.
After experiencing this cruel, barbaric practice and understanding the extent of it at an older age, I never forgave the perpetrators. My mother; for not questioning why my genitals needed to be cut off, for not trusting that she was able to raise girls with good morals and followed societal demands and expectations blindly. My father; for casually dismissing an act that would have a lifelong effect on his daughter, for not asking the right questions or protecting his daughter. For that old lady who performed this ‘operation’ on countless girls and even my aunt who agreed to take part in this barbaric act. For the religious leaders who twist and enforce religious teachings for their own ends.
To this day, I don’t know how much of my genitals were removed but I do know that the act sentenced me to a lifetime of health problems and stops me from enjoying an important part of my marriage.
I speak out today for all those women who went through this cruel act and to all those fathers and mothers who allowed it to happen to their daughters in the name of religious practice. Learn to think for yourself instead of following practices disguised in the cloak of religion. Protect your daughters to the best of your ability for that’s your role as parents. Stop viewing daughters as bringers of shame to a family. Instead see us for what we really are and have the potential to become in the future; leaders, mothers, carers, scientists and so much more.
Support is available for anyone who may be distressed by phoning Lifeline 13 11 14; Mensline 1300 789 978; Kids Helpline 1800 551 800.
Women who have experienced FGM can call Family Planning NSW Talkline 1300 658 886 for confidential advice provided by experts in reproductive and sexual health. Further information is available at www.fpnsw.org.au/talkline.
*Names have been changed