Victims of female genital mutilation speak out as thousands of Brits still planning

Despite the fact it’s illegal in the UK, at least 65,000 British girls are at risk of having Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) as they are taken out of the country during so called ‘cutting season’ aka the school holidays.

The procedure – which involves having parts of their vagina cut out and then then sewn back together again – is usually performed before a girl turns 12 and is carried out without anesthetic or sterilised equipment.

Many of the girls are too scared to admit they have suffered FGM and can be stigmatised by their community for speaking out.

But a number of British victims have come forward to talk about their experience – and call for it to be stopped once and for all – in a new documentary for Comic Relief.

Recalling the moment she was cut, one of the women Leyla Hussein, 32, from London, said: ‘Your whole body is in pain, the scream that you scream meant I lost my voice for a couple of days.

‘The moment your genitals are cut, a part of your soul dies.’

Another British survivor interviewed for the documentary said: ‘I don’t think there’s any word I can use to describe that moment. They grab you with a woman holding each leg and another holding your head and chest so you can’t move.’

The practice first began in ancient Egypt and remains a rite of passage in many African and Middle Eastern countries and some parts of Asia.

Parents cut their daughters because they believe that this will allow her to be accepted into society and improve her marriage prospects. A girl who is uncut is often seen unclean and sexually promiscuous.

The idea that FGM is necessary and makes a woman more virtuous and attractive is so ingrained in some communities that mothers who have endured it themselves – and continue to live with the physical and mental consequences – will still happily arrange for their daughters to suffer the same fate.

Leyla explains: ‘The cutting season in the UK means holidays. If you don’t get this done, you won’t be married to the right family so your status is questioned.’

The anonymous victim added: ‘It’s a business for the person doing the cutting and the family as once the child has been through FGM, whoever they will marry will pay a higher dowry, it’s all about money.’

Actress Zawe Ashton, who presents the BBC documentary, flew to Kenya to meet one of the women making money as a result of cutting thousands of girls who are taken to her from around the world.

Despite suffering the pain of FGM herself as a child, the elderly cutter said she’s happy to cut others – using a pair of sharp scissors she carries around in her handbag.

She said families from across the UK, Europe and America travel to Kenya for her services.

The cutter said: ‘When I had FGM I was cut with thorns, I can still feel it now. Then they used thorns to stitch me back up.’

Justifying why she now inflicts this on other girls, she said: ‘The girls father gives permission, the mother as well, her whole community gives permission and I get paid.’

She added why her community believe FGM to be so important: ‘If the girls aren’t cut, they will start to love and start to chase men, they should be cut before they are 12 otherwise they will start to get horny.

‘Our tradition is to cut them and make them bleed to calm them down. If you don’t cut them, they will think about pleasure all the time, they can’t help themselves.’

Pleasure has been far from the mind of Hoda, 23, a British resident Zawe meets who had type 3 FGM when she was a child. After she was cut, she was sewn back up with and left with a hole no bigger than matchstick that has left her with a host of health problems – and infertile.

She said: ‘I was seven when I was cut. I remember everything. It happened, I was cut and I got this pain every night, abdominal pain.’

Hoda’s stomach pains where due to the fact she couldn’t have a normal period because of the tiny hole she had been left with. Blood that was supposed to leave her body remained trapped inside causing internal damage.

She has had a number of operations to try and restore her health and wellbeing but will never be able to have children.

Now married to a man she met in the UK, Hoda said she feels guilty she will never be able to have a family with the man she loves.

Leyla also has to live with the mental as well as physical consequences of her FGM.

She said: ‘I live at home with a panic alarm, I have to carry a personal alarm with me wherever I go, it’s difficult.’

She added that many people may be surprised to learn she’s a victim of FGM because of her western appearance but she said many British girls like her are at risk.

She said: ‘There’s this code of silence, I associate it with the Mafia. We describe ourselves as the “Topshop FGM” survivors. We are High Street girls so don’t narrow it to one particular image.’

The documentary reveals how many are duped into travelling out of Britain when they are young as they are told they are going on holiday or to a party.

Nimco Ali, 31, who lives in London, campaigns against FGM after having it done to herself as a child, agreed that the practice is more rife in the UK than people realise.

She said: ‘Many are afraid to speak out as there is that fear of being judged. Everyone thinks it’s not the girl in Manchester, in Cardiff or London being taken away and having FGM but it’s exactly these girls, they are not girls who are immigrants or here on holiday.

‘They are the girl at the back of your classroom or the girl you could bump into on Oxford Street but you don’t know they have just been through FGM.’

The documentary reveals the steps that are being taken to try and stop the practice continuing. In an East London school, FGM workshops are held to educate  young men and women on why it’s wrong, while border police operate at airports to try and stop girls they deem to be at risk leaving the country.

Zawe sees that change is also happening in Kenya where it has also been made illegal and where education is helping to empower girls and break the cycle of FGM.

More at The DailyMail

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