'We wanted to be cut' says Female Genital Mutilation survivor

04/02/15

FMG survivor

Ayshah was born in Somalia - a country where over 95% of girls undergo female genital mutilation.

She was cut at her family home when she was just five-years-old, before moving to the UK some years later.

But it wasn't until she saw a documentary about FGM when she was 18 that she changed her mind about the practise.

This is Ayshah's story and just a warning that you might find some of it upsetting:

"My older sister and I were cut together," Ayshah says. It's not her real name. She asked us to change it.

"We wanted to be cut, we used to ask my mum, 'When is it our turn?'

"You have a big party, family members would come over, and you get given gifts.

I had absolutely no idea that this was wrong. I thought it was completely normal
Ayshah

"It was like a right of passage, like something really wonderful was about to happen to you," she explains.

According to Unicef, female genital mutilation, or FGM, affects around 130 million girls worldwide.

It's practised in around 30 countries, largely across Africa and the Middle East.

"From a young age you were told girls who weren't cut were promiscuous," Ayshah says.

They were dirty, nobody wanted to marry them, they were ugly
Ayshah

"If you weren't cut you were isolated. No child wants to be that girl who nobody wants to play with because they're dirty and unclean.

"It was a really big deal, something that I really wanted to happen to me."

"On the actual day, I think I was scared," Ayshah says.

"We had a doctor. Well, I was told he was a doctor.

"But other times it could be the local cutter, who might be someone who's not had any formal training in medicine.

"Often they tend to be elderly, maybe an old lady, who possibly has poor eyesight.

They're using blades which probably aren't sterilised
Ayshah

"They're just using basic instruments.

"They put me down on the table and there were lots of people watching.

"They gave me a pillow to hold on to and bite if I had to.

"There was a lot of pain, that's what I remember."

According to the World Health Organisation, there are no health benefits to FGM.

In fact it can cause both short and long-term health problems.

"When you go to the toilet for the first time they tell you that you have to go in little drops," Ayshah explains.

"You'd be sat there waiting and waiting, knowing that if you did go it'd be painful.

I know women that are now infertile, incontinent, even cases of women who've died
Ayshah

FGM's carried out for a number of reasons.

Although it's not in any religious texts, for some communities the practise has become a symbolic demonstration of faith.

In most places though, it's got a lot to do with perceived femininity.

Scalpel

"Girls who weren't cut were considered dirty and unclean," Ayshah says.

"My mum knew no different."

Although Ayshah and three of her sisters were all cut, she was able to save her youngest sister from the same fate.

"When my youngest sister was 12, my parents were planning where she would go to be cut," she says.

"I knew it was wrong, but I didn't know what to do.

"I'd been given a leaflet, saying you get 14 years in prison for taking a girl out the country to have FGM.

"I put in in the post one morning. My parents were shocked, they were really worried and for that reason they didn't cut my younger sister.

"In her [Ayshah's mum] mind she was doing something good for me and my sisters.

"She knows my feelings towards it now, and her now attitude is 'if you don't want to cut your children then you don't have to.'

"So the cycle is definitely broken in my family."

'Why female circumcision?' poster

Female genital mutilation is illegal in the UK. It's also illegal to take a British national or permanent resident abroad for FGM or to help someone trying to do this.

FGM is when a girl's genitals are either partially or totally removed for non-medical reasons.

At its most severe the outer lips and clitoris are removed, then the genitals are stitched closed so that the woman cannot have or cannot enjoy sex.

"There's no excuses for cutting children's bits off in the name of culture or religion," Ayshah says.

"There's absolutely no reason that should ever happen.

"We need to get the cultural thing completely out the way. It's child abuse full stop.

"It's about telling parents that it's illegal. It's making sure that teachers and doctors know about it and telling children they have someone to go to."

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