Health

The midwife who is trying to save women from FGM

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Media captionThree generations of Somali women discuss female genital mutilation

Aissa Edon was just six years old when her stepmother took her and her one-year-old sister to get a goodbye present to mark her leaving Mali. The "gift" was female genital mutilation (FGM).

At least that's how Aissa thinks her stepmother saw it.

Aissa now works as a midwife in London, specialising in helping women who have undergone FGM.

She spoke to the BBC's Smitha Mundasad for the World Service radio programme, Global Midwives - part of the 100 Women series.

Pain and shouting

Aissa is a self-assured, beautiful, warm woman who invited me into her home in south London.

She told me calmly that she wants to stamp out FGM - even if it takes her last breath.

Image caption Aissa Edon took the difficult decision to discuss the fact she had been cut with her biological father in Mali

"Unfortunately I remember everything," she said of the moment she was cut.

"I can remember the place, I can remember the smells. I can remember the shouting.

"And I remember the pain.

"When you hear the shouting you think it is someone else but then you realise it was your own shouting."

Aissa did not say much about her childhood, but soon after she underwent FGM, she left Mali for France and was adopted.

As she started life in her new country she had to deal with the complications of being cut.

She had frequent urine infections and constant pain - like a knife stabbing her - every day until she was 23 years old.

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In her 20s she found a French surgeon who offered reconstructive surgery.

But if the physical pain has left her, the psychological impacts and guilt have not.

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Image caption In its most severe forms, the cutting and stitching can leave the vaginal opening so small that it is not safe to deliver a child naturally

She campaigns against FGM because she feels she "owes it" to her sister, who she wishes she could have saved.

Aissa adds: "But from what I am doing now I know that I will save other little sisters."

She has never broached the subject with her own sister, but while studying midwifery she took the difficult decision to discuss it with her biological father in Mali.

And that's when the closure came, she says.

'Stand up and say no'

She tells me she wasn't there to judge him, or to tell him what happened to her was wrong - but to discuss the facts of FGM and the complications it can cause.

It was the first time anyone had spoken to him about it, despite it being a common part of their culture.

He listened and he cried.

And though she asked nothing of him, he promised no-one else in the family would have FGM.

Dangerous births

Aissa now works to educate and prevent FGM in other communities.

A big part of her job is to help pregnant women in London who have often had FGM elsewhere.

Pregnancy can be a crucial moment - the point when mothers confide in their midwives - often after years of telling no-one.

And it can be very vital that midwives know.

In its most severe forms, the cutting and stitching can leave the vaginal opening so small that it is not safe to deliver a child naturally.

And in instances where surgical help is left too late - the babies are at risk of death.

Here she tries to get mothers help months before the baby is born, or if she can, before conception.

"It's not about me now. It is about helping them. When they come to see me it's about their story, not mine," Aissa says.

Global Midwives is broadcast on the BBC World Service on 24 November and will be available on iPlayer Radio after transmission. It was produced by Rosamund Jones.

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