This one’s for you if you’re ready to learn about FGM.
Samantha Power, United States Ambassador to the United Nations, recently spoke of getting close to issues that you care about. A tentative step towards getting close to an issue is to learn about it, to understand it. Reading this book is one such step. You might then feel inspired to take action, to change things for the better. It is important to realise that this issue IS CLOSE. It happens in Britain. Today. Tomorrow. But together, if we all get close, we can change the path that the future will take.
Hibo Wardere’s book is an eye-opening, often heartbreaking and sometimes gut wrenching true story about how her life has been affected by FGM. Female Genital Mutilation. Female Genital Mutilation. You have to say these individual words to yourself a few times before it even begins to hit home what countless girls all over the world are going through each day. This happens mostly to children under 10 years of age, including babies who grow up not realising what has been done to them. Hibo’s work has been to educate first her community and then the wider world about this practice, bringing attention to the fact that it is child abuse, with an aim to abolish it altogether.
I personally had not realised the extent of the long lasting effects that women suffer as a result of FGM from the endless infections, to the incredible difficulties to enjoy an intimate relationship with their partner, to their struggle to give birth to children without severe complications (see below).
While this book makes you aware of the cruel and barbaric actions that humans can take against one another, it is also an inspiring story of the way that one woman has made our world a better place. I have utmost admiration and respect for this remarkable woman. She grew up as a curious child, who felt angry and betrayed by her mother when she was put through the torture of FGM. She persistently asked her mum about it every day for 10 years. She flew to an unfamiliar country and gradually found the courage to speak about her experiences, first to her husband, her family, her colleagues and eventually to strangers.
I cannot escape the irony that I read this book while I slowly work through the 800 plus pages of “The Better Angels of our Nature” (watch this space for a blog) which describes medieval torture practices not unlike FGM.
“It was of some comfort [a hug from her husband after reading a book about FGM],but it did little to take away the pain. Not only of what I lived with day to day- the discomfort, the recurrent infections, the pain of making love with my husband, the horror of childbirth- but there was something else now, too. The flashbacks that had haunted me my whole life suddenly came thicker and faster to my mind” p12. And on a similar note: “There was also a 70 per cent increase in the number of women with Type 3 experiencing postpartum haemorrhages. Babies born to mothers with Type 3 FGM also had an 86 per cent higher chance of requiring resuscitation.” p238
“That word again-brave. The implication that I’d had some choice, that my mind might have been able to control itself, that I could have reacted differently to their butchering of me, that I might not have screamed as I was hacked at- if only I’d been brave enough.” p35
On reaching puberty “What did this mean ‘to be a woman’ and why did it always seem to involve pain?” p52
Hibo lived her childhood and adolescent life wondering why a newly married couple went away and often on return, the wife looked thinner, more unhappy, a shadow of her former self. She made her friend promise to tell her when she came back (it was not normal for anyone to speak of this). “you have to sleep with your husband…He has a thing, and that thing becomes bigger, like a rolling pin, and that has to go through your tiny hole. That’s what they call sex.” p59
“Just by arriving in this country, I had saved future babies from mutilation and I cried because there was no other feeling of freedom like it. I knew from that moment on I would decide everything and be in charge of my life in this new land, with these pink people who call themselves white.” p67
When Hibo went to a doctor to be opened, the Somalian translator refused to translate her wishes because she was so against the idea. “I couldn’t believe the words that were tumbling from her mouth. We were thousands of miles from Somalia, in another culture. This couldn’t be happening! This white woman wanted to help me and the translator wouldn’t tell her how.” p76
Her shock after arriving in London and realising that a man was able to cook, make tea, and fend for himself. “Who is making this tea for him?” p82
After realising that there were girls at a school in her community in the UK who were being taken to Somalia to be cut. “I mentally scanned through memories I’d deliberately buried and I hated myself for not being strong enough to speak out, to report those mothers to the police. Just like so many, I had turned my face away from abuse. I hadn’t asked the questions because I was too scared of the answers.” p133
The views of a man, on how FGM can break up couples and families: “This to me is the double abuse that women suffer. A man can dump his wife for not sexually satisfying him because sex is very painful for her because of the cut or because, in some cultures, a woman might be opened and closed, and opened and closed after different milestones like after giving birth. So she denies him, and he in turn divorces her or dumps her at home and goes out and has sex with uncut women. That is not uncommon, and yet again she suffers through no fault of her own.” p186
“Between September 2014 and January 2015, more than 2,600 new cases of FGM were identified [in Britain]” p190
A detective for Metropolitan Police’s Project Azure to investigate FGM in London, speaking of the limitations and challenges in prosecution. “It’s like all child abuse- children will tell you they’re being sexually abused because they want it to stop, not because they want their parents prosecuted. Your mum is still your mum.” p196
“Research suggests that migrating communities tend to hold on to their traditions as a way of maintaining their identity- people can find it hard to integrate or adapt, especially if they don’t speak the langauge, and sometimes cling on to the old ways as a form of protection against the new culture in which they now find themselves.” p209