Female Genital Mutilation is a horrendous act most of us are aware of but choose to ignore
By Gilla Barre
New Delhi, India
Sometimes in life, you never know what to expect. Although you think you are prepared for everything, life throws something unimaginable when you least expect it.
I remember it was during one of those gloomy Mondays. I went to work expecting a long, tiring day, completely unaware of the horror I was about to hear and (reluctantly) translate.
The petite young lady who was sitting in front of me began, in tears:
I was a fun, energetic and bubbly little seven-year-old, but my innocence was taken away from me in the most merciless and painful way.
The memory of that day makes me cringe even today, the pain is so fresh, like it happened yesterday. I remember how helpless I felt, so powerless, so small. A seven-year-old girl fighting with four grown women, trying to defend herself, her innocence.
I was forcibly pushed into a room with four other girls. The same girls who I have been playing with the day before. I looked at them and thought, “I would have to bare the shame of them watching my feminine parts being ripped away from me”. They all stood there. So still … so calm. I could sense the fear in their eyes. I was beyond mad, almost enraged, especially with my family for allowing this to happen. My cries and screams were heard by many, but NO ONE, no one came to stop this madness or comfort me and tell me that this was not real, that I was gonna be ok.
[WARNING: the following narrative contains disturbing descriptions of Female Genital Mutilation.]
I tried to run, but one of the four women caught my body and dragged me on the floor and put me back on the bed. She held my legs and spread them out and then instructed the other two women to hold one leg each. She then jumped on my stomach and placed her palms on my mouth. I fought back but in vain. I couldn’t breath because of the woman’s weight on my chest. I then saw the fourth lady sharpen a knife greased with someone else’s blood, someone else’s flesh. She walked towards me and patted my head. She then disappeared … my view of her was blocked by the lady sitting on me.
And then I felt it. The cold, sharp knife against my warm skin. She firstly grabbed and pulled my ciltoris and cut it. The pain was so excruciating, so unbearable. It felt like my insides were burning. I screamed so loud but it was muffled by the woman’s hand.
She continued the cutting … finishing off whatever was left of the labia. Bit by bit by bit. She then sewed the whole area together. There was no anesthesia used, no painkiller. I felt every bit, every cut. I was already struggling to breath and my lungs felt like they were on fire.
I wanted to make sense of what is going on. What have I done to deserve such a merciless treatment?? Was I not human?? Did my family hate me so much?? I was later told this was done to protect the family’s honour. And that I was made pure for the man that I’m going to marry in the future. I did not understand what was wrong with me that I had to be made pure.
I was then put in a room to “heal” with other girls who have been freshly “made pure” like me. By now, I did not have the energy even for a sob. Everything felt painful – walking, sitting, peeing.
I looked at the floor I was sitting on and the sight of the pool of my own blood mixed with the mud sent shivers down my spine.
I lost faith in humanity that day … I lost all hope of ever having a normal life. That day, I died inside.”
My ears could not believe what I was hearing. While this girl revealed her terrifying ordeal, each word she uttered made my heart sink.
FGM is Female Genital Mutilation – the partial or full cutting of a girl’s clitoris and labia, for non-medical reasons.
I was aware of the barbaric practice followed by many Somalis, but I never had to hear the gruesome details of the procedure. I felt so guilty for making her relive that trauma again. That’s the reality of FGM. Although it is practiced in many countries, many of us do not know much about it.
The procedure this particular refugee from Somalia went through is called Pharaonic Circumcision and it’s the most severe form of FGM.
This ancient cultural practice is widely practiced in many parts of Muslim countries in Africa and the Middle East. Over 140 million girls and women alive today have undergone some form of FGM.
What is even worse is the aftermath of this horrific practice. The women/girls go through severe emotional and psychological trauma not to mention hazardous medical issues like infections, painful menstruation and urination and unfortunately, in many cases, even death. Many girls die due to excessive blood loss, some of them later in life while giving birth. When these girls later get married, the area that has been sewn together is re-opened.
Sadly, even Muslims shy away from talking about this issue because it is considered taboo. This has led to this horrendous act to continue to exist. This form of circumcision is not what is prescribed in the Sunnah. Although female circumcision is not obligatory, one tradition permits the removal of a minuscule segment of skin from the female prepuce, provided no harm is done. (https://islamqa.info/en/427)
Although many are aware of these facts, people still continue to practice it in the name of preserving the honour of the family. What’s even worse is that many women who have gone through FGM fall prey to these cultural practices and plan to circumcise their own daughters in the same way.
“… And helping the believers is ever incumbent on Us.”
Being one Ummah, we need to speak for our sisters, for the countless millions who have had to experience/will experience a life full of pain for being a woman.
This young girl was only one among a few who have had the chance to speak about their ordeal to raise awareness about this barbaric act because FGM still remains a taboo subject that people love to avoid.
Let’s educate ourselves about such issues to help the future generations from suffering this brutal practice. Circumcision is a topic that is very rarely discussed and almost no awareness is spread about it. Haya (modesty) prevents one from going into certain matters to understand it deeply. But as one of the salaf said, “No shy or arrogant person will ever seek knowledge.”
Let’s not remain silent, let’s preserve the dignity and respect of our sisters.
A poem by Dahabo Ali Muse, a Somali poet and survivor of FGM, captures the trauma of this practice in these moving lines:
“It is what my grandmother called the three feminine sorrows: the day of circumcision, the wedding night and the birth of a baby.”
– The writer has worked as a translator for Somali refugees in New Delhi, India for the United Nations.