10 November 2015

FGM: A Kurdish Woman's Ordeal

Guest blog by Nigeen Dara.

A blog by 28 Too Many volunteer Nigeen who campaigns against FGM and raises awareness of this as an issue for women from the Middle East and especially Kurdistan. Please note this blog contains a description of one woman's experience of FGM.

A young Kurdish lady who is a survivor of female genital mutilation (FGM) reveals her terrifying ordeal after she was forced to undergo the procedure without anesthetics when she was just 12 years of age.

Naz (who we will refer to by this nickname for her security), now 24, from the Silemani province, Kurdistan, and a mother to a 8-year-old daughter, had no idea what FGM was before it happened to her and ten other young girls in her village who were lined up to be mutilated.

More than 125 million girls and women alive today have been cut in the 29 countries in Africa and Middle East where FGM is concentrated. The practice is most common in the western, eastern, and north-eastern regions of Africa, in some countries in Asia and the Middle East, and among migrants from these areas. There are several reasons provided to justify the practice of female genital mutilation, and one reason often put forward is the belief it makes girls purer and eligible to marry.
Furthermore, FGM is often deemed necessary in order for a girl to be considered a complete woman, and the practice marks the divergence of the sexes in terms of their future roles in life and marriage. The removal of the clitoris and labia, viewed by some as the “male parts” of a woman’s body, is thought to enhance the girl’s femininity, often synonymous with docility and obedience. It is possible that the trauma of mutilation may have this effect on a girl’s personality. If mutilation is part of an initiation rite, then it is accompanied by explicit teaching about the woman’s role in her society.

Recalling the day it happened to her, Naz said: 'I was sat in my grandmother's garden when she and my mother told me to undergo the cut. 'I had no clue as to what the practice entailed, but they told me that all girls had to undergo it. I don't know whether or not my father knew about it and approved it.'

Naz, who is illiterate and has never received any kind of education, said if she had known what was going to happen to her and it's lifelong consequences, she would have run away. But instead, she and the ten other girls were led to an abandoned cottage just two miles outside of their village one morning.
Naz recalls: 'The old cottage was no more than a shack on its foundations. How long the shivering walls could withstand the beckoning call of gravity, we did not know. But this abandoned place was soon to be a location reeking with blood and screams of agony. Years before the girls and I had roamed these parts, daring one another to enter the cottage at night time, when it was spooky and dark. The door which led into the cottage was old; you could tell by just looking at it. Scratches etched their way along the bottom half of it and the edges were uneven and cracked. It smelled awful and if you squinted hard enough, you could see tiny black bugs crawling in between the jagged scratches. Not the most hygienic place to carry out any form of cut.'

Naz's vivid recollection is only one of the many side effects of the traumatic experience of being cut. This distress may stay with the victim even many years after the incident.

Naz was the second to be cut by a local midwife using crude tools and it was only then that she realised her awful fate. She goes on to further explain: 'We were told not to scream as the village midwife instructed us to line up. One by one they tied our hands and blindfolded us. That is when I understood that being cut was something bad. I thought to myself that this was something unwanted. Why would you have to restrain someone if it was a pleasant experience my young self thought. I had no idea where in the body I was going to be cut, but I started to panic and struggle as the the realisation dawned on me.

‘Then I heard the other girls being cut, their screams.  I started to tug at the piece of cloth my eyes were covered with, I wanted to run away. Strong hands clasped onto my shoulders and I concealed a gasp at the brute force. It was one of the ladies from the village: "If you run you'll put your whole family to shame. Stay still, it will be over soon", she hissed.

'When I was cut, blood flew. I felt immense pain. It is the kind of pain that I will never forget. I was so stressed out, because this is something I didn't choose, I was forced. After being cut, I got wrapped in a piece of cloth and they tied my legs with rope. We lay on the dirty floor for an hour and then they took all of us back to the village. They took us back on foot, we got back painfully slowly. Stumbling. Tripping. Walking was extremely difficult because of the cut and the fact that our legs were tied made it even more of a challenge to walk.

'I stayed at home for two months in order to heal. My legs remained tied and my mother used to feed me soup. She would also apply ash to the cut every so often as she believed it would help heal the cut faster.

Naz said her ordeal was not over as not long after, she was forced to marry a man twenty years her senior. 'I didn't know that undergoing FGM was supposed to prepare me for marriage. I thought that I would go for the cut and then go back to school and normal life as I knew it,' she said with a disappointed look in her eyes.

She said her husband was not kind to her and she was expected to consummate their marriage right away - when she was only 14 and recovering from the trauma of FGM. Soon after, Naz became pregnant and had a daughter, now aged seven. She said her husband didn't treat either of them well and she was determined to escape to give her daughter a better life - and to spare her the horror that was waiting for her.

'One day he locked me in the house while my baby was outside. She was all alone and she was sick. I was so worried, I thought my heart would stop; I was so scared he'd hurt my baby. He left me in the locked room for several hours. This is when I knew I had to get away. I had to take my baby and run.'
Naz went on to explain how she turned to her uncle for help, the only male member in her family who she could trust. 'You see, in my society and particularly my village, women are not given respect, they are used as cooks and for children, my ex-husband is proof of this. However, my uncle is a very good man and the only male member of my family that I could trust, he had previously mentioned to me that he wanted to seek refuge in the West and I wanted to flee with him. At first he was adamant that it wasn't a good idea and that my family would shun him for helping me get away, but he knew the kind of hell I was living in, after a while he gave in. I left my family without a goodbye and headed to Britain.

The journey was one full of hardship, but that is a long story. I cannot be more grateful for the invaluable support I've been given, to move on and build a new life for me and my daughter.'
After her story, I provided Naz with all the support available to victims of FGM and domestic violence. Naz reassured me that she would seek help and said she would never allow her daughter to undergo FGM.

Naz said she has high hopes for her daughter's future and never wants her to suffer like she has. 'I would tell her not to undergo the cut because she will be stressed in her life and she will reach a point that she would wish she were dead' she said sadly. 'I want my child to go to school and experience the school life that I missed out on. I would like her to be a doctor in the future, but this is down to fate and her capacity.'

Although the practice was made illegal in Kurdistan in 2011, it is still carried out behind closed doors as tens of thousands of families fear being outcasts if they do not submit their daughters to the horrific ordeal. Women who aren't cut are thought to be unclean and promiscuous.  The procedure can be carried out on girls from infancy up to the age of 15 and they are often held down against their will by other women while the cutter performs the gruesome task.

You can learn more about 28 Too Many’s work to end FGM and how you can help at www.28toomany.org. You can donate to support our research and campaigns and follow us on Facebook or Twitter for updates on the global movement to end FGM.