10 July 2013

FGM: Not just something that happens to other people

A guest blog by Tallulah Staple.

I first heard about FGM when I read Waris Dirie’s famous autobiography, ‘Desert Flower’. The book recounts her childhood experiences growing up in a nomadic tribe in Somalia where she underwent FGM and the impact this had on her life after escaping to Europe. Her story is inspiring and infuriating which instantly impassioned me. But later FGM faded from my priorities and Desert Flower became a horrifying tale recommended to others when discussing feminism and atrocities borne by women around the world. 

This changed when I decided to reignite my interest in FGM and make it the topic of a short podcast. Having little real knowledge on the practice, I turned to the internet and quickly found an article written by Abigail Haworth for the Observer entitled ‘The Day I Saw 248 Girls Suffering Genital Mutilation’.

Finding this article was a turning point. It recounts Haworth’s experience of witnessing FGM first hand in Bandung, Indonesia. Suddenly, the issue became real to me, to people I knew and loved. I had not been aware that FGM was practiced in Indonesia, despite having lived, worked and travelled the archipelago. The realisation that students, co-workers and friends of mine may have endured such a traumatic experience opened my eyes to the fact that FGM is not something that happens to ‘other people’. It is not an ‘African problem’. It is real, and it is happening to women and girls all around us.

In my research I soon learnt that every year girls living in the (supposedly safe) UK, are taken overseas for cutting ceremonies or are mutilated right here. This all occurs despite laws ‘preventing’ such practices. The utter lack of convictions highlights the need for more effective preventative action.

An award-winning film named ‘I Will Never Be Cut’ documenting the fight of two Kenyan girls, Nancy and Gertrude, to stand against custom and resist FGM inspired me further. Nancy and Gertrude’s strength in the face of pressure from family, peers and society is over-whelming and illustrates that an open discourse on FGM within the UK and around the world can empower girls and women to fight against the compulsion to conform, and to resist mutilation until it is stopped.

Today, thanks to organisations like 28 too many, FGM is more and more recognised as an issue on the human rights agenda. But there is still a long way to go. Most people I have spoken to about FGM have had, at most, a vague idea that it is an ‘unpleasant experience’. Few have understood the legacy of pain and degradation it can cause. 

It takes a brave woman to speak publicly of first-hand experiences of FGM. The stigma of shame silences many. It is precisely for this reason that it must become more prominent in public discourse in the hope that women everywhere can truly take possession of their body and transfer the shame to FGM enforcers the world over.

Tallulah has also produced a podcast on FGM which you can listen to here.

If you would like to help in the campaign to end FGM please support the work of 28 Too Many and you can donate online or contact us if you would like to fundraise or volunteer.