I am a survivor of female genital mutilation, or FGM.
I was mutilated when I was a week old, to supposedly preserve my honor by ensuring my chastity until marriage. When I was eight, my sister bled to death after being mutilated in the same manner and all that we were told was, “It was her time to go.”
I immigrated to the United States when I was 15 years old, and was forced into marriage only a short time later. Because the man to whom I was married off wanted to penetrate me, and because of the type of brutal mutilation I had undergone, I was forced to undergo another painful procedure to reopen my wounds. When I went through the reopening process, it felt like I was put through FGM all over again.
When I was 16, I attempted suicide because I felt that I was worthless and had nothing to live for.
Instead of dying, I met an amazing woman, Taina Bien Aime, who pulled me out of that dark abyss and refused to let me go. She showed me love and how to love myself – and made me realize that I was stronger than I had been led to believe. With her love and encouragement, I conquered my insecurities and broke the chains of silence that bound me.
In the United States, FGM is thought to be a problem that only happens to girls in faraway places (though we know that more than 125m women have been mutilated around the world). It seems, to some, hard to believe, but many girls throughout America have been through FGM. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated in 1997 that over 168,000 American girls have either been, or are at risk of being, subjected to FGM.
Though our stories may differ, the pain, trauma and horror is the same for every single one of us.
The United States is considered a leader in the free world – but when it comes to FGM, it is not. At times, it seems like our government is afraid to truly address the issue for fear of being called culturally insensitive or interfering in supposed cultural practices.
I am a woman from this culture and I say: not one single good comes off of mutilating girls and I want it to end. It is not cultural – it is an extreme form of violence and it is as simple as that.
Eradicating FGM is not and will not be easy. It is a tradition that was acquired over centuries and getting rid of it will take work, implementation of the law, education and resources – but, above all it will take our passion, regardless of age, gender, race or creed.
My organization, Safe Hands for Girls, works with girls all over the US. We use our platform give them a place to share, to articulate the problems they face and to learn how they can speak up against FGM – and to let them know that we are here and that we care. But we don’t want to stop at education and awareness: we want to empower the women that carry out this practice on their daughters to change their own lives. By empowering them, we give them a better future not only for themselves, but also for their daughters who would otherwise be mutilated.
I know that I am only here today because of what others have done before me: brave survivor activists such as Nimco Ali, Leyla Hussein, Alimatu Dimonekene and others have broken their silence to empower others to speak more freely. Women like Equality Now’s Efua Dorkenoo have been working for more than 30 years, while younger activists like Fahma Mohamed from Integrate Bristol have work to help a new generation of girls achieve change.
We all share a similar dream: to live in a world free from female genital mutilation and any other form of violence against women. A world where mutilating our genitals does not define our “cleanliness”. A world where girls and women are not treated as sexual objects. A world where sex is not only for men to enjoy.
Stand with us and help end this inhumane act of female genital mutilation. FGM is not just “their” issue – it is our issue, and it’s a human issue.