I was born in Somalia and lived there for a few years before my family and I migrated to the U.K. There was one particular day in Somalia that I will never forget. It was a Sunday like no other Sunday before. I was about six or seven years old, and everyone was talking about a lady who was coming to circumcise the girls in my neighborhood.
The girls who were going to get circumcised that day were being constantly reassured by their mums that the circumcision would probably be painful and hurt for a long time, but also that it had to be done. They were told that it was a part of growing up and becoming a woman, and that being circumcised would make them pure and chaste for their future husbands.
I remember seeing the lady arrive with her razors, thread, and knives. She had some other equipment that I can’t remember. She caught me catching a glimpse of her kit and asked my mother if I was one of the girls who would be getting circumcised. I gave my mum a look of desperation, my eyes watering, and then I begged my mum, “Please don’t let her mutilate my vagina.”
My mother replied, “No, not her. She’s too young.”
Relieved would be an understatement of how I felt at that moment. The lady gave my mother a stern look. “She’s a big girl,” she said. “You should let me circumcise her today. I had both my daughters circumcised before they were three.”
Luckily, my mother didn’t change her mind. My mother told the woman that my elder sister was being circumcised that day, as she was 12 years old and would probably hit puberty soon.
That day, the girls were taken one by one into a room to get circumcised—with no anesthesia, no pain relief, and no professional medics. The torture the girls went through can only be left to the imagination. The screaming we heard cannot do any justice to the pain they were in. Some girls were in so much agony that they couldn’t even scream. You could just hear a weak, muffled moan from them.
Then they called my sister’s name, and I knew exactly what was about to happen to her. Completely helpless, I stood there and watched her go into that room. After a few minutes, I could hear her crying. I could also hear the women carrying out the procedure constantly reminding her that she had to be strong and that this circumcision would make her a better woman.
But how? How would having part of her clitoris removed with a sharp object make her a better woman?
How would having her labia stumps sewn together, leaving a tiny hole for urination, make her a better woman?
How does having a lifetime of infections, continuous bleeding, and physical and mental pain make her a better woman?
Why would anyone think that such an immoral act can make anyone a better woman? The answer is simple: So she doesn’t have sex. So she doesn’t lose her virginity before marriage.
The most common reason for female genital mutilation (FGM) is to stop girls from exploring their sexual desires and prevent them from wanting to have sex. A woman whose labia are sewn together will probably hesitate to have sex more than a woman whose labia aren’t sewn together. FGM is an immoral practice that makes women fear sex before marriage.
Fortunately for me, not long after this incident, we moved to the U.K., where I was protected from FGM and given simple human rights. My sister, on the other hand, who had been circumcised, spent most of her teens traumatized about the idea of sex, especially penetration. She had a small opening in her vagina where both her urine and period would come out from. This caused her to have endless infections, and she ultimately needed to have reverse surgery.
Millions of young girls are circumcised every year, especially in developing countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Somalia has one of the highest rates of FGM in the world, with the majority of girls being circumcised before puberty. It is a mixture of ignorance and love for a culture that makes this practice so widespread.
Instead of talking to girls about sex and helping them understand their bodies and needs, girls are being shunted away to get circumcised so they resent having sex and lack or repress any sexual desires they may have.
Sex is a natural part of life and is just as important for women as it is for men.
FGM is an unethical, inhumane practice with no logical or religious background. Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and Islam have rejected any link to or affiliation with FGM and their religion.
The reality is that FGM is a cultural belief that some people made up years ago, and ignorant people have just followed in their footsteps.
The saddest thing about FGM is that the perpetrators see only good in this practice and ignore all the risks and harms, such as its lifelong implications for women.
Some women struggle with walking and having regular periods. Most women who have FGM will never enjoy sex, because penetration will always be painful. Some will have complications in childbirth. FGM can even result in blood poisoning or death.
FGM is a human rights violation and needs to be banned worldwide. It may be a prominent part of some cultures, but many countries have already banned it. I don’t know if Somalia will ever be one of those countries, but I have hope that one day, Somalia and other nations that support FGM will learn to speak to girls about sex rather than ruin their bodies and lives with such a dangerous procedure.