In the wake of the findings yesterday by The Sunday Times that as many as 100,000 girls and women in the UK have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM) with medics in the UK offering to carry out the illegal procedure on girls as young as 10, we bring you our interview with Waris Dirie, former model and a UN ambassador for the abolition of the practice.
Dirie, who was mutilated as a child said,
If a white girl is abused, the police come and break down the door. If a black girl is mutilated, nobody takes care of her. This is what I call racism.”
Her sentiments echoed those of Kit Matlhouse, the deputy mayor of London, who said, “If hundreds of girls were appearing in London with their little fingers snipped off, govermnet, police and society would mobilise to catch, convict and imprison the perpetrators. We must do the same for FGM even if that means paying less attention to cultural sensitivities.”
Most of the estimated 140m FGMs worldwide have been in 28 African and Middle Eastern countries where the practice, which involves the surgical removal of external genitalia and in some cases the stitching of the vaginal opening,is seen as healthy and vital in preserving chastity. In Somalia, Sudan and parts of Egypt, 90% of women reportedly undergo FGM.
There are four types of FGM and 80% of the cases are reported as either type 1 which involves the removal of the clitoris or type 2 which involves the removal of the clitoris and part of the labia. Type 3 FGM is the removal of all external genitalia and the stitching of the vaginal opening, leaving only a small opening formed by the scar tissue over the vagina while type 4, the most extreme, involves cutting and sewing and at times insertion of corrosive substances into the vagina which increase the risk of bleeding and infection, as well as causing excruciating pain to the victim.
Last week, in her piece ‘The Cake is Baked’ in response to artist Makode Linde’s cake installation depicting female genital mutilation for the World Art Day celebrationat Sweden’s Moderna Museet, Egyptian-Sudanese-American writer Kola Boof, who has also undergone FGM, wrote of living life as an FGM survivor in these words:
Activists using the term “mutilation” forget that this is a Psychological condition, not just physical. We that are cut have to live our entire lives with our vagina. We have to move on and accept this horrible inconvenience and find joy in it.
I am now 42 and have given birth to two sons by cesarean—yet I am like a 12 year old down there. It does not change. This tightness that is created for male pleasure (no other reason, despite what the religious men say) is a never-ending curse of pain and ecstasy; sexual rapture bound up in brutally inhuman suffrage for the woman.”
Forward, a charity that campaigns against FGM, revealed that an estimated number of 100,000 women have undergone FGM and a further 24,000 are thought to be at risk. The procedure is illegal in Britain and carries up to a 14-year prison sentence although, across all 43 forces in England and Wales, no one has ever been convicted of the offence, according to the Sunday Times. It is also against the law to arrange FGM.
Here’s our interview with Waris Dirie from Volume 1 Issue 4, The Celebration Issue where she was featured as one of many African women we celebrate.