They tell you that you’re dirty

A blood-chilling post on FGM by Musa Okwanga. His mother is a GP and she’s been looking into the issue of FGM for some time. She gathered several women from Somalia, Egypt and Sudan in her living room to talk to her and her son.

One of them spoke of the agony that the procedure still caused her three decades later.  Frequently, when bent over with pain, she would receive little understanding from those in her community who did not know what she had experienced.  “Sometimes they just call you lazy”, she explained.

Three decades of crippling pain caused by a mutilation that serves no useful purpose.

This, she said, is how it typically happens.  When you’re six years old, girls in the year above at the local school, or madrassa, go and have the procedure done; after that, they return to school and they tell you that you’re dirty for not having gone through it.   “We look up to them like they’re big girls”, she said. At that point, the young girls will go to their mothers and ask when they can have it done too.  Then they go and have and it done; and, she says with a wry laugh, “then you get disabled”.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali wrote about that in Infidel. Peer pressure. Those who hadn’t had it done were called “kintirle” and it was considered revolting, filthy, gross in every way. If the kintir didn’t get cut off it would grow and grow until it flopped around at knee level.

Sex for them is horrible – it’s painful, and nothing else.

 “I have been married for 10 years and have only had sex seven times,” said another woman.  “[After sex], I cry for two hours and then have paracetamol.  You can use hot water, to soothe yourself [between the legs] with a shower.  The first time is the worst, because the skin [which has been sewn back up] gets ripped.”

Gratuitous pain; what a great invention.

My mother recommended that several centres, or “pain clinics”, should be set up across the UK, whose staff should include a gynaecologist and urologist who each specialised in FGM. That way, she said, “we can make their lives a little bit better, and see if there is any way they can have a more enjoyable and comfortable sex life.”  She said that local MPs and Mayors should be made aware of this problem; and, noting the Government’s recent announcement of £35million to address FGM in ten countries, she also proposed arranging FGM conferences in Africa, where women who had undergone this procedure could talk openly about their experiences.

What was it, I wondered, that had emboldened these women to speak out about this now, of all times?  “Mostly people are [now] on our side,” said one of them.  “And there are a lot of women who are now coming from Africa, who are talking about it because they don’t want it to happen to their children.”

I certainly hope so.



  1. The Mellow Monkey says

    What was it, I wondered, that had emboldened these women to speak out about this now, of all times? “Mostly people are [now] on our side,” said one of them. “And there are a lot of women who are now coming from Africa, who are talking about it because they don’t want it to happen to their children.”

    This is so, so important. These women need allies and outside support, without having their voices silenced. Between this and some of the western reactions to the protests in support of Amina, I’m having a lot of thoughts about allies and what their role is.

    A lot of times it’s pointed out that it isn’t a good idea for a male* feminist or ally to try to directly challenge a woman’s internalized sexism. That doesn’t mean that male feminists or allies should stay silent, but that those who are best equipped to challenge a woman’s internalized sexism is other women. What male feminists or allies can–and should–do is offer support and backup and challenge the sexism that men are perpetuating, challenge institutionalized sexism and also challenge the places where patriarchy affects them personally. A woman who has internalized sexism is more likely to listen to other women; a man who has internalized sexism is more likely to listen to other men. Issues of mansplaining, not fully grasping the bargains a woman has to make with patriarchy, trampling on someone’s personal experiences, etc are reduced when it’s another woman talking to her. Allies can do a lot of damage and need to be aware of that and know how to avoid it.

    And the same holds for western feminists on FGM or other other culturally charged oppressions. Those of us unaffected by this are allies. Yes, FGM apologia does have an effect on all women–and men are also hurt by patriarchy–but the women from cultures who practice it are the ones best equipped to challenge it on a personal level. Our role is to offer support, to spread awareness and to challenge those people in our own cultures who are not offering support. Those from the cultures practicing this are best equipped for combatting it more directly and are the most likely to be listened to by the people practicing it.

    We can be allies without being “oppressive and orientalist.” Yes, allies do get it wrong on occasion. That doesn’t mean allies in general are bad. The greater our privilege, the greater our power to change minds in other privileged people. The more we do that, the more allies there are. The safer it is for those directly affected to take action and find support. Those who are directly affected will always be the ones on the front lines. Recognizing and honoring that doesn’t mean staying silent or supporting the status quo out of fear that to do otherwise would be culturally insensitive. Those fighting on the front lines can still benefit from having others watching their backs.

    *I’m using binary gender identities here for simplicity. It does get more complex with more identities, but this is a basic illustration.

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