My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Female genital mutilation or FGM for short is one of the most horrific crimes against girls and women in the world. According to the World Health Organization over 100 million women and girls live with the adverse effects of FGM, a traditional practice where a girl’s external genitalia are removed. The pain is excruciating oftentimes performed without anesthesia by older women in a village and according to traditional customs. Girls are then sewn up and a tiny hole is all that remains – tiny enough that only a Q-tip can get inside. FGM causes massive health problems for women and girls who sometimes cannot urinate and have unbearable menses because the blood cannot sufficiently flow out of a girl’s body. Once a girl is married, many times very early, sex is painful and when she has a baby its head cannot breach the massive, thick scar tissue that forms from FGM causing its death. And many women find themselves then having a fistula. This happens more times than not. FGM remains a destructive circle of violence against women and girls particularly when after birth women are re-sewn in order to remain “chaste”.
The best telling of FGM is in The Girl with Three Legs: A Memoir written by FGM activist and Somalian woman, Soraya Mire. Mire was 13 years old living in Mogadishu, Somalia when she underwent FGM. Her day started beautifully with her mother going out to shop and buy beautiful clothes, but the day ended in a strange house where her genitalia was forcefully removed and literally thrown to stray dogs to eat. It was a horrific experience for Mire, she writes. It took her many, many years before she decided to come forward to help prevent girls from undergoing FGM in her homeland and beyond.
After undergoing FGM Mire became extremely sick with swollen legs because urine and blood could never pass through her vagina as it should. Her parents who were wealthy tried everything to help her except reverse the procedure. They called in a Chinese doctor to perform acupuncture. They went to a local doctor who prescribed her medicine because they thought she had gone crazy, but it didn’t work. They also took Mire to local healers and, of course, that didn’t help either. She lived in pain for years until she went to college in Europe and discovered she has been secretly married to one of her cousins.
FGM and an arranged marriage were the ultimate signs of betrayal for her independence and for autonomy over her body. It took Mire several moves in Europe, escaping from her husband, and an eventual and final move to the United States before she found her voice to create her film about FGM, Fire Eyes.
Amid death threats and being shunned by her people and even countries that didn’t want her showing her film she found resolve in spreading the word about the dangers of FGM. Through sheer determination and a willingness to move forward with her story despite many Somalian’s desire for her to keep her mouth shut about FGM Mire found herself at Sundance and even on the Oprah show. She was also instrumental in helping to make FGM a felony in the United States as more Somalian refugees came to America and tried to continue the practice with their daughters.
Knowing and understanding the full scope of FGM is difficult if you haven’t gone through it or know anyone who has, but Mire brings the ugliness of this violence against women and girls to her readers in raw detail. Anyone who reads this will stand against the practice in any way they can.
How can you help?
Join the DFID Thunderclap against FGM.
Support UNFPA and UNICEF‘s joint campaign to end FGM.