Day of the Girl: A survivor’s journey after female genital mutilation

Women in my community worry that they won’t be a good Somali woman if they haven’t undergone FGM.  This is a practice that continues to control women's sexuality

Related Topics

I only became aware of how much I’d been affected psychologically by female genital mutilation (FGM) when I fell pregnant. I was severely depressed and I hated being vaginally examined; it was my worst nightmare. And I remember the doctors wondering: why is she so scared? I realized later it was my body experiencing flashbacks, reminding me of what had happened to me when I was six.

The day I was cut, in Somalia, I had no idea what was about to happen. When I woke up there were so many people in the house I thought we were celebrating something. But it wasn’t my birthday. The neighbour’s daughter turned to me and said “You must be really looking forward to this”. As she spoke I heard my sister screaming. It was an out of body experience; this girl was saying I was going to be cut and I thought, that’s not right, but I was in shock. Someone said: “Go get Leyla, it’s her turn”.

I was pinned onto the table by four women. They said “it's not going to be painful, silly girl”. Apparently they gave me an injection to numb it, but I felt everything, I felt my flesh being cut off.

After you're cut you're given presents, chocolates, sweets – me and my sister actually got gold watches. You’re abused, but you're rewarded for it. It leaves you with a massive sense of confusion about people you trust. Years later when I was training to be a therapist I confronted my mother. She had believed it was the right thing to do at the time, but she also protected me. She told everyone that I had gone through Type 3 (the most severe form) rather than Type 2. By having this conversation and receiving her apology, I was freed from this confusion. I knew that I would never let my daughter go through this ordeal.

FGM is a form of identity. Women in my community worry that they won’t be considered a good Somali woman if they haven’t undergone FGM.  But let’s be clear: this is a practice that controls women's sexuality, and it continues today because we still live in an environment where women are restricted.

People need to be educated. I didn’t know how much FGM had affected me psychologically until I had the right knowledge. No child is going to come out and testify against their parents. At the same time we need to exercise the law because FGM is a human rights violation and these girls deserve justice. But we need to recognize that if you arrest a mother, she might also be a victim. 

Our focus now must be on prevention. The UK government needs to implement the multi agency guidelines that it has published and make them mandatory. We have this great tool but it’s collecting dust. Our schools are not talking about this; the NHS is not talking about this. Teachers should be trained to notice the little girl who can’t sit on the floor properly. Or the girl who takes 20 minutes to urinate, but no-one questions why, so she gets detention.

When I started counseling survivors of FGM, I made an assumption that all women would have the same story, but I actually don't know two similar accounts. One woman I spoke to can’t have children. She was told she had to be cut to be a perfect woman, but at that moment her right to motherhood was also cut from her. The counseling I provide is a space for these women to make sense of what happened to them, to acknowledge that they suffered a form of child abuse. I’m now hoping to train therapists so they can identify survivors of FGM and help them deal with its complications.

My 11-year-old daughter recently said to me: “I'm so grateful you never made me go through something like this”.  She's my biggest accomplishment.

Leyla Hussein is an anti-FGM activist, psychotherapist, ‘Strong Voice’ of Amnesty International’s END FGM European Campaign and co-founder of Daughters of Eve, a charity dedicated to ending gender-based violence including female genital mutilation.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Commercial Litigation NQ+

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE NQ to MID LEVEL - An e...


Highly Attractive Pakage: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - A highly attractive oppor...

Senior Marketing Manager - Central London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (Campaigns, Offlin...

Head of Marketing - Acquisition & Direct Reponse Marketing

£90000 - £135000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing (B2C, Acquisition...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Norovirus the food poisoning bug that causes violent stomach flu  

A flu pandemic could decide next year’s election

Matthew Norman
J. Jayalalithaa gestures to her party supporters while standing on the balcony of her residence in Chennai. Former film star Jayalalithaa Jayaram is one of India's most colourful and controversial politicians  

The jailing of former film star Jayalalithaa Jayaram is a drama even Bollywood couldn’t produce

Andrew Buncombe
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?