BY HIBO WARDERE
Hibo Wardere is a Somalia-born campaigner against FGM, who has worked with local councils, professionals and schools to end the practice. She came to the U.K. as an asylum seeker in 1989, having been subjected to over ten years of FGM-related trauma in her home country.
I was cut at six years old. Terrifying is not the word. You have got no idea what it means when your own loved ones are the ones thinking that they need to do this. My mum thought she was doing her motherly duty, a wonderful thing. It was something that every mama has to do, a social code that everybody follows.
The trauma, it’s imprinted in your head. When you’re screaming and begging for help, and nobody came. That alone has so many repercussions emotionally- and the pain that you’re going through when they’re cutting your flesh, there’s no words for that. It’s pure hell. It’s something that you cannot erase from your mind even if you try. It’s always there, because first of all, you are reminded by your physicality, so you can never ever forget that. Your physicality has changed.
After I was cut, I was in a makeshift hut that my mum and aunty made. You stay there for 12 days, where they come in and try to talk to you. In my case, I didn’t want to talk to anybody, I didn’t want to see anyone. It was just the most painful 12 days of my life. In constant pain, even the slightest movement was just a nightmare. A horror movie. But in this case it was a reality, not a movie.
I got bullied at school for being the only one who wasn’t ‘cut’
In Somalia, there are a lot of different ways of calling it. Some call it sumna, some call it karades. In Mogadishu, where I’m from, they call it kuid. Having said that, they never actually said the word kuid. They said, “you’re gonna be a woman”. They never discussed what that actually meant. That part is an extremely secretive part. They don’t want to tell you in case you run.
I got bullied so much at school because all the people in my class were cut, and only I wasn’t. So they ridiculed me. They bullied me saying, “you are haram.” The thing that they never talked about was the cutting. What was that to them? They never explained that. They explained that it was something to be very proud of. For me, looking back now, it seems like they were groomed to feel that it is something good, and maybe that was the way they coped with the pain. I don’t know, either way, they didn’t explain. After I was cut, and I went back to school and they wanted to welcome me into the group. I didn’t want to be part of it, I just thought, you should have told me what it was, how dare you?
Before I even knew the word ‘FGM’, I knew it was wrong. In my head I already formed an opinion that this was horrific. What was done to me was, there’s no way to describe it. I felt my own family had abandoned me. When I came to this country and had my first child, the professionals, medical team and midwife wrote on my report card the three letters: ‘FGM’. Those three letters got me thinking, I knew they meant something, I just didn’t know what it meant because I didn’t speak English.
I came to the U.K. in 1989 when I was 18 years old. I came here as an asylum seeker from Somalia. I have to say, at that time, I was very much welcomed. The U.K. offered me sanctuary, the U.K. offered me my humanity. For me that meant being able to make decisions about my life for the first time, to do whatever I wanted. That is a privilege that we take so much for granted. I sought treatment, and went to the doctor for the infibulation.
Education is the biggest tool we have to fight FGM
Education has become the biggest tool I have to tackle FGM. I educated myself to actively make me understand what I went through. It made me understand how to connect the dots of what I was going through, and realise that many of my issues actually stemmed from FGM. It was a relief for me to read about everything I was going through in a book.
Education is the biggest tool that we have, and I advise the government to start teaching children about the risks and how to protect yourself from FGM from as young as five years old. If we want to change this, if we want to eradicate it, we have to use education. Not only FGM, but all kinds of abuses. We need to equip our young with information that can protect their lives. We owe that to them.
A report came out recently, compiled by City University and Equality Now, and the figures actually broke down which areas have the highest rates of FGM. It looks like every part of England and Wales is being touched by FGM, and I mean every part. They even broken down the percentages of all those kids and it’s quite harrowing to see that report. It’s very widespread. You can see every part of England and Wales impacted by this. They keep saying FGM is a priority. If it is, you need to establish services that are vital, you need to make education your focal point, when you start from primary school. You need to empower men and women with information, you need to empower professionals.
FGM services are vital. We have to have these services, especially the ones you can walk in, you don’t have to go and see your GP, or relive the trauma by explaining what happened to you over and over. Acton Clinic in Ealing, which has recently shut down, was like that. It’s heartbreaking because it’s been accessed by hundreds of women. Ealing is becoming the third highest borough in London for FGM, so why are they closing the only clinic in their borough?
My advice to anyone suffering FGM-related trauma: don’t suffer in silence
Surviving this is so hard, psychologically you are absolutely disturbed beyond words. Emotionally, you’re totally and utterly drained. Basically you are in pain. Every aspect of your life as a woman is touched by FGM. There’s no aspect of you- it doesn’t escape. You have no escape. So what do you do with trauma like that? You have to find a way to live with it. You have to find a way to relieve what you feel, and for me it comes in terms of sharing, in terms of talking, in terms of educating, it’s my way of getting through day to day.
Women who have been through it already- I’m like you, I didn’t like talking about it. It took me almost four decades to even open up. I know how hard it is because this is very personal. Extremely personal. What I would say is, do not suffer in silence. Silence destroys you. Talk about it, go seek help. There are many services for you nowadays. Go, talk to your GP, ask them to refer you to a service, and before you do anything else, start with a therapy. Therapy gives you that confidence that you need, therapy gives you a space where you can talk and cry and scream, and do whatever you want to express your emotions. Please please do not suffer in silence.