The pain just begins with the cutting.
The reality of female genital mutilation (FGM) is that the pain doesn't stop once the procedure is done; it continues and makes ordinary aspects of life extremely painful.
Imagine if ordinary female actions like peeing, having a period, or childbirth brought you excruciating pain. This is what life is like for survivors of female genital mutilation.
According to Unicef, 200 million women and girls across 30 countries have been affected by procedures that involve partial or total removal of female external genitalia for non-medical reasons. Fifty percent of FGM survivors are from Indonesia, Egypt, and Ethiopia.
The different types of female circumcision or genital mutilation are broken down as follows:
- Removing the clitoris.
- Removing the clitoris and the smaller labia.
- Removing the labia and a forced narrowing of the vaginal opening (and often includes removal of the clitoris as well).
- Any kind of harmful mutilation in the genitals.
It's very difficult to see this kind of mutilation as anything other than cruel, unnecessary, and abusive.
In an article for BBC Magazine, Hibo Wardere, author of the book, Cut: One Woman's Fight Against FGM in Britain Today, was subjected to type three mutilation when she was 6 years old.
Hibo grew up in Somalia, where 98 percent of women and girls between the ages 15 and 49 have had their genitals mutilated, and it was her mother who took her to have her genitals cut and sewn up.
"She [Hibo's mother] thought this was protection for me. She thought she was protecting the family honor," says Hibo. "She herself was a victim [and] her mother, her grandmother. They thought if you weren't cut, you're going to be talked about, you're going to be stigmatized, no one is going to marry you."
Saying that urinating for a woman who's had FGM is painful is an understatement. "And then you realize your wee isn't coming out the way it used to," Hibo says. "It's coming out as droplets and every drop was worse than the one before. This takes four or five minutes — and in that four or five minutes you're experiencing horrific pain."
When you've experienced FGM, you start to have a psychological block because the only thing you associate with the lower part of your body is pain — you experience something very similar to what those who suffer from PTSD feel. Besides pain, some of the consequences (of FGM) include urinary tract infections, uterine infections, kidney infections, cysts, reproductive issues, and pain during sex.
Eventually, Hibo underwent a procedure called defibulation where her labia was opened up surgically. This widened the hole and exposed her urethra but it was by no means a cure-all and it couldn't restore the sensitive tissue that was removed.
When Hibo gave birth to a son, she had flashbacks of when she had been mutilated (something many survivors go through). As she was the first FGM survivor that the hospital in Surrey had ever seen, no one had any idea how to help her to have an easier labor and birth.
"Before they could even think of what was going to happen and how they're going to deliver this boy, my son came. They had to cut me," Hibo remembered. "My son actually ripped parts of me as well because he was coming with such force."
Despite the experience of the first birth, Hibo went on to have more children, and the subsequent births were much easier and less traumatic since FGM awareness had increased and there were birth plans in place.
Awareness of female genital mutilation needs to become more widespread so that the survivors can get the treatment they need and that the practice of FGM stopped.