Every year on February 6, on International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, we draw global attention to the fight against female genital mutilation / cutting (FGM/C) – one of the most severe forms of child abuse. At Islamic Relief we do this by exchanging knowledge, experiences and stories from brave women and girls.
We share stories that represent the many voices and the struggles being fought worldwide. We take you into the world of 200 million girls and women who have been circumcised, and the many girls who are still at risk.
We introduce you to women like Maryan, who lives in Somalia, where despite the enormous health risks an estimated 97% of women and girls have undergone some form of FGM/C..
Maryan tells us about her struggle to recover from the physical and emotional wounds after undergoing FGM/C and forced marriage as a young child. She speaks fluently and confidently, but when she talks about being married as a young child, her tone changes and she becomes emotional.
“The problem is,” says Maryan, “that the thought prevails that through circumcision you become a real, complete woman. The ceremony marks the transition to adulthood. After the circumcision, a girl can be married off, which results in dowry for the family. It’s just part of the deal.”.
“I was almost 14-years-old when my parents decided to marry me off to a man who was not my choice,” she says. “I was very young and the man was so much older than me, but there was no way to escape him.
“In the first month of my marriage, I got pregnant and became very ashamed to go anywhere, as people would see my age and realise I was just a child, but one that was pregnant. They would whisper false rumours about me, that I am carrying an illegitimate child and couldn’t possibly be married. I couldn’t handle it and I started to isolate myself”.
Girls seldom hear from their families about the dire consequences of genital mutilation/cutting. These are incalculable, ranging from severe internal bleeding, pain during intercourse and incontinence, to cysts, complicated infections and infertility. Most women don’t even know that circumcision can lead to childbirth complications and an increased risk of stillbirths.
Which is what Maryan experienced first-hand during her pregnancy, “I was four days away from a normal delivery but due to my young age I started to face complications and had to go through a caesarean surgery that caused me to become unconscious for five hours. If it wasn’t for the caesarean surgery my baby and I would have died. This is why I tell my story”.
Maryan meets many women in her community who deny or trivialise the seriousness of FGM/C. She talks about her solution with passion: she wants more women like her to speak out about the dangers of FGM/C and early marriage to young girls and women. “I want to tell them about what happened to me, which is the only way I know how I can stop another young girl becoming a statistic. We need to start speaking out about it, to stop hiding behind our shame, to face our trauma head on even when it hurts us”.
She emphasises that it is also important to talk to mothers who are passing on this trauma that they see as tradition. Having campaigns and activities around FGM/C like the ones during 16 Days of Activism helps better educate and inform communities and create a dialogue on a subject that has for a very long time been taboo.
“The most harrowing moment that will stay with me forever is when I watched a 6-year-old girl bleed to death because her body couldn’t handle the mutilation. I refuse to watch another child go through that”, concluded Maryan.
Now is the time to speak out and change the fates of many girls and women like Maryan.
Islamic Relief is committed to ending all forms of gender-based violence through its programmes and advocacy work, with a key focus on FGM/C, domestic violence and early/forced marriages. Eradicating FGM/C is also part of our commitment to supporting reproductive health, and protecting children – given that it is often performed on girls and infants.
Your voice is crucial and there are opportunities to be heard! Now is the time to speak up to make sure that FGM/C is eradicated through taking action by endorsing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) statement: Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation. You can do this by encouraging others by donating and joining our campaigns, and sharing these stories.