Female genital mutilation (FGM), also known as female genital cutting and female circumcision, is the ritual removal of some or all of the external female genitalia. Country based surveys on the rates of FGM suggest that 200 million women have undergone the procedures in 27 countries in Africa, as well as in Indonesia, Iraqi Kurdistan and Yemen, with a rate of 80–98 percent within the 15–49 age group in Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Guinea, Mali, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Sudan. The practice is also found elsewhere in Asia, the Middle East and among communities from these areas in other countries.
This article appeared on BBC News.com Magazine
Some 200 million women and girls across 30 countries have been affected by female genital mutilation (FGM). But how do survivors live with the pain of peeing, periods and childbirth?
“The first time you notice your physicality has changed is your pee,” says HiboWardere.
Hibo, now 46, was subjected to what is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “type three” mutilation when she was six. This means all of her labia were cut off and she was then stitched together, leaving a tiny hole she compares to the size of a matchstick.
She grew up in Somalia, where 98% of women and girls between 15 and 49 have had their genitals forcibly mutilated.
“An open wound rubbed with salt or hot chilli – it felt like that,” she recalls.
“And then you realise your wee isn’t coming out the way it used to come. 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.”
Hibo came to the UK when she was 18, and within months visited a doctor to see if they could relieve the pain she experienced when she passed urine and during her periods.
Her translator didn’t want to interpret her request, but the GP managed to understand.
Eventually, Hibo underwent a procedure called defibrillation, when the labia is opened surgically. This widened the hole and exposed her urethra. It is by no means an outright fix, and can never restore sensitive tissue that was removed, but it did make it slightly easier to urinate.
Sex, however, presented a new hurdle. “Even if the doctor has opened you up, what they’ve left you with is a very tiny space,” says Hibo.
“Things that were supposed to be expanding have gone. So the hole that you have is very small and sex is very difficult. You do get pleasures – but it’s once in a blue moon.”
The trauma of the assault also had a bearing on intimate situations with her partner.
“First you have a psychological block because the only thing you associate with that part of you is pain,” says Hibo.
“The other part is the trauma you experienced. So anything that’s happening down there, you never see it as a good thing.”
Figures released by Unicef in February raised the number of estimated FGM survivors by around 70 million to 200 million worldwide, with Indonesia, Egypt and Ethiopia accounting for half of all victims.
In the UK, FGM has been banned since 2003. Last year the government introduced a new law requiring professionals to report known cases of FGM in under-18s to the police.
Activists and the police have raised awareness about the risk of British school girls being flown out of the UK specifically to be stripped of their genitals during what is known as the “cutting season” over the summer.