Thursday, 15 April 2010

Breaking out of the silence (FGM series)

This is the 3rd in a 6-part series on the topic of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

What follows is the transcript of an interview I carried out with a survivor of this horrific practise. It is extremely apt that she agreed to be interviewed, as she was the very individual who prompted me to run this series on the blog. In order to protect her anonymity, we shall refer to her as Asma.

Roshni: “firstly, thanks Asma for agreeing to be interviewed for the FGM series I am producing on the blog. Can you tell us firstly a little of your background and how you came to be living in the UK?”

Asma: “I am in my early 30s, I am from Somalia. I am a single mother with 2 sons. I came to the UK with my children seeking political asylum. My case was accepted, and I have lived here for 14 years now”.

Roshni: “You agreed to this interview because you wanted to promote awareness of FGM amongst the readers of this blog, can you tell us about your experiences?”

Asma: “well, I too am a survivor of FGM. I was circumcised when I was 7 years old in Somalia. My circumcision was maybe better than what some people suffer. My family lived in the city and we had money, the operation was performed in a hospital with proper cleanliness, tools and doctors. I was not told what I was going to hospital for, I had been having stomach problems and was told I needed to rest there. I had no suspicions when the operation took place, but when I woke up I had the traditional leg bindings which are required for the wound to close up, that’s when I knew what has happened with me”.

Roshni: “it is rare for such a procedure to be performed in the hospital I believe, is the procedure less traumatic if performed that way?”

Asma: “hmm well I think so maybe yes it is, because you have less chance of developing shock and infections and you don’t remember the trauma of the circumcision, and even the pain afterwards is less severe because you have proper access to pain killers and doctors and etc”.

Roshni “how long did you stay in hospital? And what happened to you after that?”

Asma: “I was there for 3 days, then was carried home by my mother with my leg bindings, I was unable to move for 40 days till the cuts heeled. I was in terrible pain, urinating would make me cry and took 20 minutes at a time to release it. I felt very alone, sad, depressed and cried allot, I don’t know but after my circumcision I spent allot of time in my room, I was not interested in school playing with friends or any of the usual things”.

Roshni ”Do you think your withdrawal from life was a direct result of your circumcision?”

Asma: “oh yes definitely. My family said it is normal: part of growing up and the circumcision is necessary and the withdrawal is also necessary because it is part of growing up and being mature, but I don’t agree, I knew something was wrong and it turned my world upside down”.

Roshni: “How did the circumcision affect the rest of your life?”

Asma: “I had lots of pain, lots of infections nearly every 2 or 3 months. The pain got worse as I got older, and when my parents arranged my marriage, I got scared of the sexual act and the pain it would cause and how I would have children. My periods were always traumatic for me and I spent almost 5 days in bed each month.”

Roshni: “how did the circumcision affect your married life?”

Asma: “my husband could not open me on my wedding night, and I had to visit a female doctor to have some stitches removed. I felt shame, pain and embarrassed but my husband seemed happy and said this way he knew his wife was pure and he was satisfied. I didn’t enjoy the sexual act, it hurt and I always prayed for it to be over. My husband got angry and sometimes hit me when he said I did not give him any pleasure, but I didn’t know what pleasure is and how to make him pleased with me. I went deeper in to depression and started cutting myself. This made my husband more angry. When I got pregnant I thought the children would help things between me and him”.

Roshni: “did the children help?”

Asma: “No!! it can’t help!! If a marriage is broken, so it is broken, you can’t mend it with children! We had one son, and my husband was pleased, but he was also drifting away from me and took a second and younger wife, but I also saw he was unhappy with her too and hit her like he hit me. I don’t know but maybe it was also because of circumcision!
I got pregnant again, but this time my husband sent me to my parent’s place for delivery, and I never went back to him!”.

Roshni: “how did you come to the UK?”

Asma: “when my husband finally gave divorce, my parents didn’t want me around. It was shaming for them to have a daughter alone with 2 sons at home! So they had a political contact who helped me to leave the country. I came to London first, then was told by a cousin already here to go Scotland because it’s a nicer and quiet safe place.”

Roshni: “how did you adjust to the life here?”

Asma: “it was very hard, I was alone with the children and know no English! Even now my English isn’t good but its somehow better than before: I got to know a Somali neighbour in the flats where I lived, she started taking me to English classes and put me in touch with other Organisations. I was very depressed and didn’t like to go out, but she would force me and I think it was good for me”.

Roshni: “was your circumcision ever a problem living here?”

Asma: “well, I didn’t think about that. I thought its normal and that women here are also circumcised. One day I was attending a women’s support group and one of the other women there started talking about circumcision and how its bad and dangerous etc. I was very shocked when she said that women here are not circumcised and it shouldn’t happen!”

Roshni: “how did you feel when the woman told you that?”

Asma: “I was shocked!! Very, just so shocked! I didn’t know this only happens in Africa. Even I didn’t know it is wrong and so dangerous, because women in Somalia don’t talk about it ever, not even between mothers and daughters! I felt embarrassed to talk about it but she told me I should see a doctor and get help with the pain and that they can make things better for me.”

Roshni: “did you take her advice and see a doctor?”

Asma: “no!! I was very ashamed! But I developed cervical cancer when I was here and the doctor came to know about this when running tests! He was very shocked and didn’t know much about female circumcision! They sent me to a special doctor, who was able to make the opening better for me and repair some of the tearing in my vagina. They also helped me with continence as I had some problem with urinating due to this. Doctors here are very good and I would still be suffering without them”.

Roshni: “what are your views on circumcision now?”

Asma: “I think it is wrong, its very wrong thing to do! I think boys must be circumcised because Islam says it is must: but not women! It is damaging and dangerous for them! I know some women who even now said they would circumcise their daughters and take them back home, but I am always trying to teach them it is wrong, and if I had daughters, I would not circumcise my daughters”.

Roshni: “now that your sons are grown up, do you ever talk to them about this issue?”

Asma: “yes I talk to them about this issue! I know some people think I am some kind of weird because boys shouldn’t know about it, but I see that even in the Somali boys here they think it is better to marry a circumcised girl because she won’t sleep around and is more faithful, I want my sons to be more educated and see things different so I try to teach them a better way, even I am campaigning in some of the women’s groups here on this issue.”

Roshni: “what advice would you give to a girl who is afraid of circumcision?”

Asma: “you must be strong and fight against it. Tell your parents you will not go through with it and don’t let them take you back to Somalia. Even I know that some people manage to carry out circumcisions in this country but it is still rare and safer here so try to stay here. If the girl is in school she can talk to the teachers or other adults if she need help. Circumcision for the girls is illegal here and not aloud so there is protection for them.”

Roshni: “why did you ask me to run this series on my blog?”

Asma: “because we must educate the people, all people wherever they are. Lots of other Muslims don’t know this goes on because it is not practised in all the Muslim places. We need people to break out of the silence and talk about this issue. If more people campaign then we can start to make changes for the new generations”.

Roshni: “is there any final comments you would like to make?”

Asma: “well just thank you for the interview and just again ask people to speak on this issue: mine is a real story and there is many stories like this so listen to the women and try to help them in every way possible”.

Once again, my sincere thanks to Asma for her strength, confidence and desire to tell her story. Please pray for her and her family, and all of those battling against this horrific practise.

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