Us, “The Children of FGM”

By Hamda Mohamed
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CW: female genital mutilation

Us, “the children of FGM.”

In grade seven, two Somali diaspora girls were in our class. One day they told us—all the girls in the class—that they were not circumcised and did not know what circumcision was. We all looked at one another as if someone had committed a crime. We are circumcised so that our husbands can know our “cleanliness,” and we couldn’t believe that the girls’ mother did not want them to be beautiful and loved by their husbands. We felt unworthy without circumcision, and had all accepted that female genital mutilation, commonly referred to as FGM, was a necessity.

In primary school, my friends and I would ask each other if we were circumcised. Often, those of us who were not would lie because otherwise, we would be outcasts—completely isolated. We would talk about how a woman who was not circumcised could never be married and could never have her place in the world. We believed that circumcision was the word of God, Allah, and that women are only beautiful and “pure” if circumcised. My aunty once told me that FGM originated from a pharaoh king who had multiple wives and circumcised all of these wives before he would travel so that they stayed clean for him.

Female genital mutilation is the removal of parts or the entirety of the external female genitals for non-medical reasons. Somalis practice three types of female genital cutting: Type 1, the partial or total removal of the clitoris; type 2, the partial or complete removal of the clitoris and the labia minora; and type 3, the closing of the vaginal opening by cutting and repositioning the labia minora or labia majora, with or without removing the clitoris. Those who have undergone any of these forms of genital mutilation often experience painful urination, pain during intercourse, psychological problems, increased risk during labor, and other side effects. 98% of women in Somaliland, an autonomous region in the north of Somalia, have gone through circumcision, and according to the Thomson Reuters Foundation, 85% of them experience type 3 female genital cutting.

Our mothers told us stories of their experiences being circumcised. We knew they had circumcised us out of love, because if anyone understood the lasting health effects and the immorality of female genital cutting, they did. Most of us felt safe and blessed to be born after our mothers, because they endured at times where every woman underwent type 3 circumcision and overused equipment was widespread.

Edna Adan, a woman of many firsts in Somaliland—the first woman to receive a full scholarship in the UK, the first female Foreign Minister, the first woman to build a maternity hospital, the first woman to start a medical university—has long been advocating against FGM, but the practice still continues to this day. Somali mothers do not trust Edna Adan—a medical specialist—because she is a woman. They rather trust imams, men who are Muslim priests, because they are men and they “know better”.

Female genital cutting does not only have long-term health effects, but it is also morally wrong. Female genitals are mutilated to be “pure” for future husbands, and any woman suspected of being uncircumcised or “not a virgin” is immediately qualified for divorce. Today, my friends and I talk about FGM and wonder why our parents made us feel like objects—this misogynist practice has led Somali women to believe that they have no value if they do not satisfy their husbands. However, there is hope in our generation, as an increasing number of women are now going to college; with this higher education, more Somali women have an understanding of the sexist beliefs behind FGM—a critical start to ending a practice rooted in misogyny.

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