MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Mon 11-Jul-16 16:26:56

Guest post: "Two hundred million girls and women live with FGM - they didn't choose to be cut"

The failure to successfully prosecute a single case of FGM in the UK has been called a 'national scandal' by MPs. Here, survivor Leyla Hussein says the practice must never be viewed as anything other than abuse

Leyla Hussein

Psychotherapist

Posted on: Mon 11-Jul-16 16:26:56

(41 comments )

Lead photo

"We should never entertain the idea that abuse could be a choice just because it is wrapped up in a bouquet of cultural practice."

Female genital mutilation should never be presented as a choice. It comprises all procedures that involve altering or injuring the female genitalia for non-medical reasons and is recognised internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women.

As a survivor, expert in this field and mother to a daughter who is free from this practice, I'm saddened that yet again an article claiming FGM is a choice has been published. Last month, The Economist shared this view: "Instead of trying to stamp FGM out entirely, governments should ban the worst forms, permit those that cause no long-lasting harm and try to persuade parents to choose the least nasty version, or none at all."

I will never understand when abuse becomes a choice, and I wonder whether this dialogue would be taking place on the pages of the mainstream media if it concerned a blonde, blue-eyed girl? I wonder if those having this discussion would 'choose' for their daughters to be mutilated? FGM is abuse - and we should never entertain the idea that abuse could be a choice just because it is wrapped up in a bouquet of cultural practice.

Current statistics published by UNFPA, jointly with UNICEF estimate over 200 million girls and woman globally are living with FGM. This is an increase of 70 million on previously published estimates as it takes in previously uncounted women. The number doesn't surprise or shock many of us who work in this field, but it is a reminder why statistics are so important in giving us a true picture of the issue. Two hundred million girls didn't choose to be cut, they were abused and the world watched in silence - will the world ignore them now?

The Girl Generation brings together campaigners from all over the world to push for change more effectively. Presenting FGM as a choice, and advocating for a softer approach in the battle will not do this. I urge you all, instead, to be part of the movement to end FGM.


I became a psychotherapist when I first realised the effects FGM had on my emotional wellbeing. I also run a counselling service - The Dahlia Project - for FGM survivors. When dealing with the effects of FGM, our health services, GPs and hospitals focus on the physical consequences, such as chronic urinary tract infections, painful periods and acute and chronic pelvic infections which can lead to infertility. The emotional and psychological effects are regularly ignored.

I am no stranger to talking about this; one of the hardest aspects of FGM is learning to live with it as part of your life. Sometimes the emotional wounds are harder to heal than the physical. When the documentary The Cruel Cut finally aired, it gave a voice to many survivors who were afraid to speak out. The British public stood with survivors and recognised the importance of this campaign. You spoke out to say that FGM is child abuse and one of the worst forms of violence against women, and many of you asked the government to put an end to it by signing my E petition. The 100,000 signatures helped us gain a debate in the Houses of Parliament and an inquiry was launched. One of its outcomes was that it is now mandatory to report and record FGM, and we have a civil protection order that we can now use if we feel a girl is at risk.

We now have the FGM Zero Tolerance Day on 6 February as a reminder that female genital mutilation is a global issue; it should not, however, be the only day we remember that. Every minute five girls undergo FGM. This year we celebrated FGM zero tolerance day by bringing together FGM professionals, campaigners, survivors, experts and communities from across England, to share knowledge and discuss practical action as we work together to safeguard women and girls. It proved how far we have come in the past three years in term of tackling FGM, and showed we are finally working in a multi-agency and holistic approach.

There is also now a global identity to the movement to end FGM. The Girl Generation - funded by the UK Department for International Development - brings together campaigners from all over the world to push for change more effectively. Presenting FGM as a choice, and advocating for a softer approach in the battle will not do this. I urge you all, instead, to be part of the movement to end FGM.

By Leyla Hussein

Twitter: @leylahussein

Dutchcourage Mon 11-Jul-16 17:59:26

Briliant post, thank you for posting.

I agree that the soft approach to cultural negative acts towards females should be hard line stamped out.

It worries me that this country which is a great place for females to access help is starting to slightly turn to softer approaches. we need to stand against it.

broccoliflowers Mon 11-Jul-16 18:02:35

Fantastic post.

My knowledge of and perceptions of FGM were changed after reading the Color Purple and its sequel. I do feel if more people knew this was a common thing in 'white' countries too in the past, they'd 'own' the issue more.

zzzzz Mon 11-Jul-16 18:20:19

Thank you for your post.

Dutchcourage Mon 11-Jul-16 18:45:46

It really gets me that these issues of womens rights/health/ protection never really get much traffic.

Sadly I think it's a case of 'I'm alright Jack...'

LurcioAgain Mon 11-Jul-16 18:59:26

Thank you for your tireless work in trying to end this practice, Leyla. What actions (other than obviously signing petitions like the one that got this issue debated in parliament) can we engage in to help?

TeiTetua Mon 11-Jul-16 19:01:00

"They didn't choose to be cut" and nor did their mothers, but each generation inflicts it on the next. By the time they're adults, what will they be wanting for their own daughters?

RubbishMantra Mon 11-Jul-16 19:02:14

Thank you for posting this.

My friend who was at the same uni as me made an installation of hundreds of discarded labia and clitorises, fashioned from clay, scattered with pubic hair. It was accompanied by quotes from how these women had suffered.

I hope to Christ this disgusting practice will be criminalised. No way would an adolescent girl agree to this, if she wasn't pressured.

I can't imagine how it must be to have your genitals removed, and what's left, scarred to make sex unbearable.

Claraoswald36 Mon 11-Jul-16 19:20:09

Of course it's abuse. It's section 47 abuse. It's the far end of the spectrum of removing the rights of women in so many ways.

Dozer Mon 11-Jul-16 19:26:11

200 million!

That really shocks me. I am sorry for my ignorance: thank you very much for the post.

singingsixpence82 Mon 11-Jul-16 19:36:51

Thanks for posting this. I feel pretty useless in that there's nothing much I can do other than sign petitions but being better informed is always a good thing. The number of women and girls dealing with this is so terribly sad and I agree there is no acceptable type of FGM. The M stands for mutilation for a reason clearly.

cassie0433 Mon 11-Jul-16 20:07:16

Nobody chooses to get cut, but its the women who does it. Islam doesn't demand it, I have tried to find out the history of it, I think it is sick, and the society who carries it out are sick, horrible, and uncivilised

LurcioAgain Mon 11-Jul-16 20:11:32

Cassie - yes it's the women who do it, but they do it in the knowledge that in the societies in which they live, their daughters will be unmarriageable if it isn't done, and marriage is the only route to economic security open to a woman. It may look like a choice, but it's Hobson's choice.

I agree with you that it isn't part of Islam (and in fact quite a few of the communities which practise FGM are in fact Christian).

user1466200877 Mon 11-Jul-16 20:29:52

thoroughly agree. Disgusting practice. However, if we cannot persuade people to use contraception and prevent so many babies being born when there is insufficient food for them how on earth can we persuade them to accept that woman shouldn't be ill-used like this..........

IdblowJonSnow Mon 11-Jul-16 20:50:30

User 1466, what the absolute fuck are you talking about? That's a completely separate issue. OP, thank you for your post and all your hard work. I too hope that this continues to maintain a high profile in the media.

Dangermouse80 Mon 11-Jul-16 21:40:56

Excellent post highlighting this issue. Up until a couple of years ago, I had no idea this happened. The sheer scale is unbelievable. I hope that further highlighting this issue will discourage the next generation suffering.

Penfold007 Mon 11-Jul-16 22:22:40

It really saddens me that it's a female on female mutilation.

user1466200877 Mon 11-Jul-16 22:51:03

Not entirely a separate issue. Think. Both issues make a woman's life much harder. By the way, swearing doesn't make your point. People are much more likely to listen if you are articulate not foul mouthed!!!

Dutchcourage Mon 11-Jul-16 23:41:36

user they are two entirely different issues. Please let's not derail the thread on this important issue.

DetestableHerytike Tue 12-Jul-16 07:02:40

Thank you for your post, leyla.

I am shocked but not surprised at The Economist throwing women and girls under the bus again.

EmpressOfTheVaginaDentata Tue 12-Jul-16 07:31:32

Thank you for posting, Leyla. I've just signed up to receive updates from The Girl Generation. How can we help?

Xenophile Tue 12-Jul-16 09:29:51

What's sad is that this should be something all women should be united against, and yet, on this and on many other threads and fora it is an issue that is further used to bash 'those' women with, to promote frankly racist ideas and ignorance.

Thank you Leyla for the work you and your sisters in the struggle do.

SecondSunrise Tue 12-Jul-16 09:40:45

I've signed up to The Girl Generation too and will spread the word, but what more can we do to stop this abuse?

pinkmagic1 Tue 12-Jul-16 12:11:43

I saw your documentary Leyla, and think it did a fantastic job in raising awareness of fgm in the UK. I liked how you targeted the young men as well as the women. Although it is often something that is carried out by women on women, the men in many communities also hold the power to stop it.
Keep up the fantastic work.

scallopsrgreat Tue 12-Jul-16 12:29:22

What a fantastic post Leyla, thank you.

And I agree with Xenophile. Please don't think of FGM as anything other than control of girls and women by men because that is what it is.

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