MumsnetGuestBlogs (MNHQ) Wed 06-Nov-13 12:07:44

Leyla Hussein on FGM: "Making sure my daughter wasn't cut is my greatest achievement"

As a young girl, Leyla Hussein was forced to undergo female genital mutilation. Here, she explains how she struggled to come to terms with the betrayal - and how she managed to prevent her own daughter from being 'cut'.

Her post contains a description of FGM which is, inevitably, upsetting. Do read if you can though, and let us know what you think about her struggle to break the cycle on the thread below.

Leyla Hussein

Co-founder, Daughters Of Eve

Posted on: Wed 06-Nov-13 12:07:42

(54 comments )

Lead photo

During her pregnancy, Leyla suffered flashbacks to the day she underwent FGM

I underwent FGM at the age of seven. I was pinned down by the people I trusted, while my flesh was being cut off. To this day, I struggle to describe how that pain felt, but I know it was torture - and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

I knew the moment my daughter was born that I wanted a different fate for her. I wished to create an environment where she feels safe - physically and emotionally.

I’ve been campaigning to end FGM for the past 11 years, as a co-founder of Daughters of Eve, as an anti-FGM activist, a member of the FGM Special Initiative and a trained psychotherapist. So I’m no stranger to talking about the subject.

But one of the hardest aspects of FGM is how it affects family relationships - and particularly, the mother-daughter relationship. This is hard to discuss - FGM is a cycle which moves from mother, to daughter, to granddaughter. But it's a cycle which can be broken - I've made a documentary about how I did it, which will be shown on Channel 4 tonight at 10.45pm.

It wasn’t until the later stages of my pregnancy that I began to deal with the trauma of what had happened to me. I used to be terrified of any intimate medical examination, and a smear test was enough to set off a panic attack. During my antenatal appointments I would often black out. Then, during one of these appointments, a specialist nurse asked me the question no one else knew - or dared - to ask: ‘Were you cut?’

I said I was. She explained to me that my body was experiencing flashbacks. Until that day, I had never made the association.

The Specialist Nurse explained the legal framework around FGM; she provided me with information about available services and gave me counselling. I feel entirely indebted to her. If I hadn’t been lucky enough to meet her at that point in my life, I still don’t know for sure if, perhaps, I would have put my own daughter through this hell.

But from the moment I came to associate the psychological problems I was experiencing with FGM, I knew I would do everything in my power to protect my daughter from my fate. This is why the intercollegiate recommendations - launched this week by a coalition of Royal Colleges, trades unions, and Equality Now - are so important; health professionals cannot now look away. Training cannot be optional when the safety of girls depends on it.

Making sure my daughter was uncut is my biggest accomplishment. For my whole family, breaking the cycle demanded great strength. My brother had to stand by us too, despite the stigma. His role as a man is always questioned: "your niece is not cut." All my family has gone on a journey with me.


From the moment I decided I would protect my daughter from FGM, I knew I had no choice but to confront my family. All of us had to break the cycle. I could never ensure my daughter’s safety unless we were all on board. Of course, the most difficult step was confronting my mother about what she had done to me. The Specialist Nurse suggested I attend counselling to find the strength to do what I had to do. However, my first experience with counselling was unsuccessful. I’ve always had a very close relationship with my mother. When I told my counsellor that my mother loved me deeply, he asked me why I thought she had decided to cut me. I was not ready to face that question, so I walked out.

It wasn’t until a few years later, when I decided I wanted to become a counsellor myself, that I realised I could no longer avoid that question. My new therapist suggested I ask my mother about her own experience of FGM. At first, she was reluctant to talk. She said whenever she spoke of that day, her kidneys hurt. I persisted, and eventually, she decided to speak to me. She had gone through the same hell, twice. A neighbour had seen her ride a bicycle some days after her cutting; he said it had not been done properly. Once more, she was pinned down and mutilated.

My mother never thought my sister and I could avoid the knife. She thought the best she could do was to pay the cutter not to perform the most severe type of FGM, and to keep his mouth shut about it. Everybody in the family, including us, thought we had Type 3 FGM, when in fact we had Type 2. My mother thought that would be enough to protect us. I had to explain to her that the violation starts when the people you trust pin you down and maim you. The psychological abuse cannot be avoided.

In the course of counselling, more and more memories from that day started to surface. I now remember in detail the clothes me and my sister wore, the smell of food being prepared, and the presents – gold watches – we were given after the cutting. I also came to understand how that day had affected my relationship with my sister. As the oldest, I'd always felt protective of her - but on that day, I had failed her.

Neither of us was prepared for what was going to come. We had recently moved back to Somalia from Saudi Arabia and had never heard of FGM. I remember being puzzled by the celebrations; it wasn’t my birthday. My neighbour’s daughter was the first to tell me what was going to happen. As she explained, I heard my sister’s scream. It sounded like someone was strangling her.

My relationship with my sister was strained for years. She would always say, "you’re not my mother," whenever I’d feel the need to protect her. I had to come to terms with the guilt I felt for not having saved her, and understand that interfering with her life now, would not change the past. Our relationship only started to improve when I began to campaign against FGM. She told me that I had to accept that I was also a child and unable to help her. I now feel I have gained back my sister.

Making sure my daughter was uncut is my biggest accomplishment. For my whole family, breaking the cycle demanded great strength. My brother had to stand by us too, despite the stigma. His role as a man is always questioned: "your niece is not cut." All my family has gone on a journey with me. We’ve all had counselling because we wanted to set an example and to make sure that we could break the cycle.

My daughter says "you don’t hurt people, Mummy - that’s simple, isn’t it?" It should be, but it’s not. It required all of us to make sure she was protected.

I was lucky to have the right services around me when I became pregnant. No one can go on this journey without specialist support. That is why I continue to offer counselling for women today, even when funding is scarce or non-existent. I can’t turn women away. I’m now running a support service for survivors, in partnership with the Maya Centre and the Manor Gardens Welfare Trust in Islington - but such services need to be mainstreamed, and widely available for survivors around the country.

My documentary ‘The Cruel Cut’ on Channel 4 follows my campaign and that of other survivors to ensure there is an effective Action Plan to eliminate FGM in the UK. There's more information about how you can help #stopFGM, over here.

By Leyla Hussein

Twitter: @LeylaHussein

GeekLovesANYFUCKER Wed 06-Nov-13 12:58:55

I admire your bravery as this cannot be easy to write this and place in the public domain.
Considering in the UK alone there are 20000 girls a year who are vulnerable to FGM it is important we shine a spotlight on this.
My concern is that grass-root activists must be supported so that the message is heard in all the community centres, villages, churches and mosques. I hope that this does not drop from the news and that people and healthcare professionals are educated in what to watch for and how to approach it.

I hugely admire you for standing up against a very complex issue.
It shouldn't be in today's society that as a parent you must fight like this to prevent your child being tortured and causing her years of physical and mental pain.
I work as a Health Visitor and have had no training on FGM, I only know what I have researched myself.
I think if the UK wants to take its laws seriously and really make a difference then this issue needs to be highlighted. I've worked with midwifes and school nurses who also are not trained up in what signs to look for or what children are most at risk.

Beachcomber Wed 06-Nov-13 13:41:47

Thank you.

It is painful, as a woman, to even read and think about experiences such as yours Leyla.

Your bravery and the reasons for it are sobering. Words cannot express my sympathy and admiration. You go sister x

crescentmoon Wed 06-Nov-13 15:02:48

i think you do great work Leyla.

Me2Me2 Wed 06-Nov-13 15:43:30

Your daughter is lucky to have such a strong mother.
It's important for those in communities that practice FGM to speak out and campaign, otherwise it can be taken as interference and preaching. Great job you're doing

YoniMatopoeia Wed 06-Nov-13 16:16:05

The Specialist Nurse explained the legal framework around FGM; she provided me with information about available services and gave me counselling. I feel entirely indebted to her. If I hadn’t been lucky enough to meet her at that point in my life, I still don’t know for sure if, perhaps, I would have put my own daughter through this hell

Looking in from the outside, I think this is one of the things that is hardest to understand - why do mothers allow or encourage this to happen to their daughters. But it also highlights how much the training of mainstream midwives / healthcare professionals could help to make a difference.

I have the utmost admiration for your bravery - not only for breaking the cycle in your own family, but sharing your story in order to help others.

It is humbling.

As Beach says - Go sister!

I admire you courage, and want to tell you, you have my support. This is a ritual that should be in the past and not in any young girls future.

working9while5 Wed 06-Nov-13 16:30:06

Really inspiring to read. Your family have been through so much and breaking this cycle is SUCH an achievement. I only wish all women everywhere could be forever spared this.

JamesJoyce11 Wed 06-Nov-13 18:20:16

I admire you and the strength to put this in the public arena. You have my support.

popsnsqeeze Wed 06-Nov-13 18:29:57

FGM is something I only learnt about recently. I was incredibly moved by your essay, and I wish you the best I luck.

Queenofthedrivensnow Wed 06-Nov-13 18:48:02

I researched fgm when I was working with teenage runaways (I'm a SW now) and it was something that our service were trying to maintain an awareness of as a possible reason for young people going missing.

I spent a day reading up on a subject they as a white British woman, hadn't yet meant much to me. I was quite traumatised by what I read online so I cannot imagine how painful and terrifying experiencing this procedure must be. I also do not pretend to understand how complicated it is and tied up inside maternal relationships - it's very complex and difficult.

I will be bracing myself to watch the doc tonight as I find it deeply upsetting.

Layla I think you are incredibly brave and strong x

BlackberrySeason Wed 06-Nov-13 19:06:11

Leyla, thank you for posting this. Your daughter is a lucky girl and it is your achievement that your whole close family have come to see fgm is not right.

Greythorne Wed 06-Nov-13 19:22:16

Bravo. You sound like a brave and sensitive woman. You protected your DD and I admire you enormously.

angelinterceptor Wed 06-Nov-13 19:52:47

Leyla, you and your family are strong and brave. Thank you for posting with such honesty.
I will be watching the documentary tonight.

Look after your daughter -

QueenBoudicea Wed 06-Nov-13 20:14:20

Thank you for such a brave and insightful post. I've had some involvement in support services for women who've been forced to undergo fgm so am aware of the huge battle you will have had to face and the courage you have had to find.

It's a shame that channel 4 are airing your film so late - what is their rationale for this?

Wonderstuff Wed 06-Nov-13 23:09:07

What great post, thank you for sharing

MsPickle Wed 06-Nov-13 23:28:35

Your daughter and family are lucky to have you. Your community and the women you help are lucky to have you. You are lucky to have you. Moving and powerful writing made more poignant as I rock my baby daughter. I hope the campaign builds momentum and reaches where it needs to.

You go sister.

Sparklingbrook Wed 06-Nov-13 23:46:40

I have just watched your programme on Channel 5. Truly shocking stuff.

singaporefling Wed 06-Nov-13 23:47:55

You are an inspiration Leyla, your daughter is blessed - as are all the future girls you will help. Good luck with your campaign.

messmonster Thu 07-Nov-13 00:14:19

Congratulations Leyla on the documentary and on your campaign. I found the part with the young men incredibly powerful.

I signed your petition and from the time I went on to sign to the time I revisited having confirmed my email address I think around 3000 signatures had been added. Let's hope there's lots more.

All power to you and thank you for shining a light on FGM in the UK.

MNPlovespumpkincarving Thu 07-Nov-13 00:21:35

You are an inspiration Leyla.

chrisiis Thu 07-Nov-13 00:47:48

An incredibly powerful programe, why it has to be shown so late is beyond understanding.We are allowed to watch meaningless rubbish all night and have to stay up late to watch something that should have been shown before the school holidays at peak viewing times. As we cannot trust the MPs to do anything maybe we should target their wives and get them to force their husbands to watch this programe and think about how they would feel if it happened to their daughters.Culture and racism should not be an issue it is plain and simple CHILD ABUSE. How parents can allow their daughters to go through this is beyond my comprehension.But that aside we need to get this programe repeated as many times as possible. You need funding, is there any where we can donate money or help in a hands on way.
You have my admiration and full backing in your campaign

vstarken Thu 07-Nov-13 04:10:26

I watched your documentary this evening and was educated as I knew that there was FGM but what was done I did not really know. One thing that has struck me is that you say children are being brought into the UK from other EU countries because we are not policing these laws as other countries are, this must stop NOW and as for the Home Secretary refusing to meet you she should be ashamed of herself. I see in the short time since the program you petition has increased by 10,000 so I think she may be able to find some time very soon to see you. Good luck with your campaign but be aware some politician will steal you petition as you lose control of it when you reach the Back Bench Committee stage and I know this because I started the Return VAT on Air Ambulance fuel bills.

Sparklingbrook Thu 07-Nov-13 06:51:26

I agree with chris about the timing of the programme-almost as if it was hidden. Definitely need to repeat it. Lots.

I admire your strength and watched your documentary and found it very thought provoking. I have also signed the petition. Wishing you lots of luck with your campaign.

Sparklingbrook Thu 07-Nov-13 09:42:47

Here is the documentary on 4OD. Please try and watch it.

FairyJen Thu 07-Nov-13 10:32:46

Please please please can everyone make sure they sign the petition. It needs to reach 100,000 and is a long way off.

Signed and shared. This is child abuse.

Sunflower49 Thu 07-Nov-13 11:32:17

Put link on facebook and a fair few of my friends have shared too. We'll get there.

sweetdreams123 Thu 07-Nov-13 11:41:40

You are an inspirational woman! As a health professional myself I am aware of fgm but feel that it is something which not many are aware about as you have identified yourself. I was not aware of fgm untill I did my training a few years ago. As a mother of three children myself I can not imagine what it must have been like for you and to protect your child. You should be so proud of yourself with your campaign. You are such an incredible woman and to speak out and support others like you do (even those that have never shared this with anyone you are making a massive difference) you keep going girl!!!!!!!! YOU ARE AMAZiNG xxx the documentary was so so sad and i sobbed but was a great idea and hopefully 'one day' this shocking abuse will STOP but untill then my heart goes out to you all and I will do everything in my power to support fgm xxx

Hawa13 Thu 07-Nov-13 11:47:36

Just like you Leyla, I too had the same experience as did other countless women. I happen to be a mother of a teenage girl and it never occurred to me to subject her to FGM and from my observations majority of our community especially in the west do not practice this. The only thing I find strange is the motivation of campaigners like you. Is it all about caring for girls or are there other agendas?

cranberryorange Thu 07-Nov-13 12:45:31

What a powerful documentary, especially watching the reaction of those young men when they saw the reality of what young girls endure.

It should not have been shown at such a ridiculously late time of night but it was good to see you on 'This morning'.

Are there any plans to get some sort of information into schools to educate young girls who may be targeted at some stage in their lives of where to go for help? Is there any help for girls?

Petition is signed x

SnakeyMcBadass Thu 07-Nov-13 12:56:20

Thank you for this post. Your bravery is commendable.

ManorGardens Thu 07-Nov-13 14:18:52

Hi Chrisiis

You can read more about Leyla and Sarian's work with Manor Gardens Health Advocacy project here www.manorgardenscentre.org/health-advocacy
There is also the option to donate if you feel strongly about supporting our work together.
Thank you
Oli

BadgerBumBag Thu 07-Nov-13 15:01:49

I am watching your programme now and am struck by the honesty and openness expressed by everyone in the film. Truly inspirational and I would like to get involved in any way I can. I was aware of FGM before this but this programme put it in a way which can be easily understood and the reality on every level confronted.

Musidn Thu 07-Nov-13 16:35:33

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Ruprecht Thu 07-Nov-13 16:36:08

I watched the documentary last night and I was horrified. I knew a little about FGM but last night's documentary made me angry, upset, choked. These poor little girls without a voice. The issue must be social because I can't believe, with our natural inclination to protect our children, that a parent would inflict this on their child unless they felt they had good reason.
I sincerely hope the documentary is shown in secondary schools around the country to start the debate and education with the young and stop the cycle.
I have passed the petition on and of course signed it - but I want to do more - what more can we do?

Musidn Thu 07-Nov-13 16:37:39

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Southfarnhammum Thu 07-Nov-13 18:17:10

There has been a lot recently in the media about FGM in the last few weeks and months. What was a taboo, even in this country has now become a subject that is openly discussed, at least in the UK. This has only happened as a result of people like you who are strong enough and brave enough to stand up and say that this is wrong. Your daughter is lucky to have you as a mother.

whataboutbob Thu 07-Nov-13 18:36:15

Good comments but nothing has been said about the men in these communities who practice FGM. They are the "demand" side, wanting a virgin bride, a faithful wife and certainty that her children are his own, because she cannot enjoy sex and therefore is unlikely to stray. Where necessary, this can be enforced by extra violence, ie the murder of daughters who lose their virginity before marriage. Let's not loose perspective and exclusively blame the mothers here.

susie199 Thu 07-Nov-13 18:51:04

I watched your documentary last night. I was aware of female genital mutilation as I was a midwife and a student of mine did an a study on fmg which she presented to lots of local groups.
However I was shocked that girls are being cut in Britain and that girls from Europe are brought over to be cut. I was also shocked and then angry that Theresa May avoided meeting with you. This is child abuse of the worst kind. If it happened to white girls or, heaven forbid, boys were mutilated in this way, it would be stamped out immediately.
Best wishes for the future

Astralabe Thu 07-Nov-13 19:30:33

Inspirational - all its takes is a few brave women...

Sunflower49 Thu 07-Nov-13 19:30:37

I watched it too.
To be honest, the Theresa May incident-I think that could potentially do the cause more GOOD than harm. It was blatantly ignoring you when she KNEW you were there and now it has been broadcast on live television.

Had she come out, and talked to you all-it may be that the public would be thinking 'Ah TM is taking it seriously!' But she didn't. That will enrage people.

FantasticDay Thu 07-Nov-13 20:39:02

Leyla Hussein, you are a hero.

PiratesCat Thu 07-Nov-13 23:00:27

Have just watched this on 4OD and was shocked and moved. I've signed your petition Leyla and emailed the link to my family and friends and told them about last night's programme in case they didn't spot it.

What you are doing is truly impressive and the imaginative ways you have thought of to raise awareness and engage people in your campaign are brilliant.

JoSheldrake Fri 08-Nov-13 11:23:41

I watched the programme and was moved by your bravery and courage. It is incredible to think that these barbaric crimes against women and girls are finally being challenged and lets hope and pray they become just a distant memory within a culture and no one has to endure FGM.

Meglet Fri 08-Nov-13 12:02:26

Watched, signed and shared the petition.

Is Channel 4, or 4Seven going to repeat it in the next few days?

bumpybumps Fri 08-Nov-13 17:49:28

Leyla your bravery and courage at tackling such a topic is truely inspirational. I can't believe that in 2013 this is still happening to girls, i really hope your campaign raises the awareness it needs to stop this abuse.

YoniMatopoeia Sat 09-Nov-13 00:31:25

4Seven say they will repeat on Sunday night/Monday morning at 11 November, 1.05AM

joysofautumn Mon 11-Nov-13 19:38:24

I was quite angry watching Cruel Cut on C4. I wondered why you were bothering Theresa May about it. Neither she nor the British government partake in the obscene and barbaric act of mutilating the vaginas of little girls.
It is done, as you know, by those in your own community so why don't you bring your argument to them. They do it, you don't think they should, show them your film and diagrams.
Years ago I saw a program which ended with a mother saying it was done to her and she will have it done to her daughter. I heard a man on LBC saying when ever there is school holidays he has to make sure not to leave his daughters side as her mother is so determined to send her off to be 'cut' as you put it. Make your self and your views known to mothers who are all for the idea and raise your objections with them.
The British Government has enough to contend with without taking on the backwardness of a nation which is quite happy to carry on regardless.

BlackberrySeason Mon 11-Nov-13 20:18:05

Joys, what an odd viewpoint. Are you seriously saying that the British government has enough to do and should leave parents to do as they like to children, however barbaric?

Thank you Layla, I am so grateful to you for breaking the silence. God Bless you in this very brave fight for what is right.

I'm so sorry for what you experienced Layla
Am glad for your dd that she is the first generation of girls not to be hurt.
As she says it should be a simple thing not to hurt others.
How did the world get so F'd up sad

CaptChaos Thu 06-Feb-14 10:02:07

joys you are aware that the backward country you're referring to is the UK, aren't you? That girls are being cut here, almost with impunity? By not bringing a single prosecution, despite the law being in place, the UK government is complicit in the mutilation.

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