This post initially appeared on the Fresh Outlook: http://www.thefreshoutlook.com/index.php?action=newspaper&subaction=article&toDo=region&job=show®ionID=214&categoryID=30
Female genital mutilation, or FGM, will affect at least 3 million girls across the world this year, according to the UN. And despite the practice being illegal here, no-one has ever been charged or sent to prison for cutting girls, despite the fact we know it is happening in the UK.
‘It’s hard to give an estimate of how many girls are cut each year in the UK,’ explains Nimko Ali, one of the founders of Daughters of Eve, a charity dedicated to supporting and empowering women who have gone through FGM. ‘But within the FGM practising community that I grew up in and work within, I only know about two or three women who haven’t been cut.’
Daughters of Eve was set up by Nimko, Leyla Qalbi Hussein and Sainab Abdi to fill the gap in young people’s services for young women and girls who have gone through FGM. ‘No-one was talking to young people and survivors of FGM about what had happened to them, beyond giving them victim status,’ Nimko explains. ‘We wanted to provide a space that offered open debate about sex and sexuality, and gave young women an unedited voice to discuss their fears and desires. We are surrounded by sex, in advertising, the media, film, music; but these girls then go home to a space where their sexuality is completely controlled. We want to give them a voice.’
It hasn’t always been easy. As well as the difficulties of showing young women where to find this service, like so much of the women’s sector, Daughters of Eve receive no funding. ‘It is a struggle sometimes,’ Nimko agrees. ‘But we overcome it because we are so passionate about this cause, and because we believe it needs to be talked about openly and honestly.’
Nimko believes that FGM is connected to the greater question around societal expectations of women’s sexuality. ‘We want people to understand that FGM is not just the one action of cutting,’ explains Nimko. ‘It is a whole cultural issue of conditioning women to be submissive, to be seen as the property of men. The cutting is the first step of this process.’
So much of the silence surrounding this issue comes from the belief that FGM is something unique to African and Muslim communities, and that ‘cultural sensitivity’ dictates that women and men outside the FGM practising community must not speak about it. It’s a perception Nimko wants to challenge. ‘This isn’t a cultural problem just for African women. It is part of a much wider issue about the way we think about women’s bodies and violence against women.’ Nimko believes that FGM is linked to the reasons behind women wanting surgery to achieve the “perfect” labia, or vajazzling. ‘It stems from a hatred and disgust of women’s organs, and a desire to try and make them fit into a dominant cultural view which are the views of men and not women,’ she argues. ‘It all starts with a fear and hatred of women’s sexuality. Once we stop thinking about FGM as being an issue for “girls with headscarves” and instead consider it as being part of a pattern of gender based violence that oppresses women, we can tackle it out in the open. The women I speak to in the FGM practising community use the same language of disgust to describe un-cut women, as women outside of the community talk about their own, “un-perfect” bodies that need surgery to fit into an ideal of beauty. The result is the suppression of women’s sexuality to the benefit of men who start these myths in order to get women to want to alter their bodies.’
‘Everyone has the right to a sexual identity and to be a sexual being,’ states Nimko.
Daughters of Eve is aiming to ensure this is so.
For more info please visit their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=151490341529634&ref=ts
The Daughters of Eve website is currently under construction.
For more info on FGM please visit: http://www.forwarduk.org.uk/