Gambian FGM Activist Shares Her FGM Ordeal

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Fatou Baldeh of Darf Edinburgh fights against FGM in the UK.

Fatou Baldeh of Darf Edinburgh fights against FGM in the UK.

UK based Gambian Activist, Fatou Baldeh based in Scotland shares her FGM ordeal in an anti-FGM campaign video broadcasted by the Guardian Newspaper UK. Fatou Baldeh herself is an FGM survivor, who now works for the Dignity Alert and Research Forum (Darf) in Edinburgh, Scotland. 

Fatou was only seven years old, when she was mutilated in the Gambia. She explained: “some women held my legs, other women held my hands. I was blindfolded and I felt the sharp cut,  I felt everything.” The only “medication” she received was being told to sit in warm salty water. “I can never forget that. If you want to pass urine that’s the worst because you are sore and you’ve got no medication, not even a Band-Aid. It’s just an open wound […] It was the most horrible thing I can remember.”

Another 25 years old Gambian victim of FGM identified as Manika explained her ordeal of undergoing FGM. She explained: “I didn’t know exactly what was going to happen to me, but after I saw the blade I knew they would definitely hurt me, because that blade is not something to play with,” Manika had her genitals severed with a razor, without an anaesthetic, when she was only eight years old in Gambia. “It’s a pain you can’t even … it’s taking a knife and cutting someone’s flesh.” She explained to the Guardian newspaper.

Manika further explains that FGM has left her battling physical and psychological complications. She says she was “blocked up” when she was cut and, after coming to the UK to study, she had sex for the first time. It proved so difficult and painful that she had to be rushed to hospital to stop the bleeding that followed. She has suffered from recurrent infections, intermittent periods, and is terrified of being sexually active again.

“It makes me scared. Since then I feel like I don’t want to have sex. I have it in my mind that I’m still going to have that same pain,” she says.

“I will never forgive my parents for doing this to me. This is just like you are taking somebody’s life. It is just like you are taking a gun and shooting someone to death. That is how it feels for me.”

Fatou Baldeh’s organisation is battling to end the practice of FGM in the United Kingdom. FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985, and since 2003 anyone taking a child out of the UK to be cut faces 14 years in prison. However, there has yet to be a single conviction. Two people were arrested in November accused of carrying out FGM on a five-week-old baby but, according to the Metropolitan police, there was “insufficient evidence to proceed”.

Hard facts about how many girls are being cut, where and by whom, are scarce because, according to campaigners, the issue has been neglected by successive governments scared of confronting so-called cultural practices.

After pressure from campaigners the government announced on Wednesday night that hospitals would now start gathering data on women they treat who have undergone FGM. Currently midwives and doctors receive no routine training on how to help affected mothers, who can suffer life-threatening consequences during childbirth.

report last year on FGM by a coalition of medical groups, trade unions and human rights organisations estimates that there are 66,000 victims of FGM in England and Wales and warns that more than 24,000 girls under 15 are at risk. More than 2,000 victims of FGM sought treatment in London hospitals alone in the past three years.

The doubling of Scotland’s African population since 2001 (from 22,049 to 46,742) and the rising cost of air travel have played a part in the increase in numbers in Scotland, says Anela Anwar, from the Glasgow-based charity Roshni.

“It’s becoming a lot more expensive to go home, so we have heard now that people are pooling together resources to bring a cutter over from abroad to mutilate their girls over here in a group. I think people will use whatever means they can if they are determined for this to happen.”

Sarah McCulloch, from the Agency for Culture and Change Management agrees: “[Families] are forming a sort of co-operative to raise the funding to pay for someone to come from overseas. The family will bring all the girls together and it is done. Those who are wealthy are using nurses or doctors or private clinics That is why London especially has been accused of being the FGM city of Europe because many people are coming from Europe on Eurostar and having their daughters [mutilated].”

The evidence is there, if the resources were made available to uncover it, says Fatou Baldeh. “People think it’s an outside issue, it’s not happening here. It is very common, but people don’t think it is,” she says. “It [is] difficult to get women to speak to you about their experience.”

Female genital mutilation involves cutting all or part of the outer labia, inner labia and clitoris. It is estimated to affect more than 140 million girls and women worldwide. In the worst cases girls are “sewn up”, leaving only a tiny hole through which to urinate and menstruate. Traditionally considered vital for preparing a girl for adulthood – in some parts of the world girls who have not been cut are seen as unsuitable for marriage – it has also been attacked as a means of controlling female sexuality and autonomy.

In countries such as Sudan, Somalia and Egypt up to 98% of females have been mutilated, but the practice happens in 28 countries in Africa and some countries in Asia and the Middle East.

The consequences can be devastating: girls can bleed to death or pick up infections, and in the longer term can suffer from recurrent bladder infections, cysts, infertility, childbirth complications, mental trauma and lack of sexual desire.

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