March 3, 2015
I was born in Gunjur in the Gambia. I was cut when I was less than a year old. I was brought up by my auntie.
I went to High School and at this time I started working as a volunteer for Amnesty International. For 10 years I helped with campaigns and workshops about violence against women and FGM. I got lots of insults about me and my parents while I was doing this work.
I am married to a Gambian man from the town where I was brought up and we have children together. We came to the UK about 10 years ago.
In the Gambia, FGM is seen as a matter of “must”. Girls that do not have FGM will be mocked with people telling them that they are “isolema”, meaning “uncastrated” or “uncut” which is seen as an insult. I remember a BBC programme about FGM in Gambia in which an imam told the reporter that women who are not cut are “dripping and smelling”. The Wolof tribe is the only tribe that doesn’t cut. If a Wolof woman marries a Mandinka man she will have to be cut or she will be discriminated against and told she “smells”.
We live in “calibos” or compounds in Gambia where, for example, 10 families might live who are related. They take the children from one compound and cut them and keep them for a week to heal. They use one blade and this can spread diseases. I think 90% of people are Muslim in Gambia and for boys cutting is considered a matter of “must” because it is in our religion. People think that we should cut girls also but this is not a religious obligation. People have associated religion and culture.
I am against FGM and my husband is against it too. He knows the implications and how it has affected me. I do not have any feelings during sexual intercourse and feel only pain, dryness and tightness. This causes problems at home because when I want to avoid sexual intercourse my husband thinks I might go with someone else.
FGM is done because people think it will preserve virginity and girls are cut and sealed so no man can penetrate them before marriage. Then the seal has to be broken and I had to be opened when I got married. It’s all about pain.
FGM also caused a lot of problems for me when I had my children. I couldn’t give birth naturally to my first child and had to have a caesarean section. I had to be cut to have my second child and had caesarean sections for my other children.
I am worried about leaving my girls with my Mum as she thinks they should be cut. I went to visit my family in the Gambia a few years ago. After 5 weeks I decided to leave my children with my mother-in-law for a holiday as I was very tired and came back to the UK. My husband used to call his mother every day to ensure she didn’t cut the girls. I had a dream that my small daughter sat on a blade and the women said “let’s cut her once and for all”. After that dream I went straight back to the Gambia to bring my children back to England. Some children are even snatched for cutting without their parents knowing.
I have a cousin who came to the UK on a holiday visa. She applied for asylum as she was really worried that her community would cut her daughter. She was taken to Sheffield by the authorities and her application was turned down. She refused to leave and then her husband volunteered to leave with the children. She was forcefully removed from the country the following week. She was taken to Belgium and then Gambia and says she was beaten throughout the journey. Her husband and her children reached the Gambia first. Her little girl was one year old and was cut a few days after she arrived in Gambia, before her mother got there.
Artist Emily Hicks