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“There was no way to escape him”: Meet the brave survivor of FGM now advocating for gender equality

Every year on 6 February, on the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, we draw global attention to the fight against female genital mutilation / cutting (FGM/C).

One of the most severe forms of physical and psychological abuse against women and girls, FGM/C denies women and girls the right to autonomy over their own body. It leaves physical scars, permanent health problems and can even result in death.

Sadly, it’s a common phenomenon. Across the globe, a staggering 200 million women and girls have been subjected to FGM/C.Here, at Islamic Relief, we’re working to fight this abuse of women by exchanging knowledge, experiences and stories from brave women and girls.

We also run programmes in a number of countries to tackle this subject, working with faith leaders and local communities to educate about the harms of FGM/C (a cultural practice) and financially empower women who would otherwise rely on cutting to earn a living.

We share stories that represent the many voices and struggles being fought worldwide. Stories of women who’ve been cut and of the many girls who are still at risk.

Here is the account of one brave survivor of FGM/C – please read her story.


Saying goodbye to childhood: Survivor Maryan

Maryan lives in Somalia, where despite the enormous health risks involved, an estimated 98% of women and girls (aged 15-49) have undergone some form of FGM/C.

Maryan tells us about her struggle to recover from the physical and emotional wounds after undergoing FGM/C and forced marriage as a young teenager.I wasn’t even 14-years-old when my parents decided to marry me off to a man – against my will. I was very young and the man was so much older than me. But there was no way to escape him.

People still think that by being circumcised you become a “real, complete woman”. The ceremony marks the transition to adulthood.

After the circumcision, a girl can be married off, which results in a dowry for the family. It’s just part of the deal. So, I was cut and then married.

In the first month of my marriage, I got pregnant and became very ashamed to go anywhere. People would see how young I was and realise I was just a child – a child who was pregnant.

They would make up false rumours about me – that I was carrying an illegitimate child and couldn’t possibly be married. I couldn’t handle it. So, I started to isolate myself.

Girls seldom hear from their families about the dire consequences of genital mutilation/cutting. But the consequences are incalculable.

They range from severe internal bleeding, pain during intercourse and incontinence, to cysts, complicated infections and infertility. Most women don’t even know that circumcision can lead to childbirth complications and an increased risk of stillbirths.

I experienced this first-hand during my pregnancy. I was four days away from a normal delivery but due to my young age, I started to face complications and had to have a caesarean.

The surgery caused me to become unconscious for five hours. If it wasn’t for the caesarean surgery my baby and I would have died.

This is why I tell my story. I meet many women in my community who deny or trivialise the seriousness of FGM/C. I want more women in my area to speak out about the dangers of FGM/C and early marriage to young girls and women.

I want to tell them about what happened to me. This is the only way I know how I can stop another young girl becoming a statistic.

We need to start speaking out about it, to stop hiding behind our shame, to face our trauma head-on even when it hurts us.  It’s important that we talk to mothers who are passing on this trauma to their daughters – they simply see it as a tradition.

We need to educate and inform communities to create a dialogue on a subject that has for so long been taboo.

The most harrowing moment that will stay with me forever is when I watched a 6-year-old girl bleed to death because her body couldn’t handle the mutilation.

I refuse to watch another child go through that.


Taking action: Islamic Relief

With projects all around the world, Islamic Relief advocates ending FGM/C and other harmful practices, especially where they are wrongly attributed to religion.

We’re committed to ending all forms of gender-based violence through our programmes and advocacy work, with a key focus on FGM/C, domestic violence and early/forced marriages.

Eradicating FGM/C is also part of our commitment to supporting reproductive health and protecting children.

We work with cutters, local chiefs, village elders, religious leaders and other role models to encourage lasting behavioural changes.

Now is the time to speak out and change the fate of many girls and women across the globe. You can help us by:

  • Speaking out: Share this blog online and call for the elimination of all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation
  • Supporting our work: Help protect women and girls by donating towards our critical work

Be part of the change.

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