*Warning: this article contains material about Female Genital Mutilation that some readers may find distressing.
It wasn’t until Aminata* was 30 years old that she realised the pain she’d suffered all her life was linked to Female Genital Mutilation. By then she’d had four difficult childbirths, the last one resulting in a condition called obstetric fistula leaving her child stillborn.
Female Genital Mutilation or Cutting (FGM/C) is practiced in over 30 countries in Africa, some parts of Asia and the Middle East. It usually involves the total or partial removal of the external female genitalia. In some cases the vaginal opening is also stitched closed. UNICEF estimates that across the world around 200 million girls have undergone the procedure, which often causes serious physical and psychological problems. It is also found in the UK amongst migrant communities – an estimated 137,000 women and girls live with consequences of FGM/C in England and Wales.
Over the last few months Tearfund has been privileged to be part of discussions with a group of 17 FGM/C survivors in London, to hear their experiences and how it has impacted their lives.
Aminata told us how important an experience this has been for her: ‘Joining this support group has been a lifesaver for me. I have suffered in silence for such a long time, I have not had anyone to talk to about my physical pain and the loss of my child.’ She was 11 years old when she went through FGM/C in Sierra Leone – now aged 35 she’s beginning to find real hope and strength:
‘I look forward to coming every two weeks and talking with women who have gone through the same experience. I can be myself here, I can laugh, cry and not worry about what people would say if I say that FGM/C is bad. People think that it only happens back home. It is here in the UK , we are the evidence of it. I feel that as a group as we become stronger, we can also influence change back home’.
Migrant communities often have strong ties to their home countries and can thus influence change. Tearfund is keen to journey with survivors to ensure our response is in line with their needs.
Sabine Nkusi from Tearfund’s Sexual and Gender-based Violence Team tells us more: ‘We currently work in four African countries, mobilising and equipping faith leaders to speak out and act against FGM/C. This is because we believe this issue needs a strong faith response. We also believe the church can become a safe place where FGM/C survivors can share their experiences and through that process can find healing.’
*Name changed to protect identity.
Pray for the physical and emotional healing for women and girls who have gone through FGM/C.
Ask God to protect all survivors of FGM/C, as speaking against ‘traditions’ can sometimes be dangerous and result in them being ostracised from their communities.
Lift up Tearfund’s Sexual and Gender-based Violence Team, asking God to give them wisdom on the best way to work with survivors and accompany them on their journey of healing.