Fatima underwent female genital mutilation (FGM) aged six, and she has experienced health problems throughout her life as a result. She was trained by ActionAid to raise awareness of the impact of FGM in local communities, and thanks to her work, parents have told her that they won't cut their girls. Read Fatima's story.
Fatima, 50, underwent FGM in Somaliland when she was nine years old.
"My name is Fatima and I am 50 years old. I have eight children, two boys and six girls. My colleagues and I raise awareness about female genital multilation (FGM) amongst the people we work with. I do seminars in the bush area, as some of my family live there.
Changing attitudes to FGM in Somaliland
Some mothers do worry about what to do. Should they do FGM because that's what the community wants or not do FGM because they don't want their daughters to have health problems? This dilemma can cause arguements between the mother and the father.
I say: ‘Stop this’ and I explain to them some of the problems that the girls may have after FGM. I tell them that she can’t have her period properly, she may get an infection. So they know about the bad things that girls can get from FGM. Afterwards, they say ‘Fatima said that, so we will stop it'.
I say: ‘Stop this’ and I explain to them some of the problems that the girls may have after FGM.
How do I know if people have stopped doing FGM? I check up on them! I call people who live in the area to see if they are still doing FGM to the girls. What I’ve found is many don’t, they let girls go to school, they don’t do FGM anymore. Now people are slowly changing their minds - but before, if the girl has not undergone FGM, no man would marry her.
For example, one man married a women who hadn't had FGM, and on their wedding night he saw she was open. The next morning he couldn’t tell people that he had married an open women, so he cut a hole in the the mattress of his bed to show the insult he had suffered. The next day he sent his wife back to her parents' house, because she'd been rejected.
Fatima's experience of FGM
When I was about six years old, they did FGM on me. They had no needle, so they used a thorn, there was no anaesthetic. The pain was so, so, so intense. They cut all of it, and then they stitched it.
You don't have any power. If I had power I would have stopped them. I felt that pain for years. You feel that pain for so long.
I was screaming so much. Three people will come to you, as they don’t want people to hear you scream. One person will put their hand over your mouth, another person will hold your legs, and a third will hold your stomach and chest. You can’t move.
They had no needle, so they used a thorn, there was no anaesthetic. The pain was so, so, so intense.
There are two operations, the first one is the cutting. Then, the cutter does the stitching with thorns. The second happens about seven days later. She will come to take out the thorns with a big knife.
Your heartbeat will be like water, it is beating too fast. The knife she uses will give some girls infections, because she is not cleaning it. The girl will remember the knife, the long knife the cutter uses. It's severe pain, it burns whenever the girl tries to urinate, and she will not sleep for four days.
The blood that came from me is like when you slaughter a goat, there was so much.
I had fear and I wanted to escape, but there was nowhere to go. There was no human rights organisation to tell, so the only option you have is to stay at home.
Fatima's wedding night
I was 16 years old when I got married. On your wedding night, another lady is coming to cut you, so you feel more pain. It's just like the lady who did the initial FGM on you, another lady will come to open the place again.
It was similar to the pain I felt before. You have to escape from the man on the first night, because you are a person in pain. Sometimes it takes seven days for the girls to heal. Night after night it is painful. It’s like you are slaughtered, it is more painful, it is like being cut again.
You have to escape from the man on the first night, because you are a person in pain.
When I delivered my children, I felt severe pain. And I got infections when that place was cut and closed.
Why Fatima is working to stop FGM
Without FGM there would have been different ways in which my life would have been better. I could have slept with my husband on the first night of my marriage, and I wouldn’t have felt that pain. The second thing is that when it came to giving birth to my children, I would have been more comfortable. And there wouldn't have been infections. So my life would’ve been better without FGM."
Around the world women like Fatima are fighting to improve girls' rights every day. But three million girls are still at risk of FGM in Africa each year. ActionAid supports local women's networks to change attitudes towards FGM, and support those who have escaped the practice. A regular gift to ActionAid will help make sure women like Fatima have the resources they need to carry out their essential work.