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We have to stop the violent practice of female genital mutilation

February 08 2018 By KHADIJA GBLA, Our Watch Ambassador

Khadija was just nine when her mother dragged her to an old lady with a rusty knife. Soon she was lying in pools of her own blood. WARNING: Graphic content.

Khadija Gbla Image

WARNING: Graphic content

AT JUST nine years old I had Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) performed on me.

It was an act so traumatic and painful that at the time, my brain suppressed the memory’s existence.

It wasn’t until coming to Australia as a refugee at 13, when I saw an image of a woman’s “mutilated” vagina, that memories of the violent attack came rushing back.

Without warning and nothing to stop the pain, my mother restrained my thrashing and panicked body as an old lady took a rusty old knife and hacked off my clitoris and labia.

The image of my blood pooling beneath me as the remaining flesh was tossed aside like a piece of filth, is now vividly etched in my memory.

When I realised that I was a survivor of FGM, I was angry.

I was angry that I had been robbed of a sacred piece of my body and I was angry that there were other young girls who would be subjected to this cruel and senseless act in the name of “culture”.

I sometimes say that FGM has been the “gift that keeps on giving” because it’s continued to be the source of so much physical and emotional pain in my life since. The effects of FGM are permanent. There is no end point and no miracle cure.

For years growing up, I struggled with excruciatingly painful and prolonged periods, some of which saw me admitted to hospital and prescribed the strongest painkillers available. In moments of sheer agony, I prayed that the floor would open and swallow me whole.

The aim of FGM is to control and take away the sexuality of women and girls, and as a result I was left feeling incomplete as a woman.

I also grappled with the fact that the one who had orchestrated the attack was supposed to be my number one protector, my mother. At the time, I saw a psychologist to help me reconcile my identity as a woman, the possible reality that sex may never be pleasurable and that I may never be able to have children.

While I am pleased to say that I now have a very healthy and sunny three-year-old son, when I found out I was expecting, the effects of FGM deemed my pregnancy as high risk.

What should have been a joy-filled experience was unfortunately peppered with apprehension. I was scared I was going to lose my child which was only amplified by the complete incompetence and absence of knowledge about FGM by Australian medical professionals.

While every day I am getting stronger, even on my best day, FGM still has the ability to physically and emotionally knock me down.

Thankfully, I channelled my anger into action, dedicating my life to ensuring we stop this horrific and baseless practice by raising awareness and empowering ordinary Australians and professionals working with children to act.

The antiquated practice of FGM is deeply entrenched in the extreme inequality between the sexes, and it encroaches on women and girls’ rights to live free from inhuman and degrading abuse.

The sad truth is that many victims of FGM suffer from a variety of health problems, including chronic pain, severe infections, complications with childbirth, HIV, decreased sexual enjoyment and sometimes even death.

It is currently estimated that around 200 million girls and women across the world have suffered from some form of FGM, 44 million who are aged 14 or younger.

Even in a liberal and progressive nation like this, my foundation, No FGM Australia estimates that three girls a day are in danger of FGM in this country.

The public conversation around the topic in Australia was recently made more real following prosecutions in both NSW and QLD.

However, although FGM is a criminal offence in all states and territories in Australia, the stats show a discrepancy between the number of women reported to have sought care for FGM and the number of reports to law agencies.

After 17 years advocating for women’s rights, I have found that part of the reason for this lack of reporting is often attributed to a resounding silence among professionals who are in a position to raise the alarm.

Unfortunately, one of the most common things I hear from community educators and health care professionals working with children in defence of their potential inaction, is that “it’s not their place”.

That to intervene in opposition to this cultural practice world be insensitive and disrespectful, and that they’d be accused of being racist.

Well, I call bulls**t! Trust me, it is more racist to ignore the abuse of children of colour to save your own reputation, than to do everything humanly possible to keep them safe from harm.

While we should be culturally sensitive, our focus should always be on the child, not community consideration or offending parents.

All Australians need to know that if they have a reason to suspect a little girl is at risk of FGM, that they have an obligation to report it.

The threat of FGM is everyone’s business.

So today, on International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, I want you to lead by example. I want you to take stock of your behaviour and to play your part to eliminate this act of gender-based violence and child abuse in this country.

Little girls in danger of FGM in Australia and around the world, are counting on us.

Don’t know where to start? Here are four simple things you can do to help stop FGM:

  • Raise awareness: Share No FGM’s information through your social media channels, or talk to your colleagues and peers about how to protect girls at risk of FGM.
  • Education: Educate yourself and others on the child protection laws in Australia that relate to child abuse and sexual abuse. This is especially relevant for teachers, nurses, doctors, social workers and other professionals who are working with girls at risk.
  • Be attentive and learn some of the warning signs: If you know a girl who comes from a community where FGM is practised and is going on holiday to take part in a “special ceremony”, it is probably a good idea to report it.
  • Report, report, report: If you are in danger of FGM or if you know of a girl in danger, please call 1800 522 707.

This piece was originally published by news.com.au.