Daughters of Eve
Daughters of Eve is a non profit organisation set up by women from FGM practicing communities that works to protect girls and young women who are at risk from female genital mutilation (FGM). By raising awareness about FGM and sign-posting support services they aim to help people who are affected by FGM and ultimately help bring an end to this practice.
Their wider work is to advance and protect the physical, mental, sexual and reproductive health rights of young people from female genital mutilation practicing communities. Daughters of Eve recognise that FGM occurs in the context of wider harmful practices and that young people often have many different problems. They take a holistic approach, offering advice and support to help young people in as many ways as is possible, recognising that work with women and girls should be based on their needs and not the act of violence.
Daughters of Eve recognise female genital mutilation (FGM) as a form of gender-based violence, which therefore reflects and reinforces inequities between men and women and compromises the health, dignity, security and autonomy of its victims. This charity came about after its founders working with FGM practicing communities for many years identified the need for specialist support and advocate service for young people within these communities.
Nimco Ali will speak about the work that Daughters of Eve do to promote awareness of FGM, and their fundraising efforts which support survivors of this practice and help to lobby towards its end.
Nimco: Thank you Kate for the introduction, and thank you for saying the F-word, because I might be able to say it now as well [laughter]. Well basically, I'm just going to start with who I am and what Daughters of Eve is, and I'm going to go through a presentation that I have, and I'm going to send it to Nat, so if anyone wants it, I'm more than happy for you to have the details from my presentation.
My name's Nimco Ali, I co-founded an organisation called Daughters of Eve in 2010 with two other survivors of female genital mutilation, which is also known as female genital cutting and incorrectly sometimes called female circumcision, which it's not, and maybe that's a conversation we can kind of start off with at the beginning, because everyone always listens, especially men, and says 'is it like male circumcision?'. I'm like, 'no, it's not like male circumcision, because there's a difference between the removal of the foreskin and the removal of the clitoris...it's just completely different'.
So, essentially, our work is to protect and empower young girls from the UK, so look at it from a UK perspective, because it's constant work...we're always talking about FGM...internationally, and we also want to change the context in which the conversation is had from a so-called 'cultural' issue to a violence against women framework, and looking at FGM as it affects everybody, but it's just more common in different places. So, there are certain words that we don't use. We don't say 'FGM practising community', we have 'FGM affected community', larger, general communities, because we as an organisation have worked with many cultures and many races, so we've worked with white girls from Cornwall to girls from the sub-Saharan Africa, to girls from the Middle East, but all UK-based and all... in the UK.
And what essentially kind of drove me to do this was...it wasn't about 'I want to change the world', I was just really pissed off. Because I underwent FGM when I was seven, as a British child, I came back and, for me what was different to everybody else was that I didn't necessarily need this awakening at the age of 18 or whatever it was to say 'oh, this is wrong'. I just knew it was complete bullshit as a seven year old, I was just thinking 'OK seriously, this is just stupid. It's not going to make any difference as a woman, it's not going to do any of these other things that I've been told, so, I'm just going to kind of agree with the fact that it's stupid'. I came back to the UK from my holiday where I underwent my FGM and I told my teacher and she said 'that's nice, it's a bit like a bar mitzvah'. And I'm like 'it's nothing like a bloody bar mitzvah'. So, that was like my second experience in kind of trying to have this conversation. So there I was, as an eight year old, trying to have a conversation with my teacher, going 'it's nothing like a bar mitzvah, it's completely...horrible', but she just kind of othered it and from then on I just decided 'I'm not going to bother with this any more'...because people in the wider community want to think about it as a kind of ignorant thing, and my parents and the cultural context in which I was being raised, want to think about something amazing, and I think they're both stupid, so I'm just not going to have this conversation at all.
So I just carried on, became an adolescent, went to university, and I essentially just thought everyone would just grow out of it. But in 2006 I was asked to speak to a few...to some young women at the Bristol City Academy, and all these girls were EU born, so they were either born in Holland, or [?] or the UK, and I went in there just essentially to talk about careers and things like that. As soon as the teacher left the room, the first thing that the kids asked, well one of the young girls, and they were all in Year 9, asked is 'Miss, is FGM halal?' - and halal to her means 'is it kosher?', 'is it accepted in Islam?', so she kind of put an Islamic context into it. And I said 'no, no, it's not, and how many of you have been, or [?], how many of you have undergone FGM?' - and out of the 13 girls, 12 of them had been cut. And that time, I was working in child protection, and we weren't even talking about FGM because it was like... it doesn't happen. It happens to immigrants when they come over so we'll deal with it as a migrant issue, as opposed to in the UK. So I went back to my boss and I was like 'these girls are being cut, these girls have been cut, this is what the issue is'. It took three months before anyone even did anything about it, and everyone was walking around on cultural eggshells and I was like 'what the fuck? These kids have just said that they've been mutilated, that something's happened to them, and so what are we going to do about it?'.
Greatly, there was a woman at the time, who was leading the work around FGM with the NHS called Jackie Mathers, and she was the lead child protection nurse, so we started putting guidelines together, and we...well, what you'll see around the UK is if you type in 'FGM', you'll get millions of guidelines, but nothing actually being done. So there's just guidelines galore. So we did guidelines, we sat around, and then the conversation came around again, 'we need to work with the community'. And I'm like, 'what, you mean Bristol?' and they were like 'no, no, these communities that are affected', and I'm like, 'what, you mean Bristol?' [laughter]. And they're like 'no no no, the Somali, the Sudanese, you know, the people that it affects', and I'm like 'no, you mean Bristol, we need to work with Bristol'. So, that was the conversation that was had for many years, 'we need to work with the community, we need to work with the community'. And I was kind of left, and I thought 'if the work is being done, then it's going to take a time when everyone's just going to properly come together'. And... never talking about my experience, always talking about FGM as a kind of...in a third person context.
In 2010, there was this young woman I met, who I was exposed to, talking about FGM without getting any support, any kind of psychological counselling, and she was there, she was hyperventilating and nobody else cared, everyone else just wanted to listen to the story of what happened to her in this kind of voyeur kind of context. And I took her to the side and I was like 'are you OK?'. It was...it was that moment when I thought 'actually, me being silent, I am being quite complicit in the act going on', because we are still talking about it in this 'other' context and you would never think that a girl who's educated, or who grew up in the UK, who was born here, that came from a certain family, would undergo FGM. We still have this picture of an 'African girl'. So it was in that moment that I said to her 'it's fine, it's all going to be OK, because I know what you're going through', and the release that she found in that kind of moment, of talking to someone about our bodies and giving us a kind of...information, about ignorance that she had about her anatomy'... I said 'this is something that I need to do'.
So coming up with my two other friends, who have also been from the UK and who have also undergone FGM, but we all had different kind of experiences, we came and founded Daughters of Eve and that's essentially where we are today. One of the main things we don't do in Daughters of Eve is again, is we never use graphic images, or images at all of FGM. I will say to people 'I don't need to show you images of a child being beaten or a child being sexually abused or any kind of those for us to be able to understand it'. What it also does, it kind of others it, because we presume it's happening to people like 'them', and not us, 'it's not happening in my home, it's not happening to my next door neighbours, it's happening over there because of the ignorance'. And, one of the things is, these people are not ignorant, they know what they're doing. Another misconception is the fact that it's done through 'love', and I see a lot of professionals perpetuating that...that misunderstanding as well. It's easier for people to say 'love' than it is to say 'hate', 'control', 'violence', all these other things, if you tell them 'it's because you love your child', they'll say 'yeah, yeah, it's because I love my child'. And then you automatically lose the power to actually challenge anything that they do, because you've already legitimised whatever they do in a 'loving context'.
So what I'm going to do now is just kind of talk about what FGM is, why FGM is performed from a large...from the affected communities that talk about it, the facts around FGM in the UK and internationally, and also the legal and professional responsibilities that we have towards women, if some of us are social workers, teachers and so on. So, FGM essentially comprises of four procedures of the total or the partial removal of the external genitalia to the female organ. So that's also deliberate injuries, it doesn't necessarily have to be fully removed, if there's any kind of piercing and so on, I'll talk about, that's been kind of defined now as also for the woman to be FGM. The World Health Organisation defines FGM in four different forms, but there's three which are the most common in the UK and internationally, and that's Type 1, which is the partial or total removal of the clitoris, which is commonly known as a clitordectomy, Type 2 is the total or partial removal of the clitoris and the labia minora with sometimes having the labia majora also removed. Type 3 is the most aggressive form, which is Type 1... sorry, it's the removal of the clitoris, the removal of the labia majora and the labia minora, and then pulling the tissue that's left together and then sewing it up, so that... and that's essentially called infibulation. And women that have children are left with a tiny hole to urinate and menstruate through, and that scar is opened when a girl is married or about to be married, to prove that she's a virgin. And Type 4, which... there are other forms of non-medical procedures that are performed to the female genitalia, so these are piercings, prickings and also in some communities in West Africa there's a pulling of the labia, and that's...the aesthetics of looking at the vagina... the labias are made larger than they actually are. So that's what they... that's what happens there.
So, motives and functions as to why FGM is performed. A lot of people...there's been a lot of research... so there's three main reasons which I was given, which is the psychosexual, so to keep purity, to keep chastity, it's to keep girls virgins before they get married. There's also a kind of sociological kind of...where it's a cultural identity, so that women feel that unless they're cut then they don't feel that they belong to that country or the community which it's performed in. And then there's also a religious reasoning, where they believe that this is a 'male' organ, especially...especially the clitoris is a 'male' organ which needs to be removed. And you'll hear a lot of people call FGM 'sunna'(?) sometimes, it's an Islamic term for 'the way of the prophet', but there is no Islamic, Christian or Jewish that says FGM is to be carried out. And I don't necessarily go into any kind of... I don't sit with any community leaders or I don't sit with any religious leaders to kind of combat FGM, because if I did that then I'd have to start agreeing with him when he starts telling me that he can marry four women and all these other kind of bullshit things which their culture and their religion uphold.
The way that we fight FGM is from a human rights perspective, from a violence against women perspective, and essentially from a safeguarding perspective, the children in the UK, a lot of FGM is done to adolescents. The average age in the UK is between 7 and 10, that young girls are taken away to be cut. So, why it continues...the essential reason why it continues is the gender inequalities that we're all aware of, and patriarchy is the essential reason why it continues. Women in the places where FGM is largely predominant, so in Africa, are commodities. So, you choose how you want your woman. Do you want her to be cut? Do you want Type 1, Type 2, Type 3? That's how she's delivered. And sadly, especially in Africa, dowry payments are the essential kind of... financial means of the whole continent. So, you're paying for a future wife, so you expect a future wife to be given to you like that.
A lot of people say to me 'so we need to educate men so they stop demanding women that are cut', and I say 'no, we need to advise those girls and to actually empower women to say "I don't want to be cut, I don't want to be married to someone I don't want to be married to, and I want to be educated so I can fulfil my own financial needs"', so those kind of things. Sanctions... one of the other reasons as to why FGM carries on is... you know, if you don't [?], if you don't cut your daughter, what will happen to you? So, the fear of sanctions you'll receive if you don't cut your child. Rewards...women who are cut are held in esteem, and those who are not are looked down on, so if they're getting these rewards it's kind of a psychological thing you know, a girl who's cut is pure, is clean, is perfect, she is a great woman. You, you're not, so what are you going to do is you've got to take away that control of women, say 'this is how I was born, this is how I want to be', and then they end up [?] being cut.
Another reason is decision making. We women are not there, we don't decide. One of the misconceptions and the fallacies is that I always hear is that 'FGM is done to women by women', and 'it's a crime that women aid' and it's not. It's patriarchy that's defining... it's patriarchy that holds the blame, it's patriarchy that insists that women have to be cut and women are just operating within the space...there's a space in...there's a realm which they have to control. So if those mothers are fearful of the sanctions that are going to happen, then that's what she's going to do to her daughter, and she's not doing it because she hates her - she might be, I'm not making...actually I want to backtrack from that, because from a legal perspective I'm not putting any defence up there for anybody, so I'm not saying it's love but looking at it in a broader context, it's patriarchy and it's the reason why it's happening is because women have no decision making, no power in making decisions, and if women were in Parliament or in government would they want to be cut? No they wouldn't. But if they're right at the bottom and they want to get somewhere, and the only way that they can get it is to be cut, then they will be cut.
And what's been really interesting as well has been in the development in Egypt, I met David Cameron in 2011, [quietly] arsehole [laughter, applause]. But, he came over and he said 'Oh, FGM? Yeah, I didn't know it happened until after the Egyptian revolution'. I was like '...and you're the Prime Minister?!' [laughter]. It was in his manifesto, in 2010, that he was going to combat FGM, but obviously he didn't even know like... so I just walked away, but he said he didn't know until the Egyptian revolution, because that was when the women started talking about FGM, and what's really interesting is that Mubarak's wife, the First Lady of Egypt, she was very proactive in trying to stop FGM, and they had a law passed in 2007, to make FGM illegal - all forms of FGM, so it wasn't just Type 3 FGM, all types of FGM were made illegal, and not surprisingly, the Islamic Brotherhood are now trying to reverse that back. And what's really interesting is that they're using a concept that's... what is happening here, where they've said 'fine, we can't cut girls, but if a woman chooses to get cut, then that's her choice'. And I'm thinking [confused face]... and this is another conversation that I've had with people, around labiaplasty, is the fact that choice doesn't happen in a vacuum, so if that's the only thing that people have ever been taught, that's how women look, then that's how women expect to look, then that's essentially what you're going to do, so you're going to... you haven't had a choice to do. So that's what's happening now, they're wanting to repeal the Act and actually have women if they want to undergo FGM, to undergo FGM. One of the other reasons...there was a history of FGM...it's not in any kind of [?] and it was known to be common in Egyptian and in the Roman times, so it kind of pre-dates any kind of religious thing, but I don't want to go into that.
Estimates on the prevalence on women, globally it's estimated that there are 100 to 140 million women across the world that are living with the effects of FGM. And that is essentially from the World Health Organisation's stats, but they wrongly looked at the developing world instead of generally across the world, so that's an estimate, and this was done in 2007, so if 3 million girls are cut every year in Africa alone, and that was in 2007, so we're up to nearly 200 million across the world. Where is FGM most common? It's most common in 28 African countries, in parts of the Middle East, in Iraq, the Kurdish part of Iraq, in Yemen, and it's been reported in India, Pakistan, Malaysia and in Indonesia. And obviously in the migrant population in the second generations in, within, people with heritage from those communities. So that's where it's most common, but we've had, we've worked with women of all races and it's essentially, because FGM is rooted in hatred of women, it's just one of those things that sadly a lot of women have undergone, like [?], domestic violence, we can say 'this happened to me because this is what he thought, this is why he could punch me'.
In terms of the risk categories within the UK, so looking at communities that have a higher than 30% uptake, so if we look at Somalia, North Sudan and Eritrea, those countries are probably universally practicing FGM countries. So in Somalia it's closer to 100%. And it's Type 3, infibulation, which is the most common. And what's been really interesting is that I've been having a few conversations with people trying to understand...I'm not sure if any of you saw Steven O'Brian on Newsnight, after there was an amazing report about FGM in Egypt, and it was...the story was there, this is why the [?] women, because on the Monday they had a story about the women in Tahrir Square and the women were having to have virginity tests in order to even stand, to go back and protest, on Tuesday it was about women in Parliament, and then on Wednesday it was about FGM, so talking about the violence against women, obviously he came on and said 'men are at the forefront of fighting FGM and it's women doing it to themselves in a confused state about what men want', so I was like '...fuck yeah - NO' [laughter]. But then, he is like, anti-choice, pro-hunting, homophobic, that's like him.
But yeah so, in the communities that we have in the UK that are at risk it's the Sudanese - the North Sudanese, the Somalians, the Eritreans, and those young women are more at risk of Type 3 FGM and as I said that's before they start secondary school, so at the age of 11. The second high rates of communities in the UK that have up to 70% of Type 1 or Type 2, is Egypt, European, Gambian and Sierra Leone. And the thing about, especially in Gambia and Sierra Leone is there's a vast level of prevailing reasons as to why FGM is practiced. So other communities in East Africa will say it's to do with faith, it's to do with you becoming a woman. In Gambia and Sierra Leone it's to do with a secret society. So what happens is there's two kinds of initiation ceremonies for men and women, and they both go into the bush, and things happen to the men that are never talked about, and things happen to the women that are never talked about, but one of the things that's coming out is FGM. But a lot of young girls have gone away from here and fear is the essential driving force for FGM in Gambia and Sierra Leone. So young British girls have gone away, have come back home, have been told that if they tell anybody, like, you know, horrid things are going to befall them. And one of the girls that we're working with at the moment, she's... she was 12 when she went to Sierra Leone - no, she went to Liberia to visit her grandparents and her mother didn't know. So her maternal grandmother took her to be cut. So this girl was filled with all these things, these demons, and all these things that are going to come out if you ever talk about it. So she came back and started having nightmares, and her parents were thinking 'well, what's going on?'. So they took her to see a child psychotherapist. But she was scared, she was saying 'if I say to you what I'm really scared of, then my mother's going to die and all these things are going to happen', so how do you try to tell a young child that's been scared that it's all going to be OK?
That's one of the things that we work around, it's not about the physical, the remedies that we need to provide to women, so the reversals or the sexual heath clinic [?] but it's also that psychological support. So for women from The Gambia and Sierra Leone and Liberia, more of it is...it's very hard for them to even say the words or even to talk about it. So for women from Somalia and Sudan and so on, women from those areas will be more open to the conversation, in a certain way, as opposed to women who have been told that even if they mention it...that's it, horrid things are going to befall them or their family. And what's been really interesting that I've been reading about... I met a man from Liberia recently and it's really interesting that men will be like...you know, justify anything. And he said 'well yeah, what we do is,' - and this is quite horrific - what they do is that when the clitoris is removed from young girls in this camp where they're having the secret ceremony, it's taken over to the men and then... something happens to it where they turn it into powder and the men sniff it and then they get some kind of secret... you know, some kind of superpower, you know from that. And I'm like 'well, she needs a superpower, so just leave it there'. And it's like, all these things, like, so 'unless these things happen then we can't get the superpower that we have'. I'm just thinking 'seriously?'. And you think sometimes, you know, you think that a lot of these people, you can have a conversation with them, but if it's something that they fundamentally believe, there's no reason in having a conversation, you just need to say 'it's illegal, and this is how we're going to protect young children, and we're not going to negotiate...having that kind of dialogue'.
In terms of percentages in the UK of the young women that are at risk, according to a Forward stat, there's 66,000 women who have undergone FGM. But this was very flawed research and it's never meant to be quoted research, it was just meant to shock people so the government would give us the money to do actual research, at the time we produced that research. And the way that was done was to use the 2001 census and just pick out women that had identified themselves as being from countries where FGM is practiced, and FGM's practiced at a high level. So where women had identified as being from Somalia, and it's up to 99% in Somalia, then they just assume that they've undergone FGM, and they assumed that their daughters were at risk of FGM, but how many women have put their birth place as [?]. Every young woman I knew who was born in London or born in Cardiff, and they all underwent FGM. That wasn't captured.
And then from that they also said, this is a thing that was picked up, that 24,000 girls under the age of 15 are at risk of FGM in the UK, but recent research that we've just carried out in London was that the birth rate within communities that are highly affected by FGM, is 7000 a year. So half of that 7000 a year, if they are girls, they are at risk, so we say 24,000 across the UK. The...the stats are very weak but... if one girl's at risk it's an issue, if 24,000 girls are at risk, it's a massive issue, if more than 24,000 girls are at risk - why are we not doing anything? And that's the conversation that we like to put at the table of the government. It was interesting that somebody from the Department of Education said 'well, schools are not interested because there's not enough of these [airquotes] 'affected people' in their classes, and they've got other things to teach the girls'.
So, looking at the health consequences of FGM, the short-term consequences are pain, bleeding, shock, acute urinary tract infections and death, long-time is infections, failure of the wound to heal, cysts, again the urinary infections, menstrual problems and sexual problems, pain during sex, intercourse, childbirth complications and again, death. A lot of women across the world have died in giving birth because they, they had Type 3 FGM.
So, the law in the UK. Essentially, we've had a law in the UK since 1985, but the 1985 Act didn't say anything about taking young girls out of the country to be cut, and that's what a lot of mothers did, and it took 20 years for that loophole to be closed, and in 2003, we got the FGM Act, which made it illegal for a UK national or permanent resident to be taken abroad, so this doesn't apply to women who are here with student visas, a lot of women from Gambia have asked for asylum because their daughters were going to have it done to them, but out border agency and our Home Office don't consider that as an issue, they don't...like 'it's not going to happen because we've given those countries money to [?]', like...yeah, still happens.
So since the UK, since the law's been in place there's been no prosecutions, there's been no convictions obviously, there's just a police unit in London called Project Azure which investigated 48 cases in 2008-2009, and in 2009-2010 they investigated 58 cases. So just talking about the primary victims, they should at least have had young girls between the age of infancy to the age of 15, in the UK it's most commonly under the age of 10, so 6 to 10, when they try [?]. So, in terms of the violations... where FGM is looked at nationally, FGM is in violation of the Human Rights, of non-discrimination and the right to be protected from physical and mental violence, in violation of the woman's sexual integrity, and also the right to life, because FGM can lead to death.
International treaties that cover, that we can use...because one of the things that a lot of people talk about is how the Human Rights Act is hard to use, I'm like 'we have a variety of laws that we could use', one of the things is last year the Home Office was trying to get the CPS to broaden their horizons. I'm not sure if any of you are law students, but there's a running joke within the legal sector that the CPS couldn't even prosecute Satan himself because the evidence wouldn't be strong enough [laughter]. So it's just like... they're always 'oh should we do this? Should we do this?', so it's essentially the problem that the don't just need to look at the FGM Act, there's violence against women, they can also look at it within the frameworks of GBH, because essentially that is what it is, it's... you can use it as a GBH thing and you can't consent to that, you can't even consent to having your genitalia removed, that's why I really find it interesting as to why labiaplasty's been sanctioned, because if I wanted to go around and cut the tips of the fingers of everybody off, I wouldn't be able to do that, because that would be 'contrary to the morals of a decent society', yet we allow young girls to feel so disgusted that they have to go and have their genitalia removed. And then we have the conversation that we have the FGM Act, which allows, unless you have mental health reasons, you can undergo FGM. But, I'm going to leave those, I'm going to kind of not say anything about that just in case questions come up.
So in terms of the international treaties, there's the Convention Against Torture and other cruel and inhuman or degrading punishments, the Convention on the Prevention of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, The Convention on The Rights of The Child and the European Convention of Human Rights, which is, I think one of the things...we're having a conversation with Equality Now in order to see if we can just kind of scare the government a little bit in order to act, because they are essentially failing in protecting their citizens from torture and essentially death. But it's 'cultural' [laughter]. And in the public sector duties, there's... well as a public sector worker you have a duty under section 11 of the Children's Act, section 175 of the Education Act, section 157 of the Education Act 2002 and section 40 of the Childcare Act for you to act to protect children.
So it's quite shocking that no one wants to take up these things to protect children. And one of the young women we've worked with actually said that she had to tell the social worker 'either my mother's going to kill me or I'm going to kill myself unless you take me out of this situation', but there was always that conversation about 'oh well it's your culture, [?], let's talk about it'. She said 'there's no need to talk to my mother, I know what she wants to do, and if you don't take me out of this situation then I'm going to die, at her hands or my hands'. And it takes a child... and to a 14 year old it feels very gutting to say that...that how many other 14 year olds would have had the confidence and the ability to say those things? Then the second thing that the social services offered was to put her with a family member [shocked laughter] - she was like 'are you not listening to me?! My mother's going to do this because it's sanctioned by the whole family and it's sanctioned by the whole area'. So we need to take her out of that situation. And it was hearing those kind of voices that communicated that to MPs and to say like 'these kids need help', and I'm not really against working with communities but we need to be saying 'we can't work with communities' essentially to protect children, it's about protecting children. Have that conversation with the community if you want to, but let's start saying FGM's child abuse, FGM's wrong, and that's basically it. And that's my presentation. [applause]
Q & A
Kate: Do you want to do questions yourself, or do you want me to?
Nimco: Yeah [gestures to Kate]
Kate: Well, I'll sit here in case they get feisty, but... do people have questions?
Kate: Well, that was easy, wasn't it? [laughter] Good!
Question 1: How do we start talking about it? Talking, you know, like to anybody, communicating what's happening, because this is like the first thing I've heard of it.
Nimco: Well, I think that there's a lot of...that's really interesting as well, because I just think for me it's just about having a conversation as we'd have about any form of gender-based violence. Maybe just listing 'how many forms of gender-based violence do you think happen in the UK?'. There was an article in the Sunday Times recently around three men who said they would carry out FGM on young children in the UK, and some really interesting text messages that I got were like 'this is horrible, we have to make it illegal!' - it is illegal! [laughter] It's been illegal since 1985 and it is just about talking about it and just not being uncomfortable to say just as we know about domestic violence and we know about rape and we know about grooming, just to say that female genital mutilation happens, and let's have that conversation.
The more we talk about it, the more it becomes mainstream. That's what we're aiming to do, is to make FGM mainstream and just to say 'it happens...violence against women will manifest itself in different ways, and within these parts of nations, this is how it manifests itself'. Female genital mutilation can happen to anybody, so it's just kind of taking that...because it's been put in a cultural cul-de-sac, in a cultural context, it's being made to be about certain people in Africa. It's not an African issue, it's an international women's rights issue. I think it's just having that confidence to just say like... and if people will challenge, say 'well why do you feel like you have to talk about it?' it's 'because I'm a woman and I wouldn't want it to happen to me. That is why I talk about FGM. Not because I think it's happened in Africa and we need to educate' all those kind of SOAS conversations... no offence to anyone that's been to SOAS! Has anyone been to SOAS? No? OK. [laughter] School of Oriental and African Studies. Yeah.
Kate: They might be watching you from SOAS. [points at camera]
Nimco: Oh, OK. [waves to camera] Hi SOAS. [laughter] No but, I think...I had a conversation with someone the other day about different forms...how different projects around the world, about different way of addressing FGM. There's a very interesting project in Kenya where Equality Now, who are working with women throughout...where FGM in those communities is linked to marriage and the girls are cut just before they get married, and the fathers essentially cut their daughters to get cows... so you get one cow for this, two cows for that and so on. So what Equality Now have done to support those communities is to say 'well what we will do is we will educate this girl, so we will take this "burden" off you' - because having a daughter's a burden - 'we will take this burden off you, and when she's educated, she can buy you ten cows. She doesn't have to, but that's kind of the pretext. So these girls not only escape FGM, they also escape marriage, but child pregnancy, HV and poverty.
And it's really interesting, this girl said to me 'is this really sustainable? Because what we're doing is we're taking them out of their context, you know, like their cultural settings', and I'm like 'you've come all the way from Australia for a better life, why can't we take an African girl out of a village?. And it's this whole kind of thing where we just want to keep it in this context of... you want to keep people in this box where you can go and sit and watch and 'understand' like, you know, rituals and things without actually doing anything about it, and then write pieces and write papers about them, and you come back and tell me...?'.
There was this other thing I had a whole conversation with a white American woman that runs... and it's nothing to do with race but... at that point it was because she was projecting onto me... so I met this woman and she said 'oh, we've been doing some work in Somalia', I said 'yeah, I know, it's interesting work' - I meant it's shit work, not interesting work [laughter] - and then she projected onto me about my life experience, she said 'well you were cut, weren't you?' and before I could say anything she's like 'you know your mother did it because she loved you?'. I'm like 'you know my mother's a great woman but don't excuse the act'. And then she went on, before I could even shut her up [laughter], she went on and said 'it's like when my mother put braces on my teeth - [gasps] [laughter] - it was painful but it was all to do with love'. And at that point I said 'I know you've lived in Africa for 20 years, but don't project your village mentality onto me', and I walked off, because it's this sense of thinking that the poster image of FGM as being African ignorance, so that's the context in which it happens, it doesn't.
A lot of the people that perpetuate it and the people that keep on doing it are very privileged and then it seeps down into people that haven't got access to information or education, and that's the context which we want to kind of float around. But in our inability to question it and to challenge it we become complicit in it and that's what I found in myself, me trying to 'other' myself from it, to just get away because I'm thinking 'I don't live in Africa, I'm not like, ignorant, I know better', it was allowing young women that I have supported to be subjected to the whole act. [to Q1 asker] Sorry, I just went on a bit of a tangent as well. It helps to just talk about it.
Question 2: I was just wondering if you know what the situation is with...how would women and domestic violence kind of fit into this whole context? Like, if a woman had a child and was under pressure to have them cut. Could other... are there ways for her to seek shelter from a domestic violence shelter, or Women's Aid... do they have any awareness of this issue at all, or would they be able to handle it?
Nimco: I think that awareness is there but it's linked with 'FGM just happens, we [?]...if she's fleeing domestic abuse, we need to get her some support', as opposed to actually saying to girls 'you can get away'. A lot of the people think that the people they need to challenge is to do with language, to do with barriers, a lot of the young women we need to challenge to actually not cut their daughters look like me and speak like me and grew up in the UK. So they have perfect English, they've been educated here, but essentially it's about... because FGM has become 'either them or us', it's become about taking sides as opposed to saying 'actually we're women', and that's where our name came from, in terms of Daughters of Eve, it's nothing biblical, it's just the fact that I read this amazing book, loads of amazing stories in it, it was called 'Eve Was Framed'. It's about miscarriages of justice of women because we've just been painted as these evil charlatans, and it was that, it was 'we are all from the same tree, we all evolved from the same ape'... was it apes, or...? [laughter] Anyway, yeah, apes or Eve, or the biblical, whatever way you want to take it, we all came from the same place so essentially we need to come together as women and say 'actually this is affecting our sisters, so we're against it'.
But I think there is a lot of work that needs to be done with shelters, because it's just that service is not there. Everyone wants to talk about African Well Women Clinics and the girls that are working in it actually want to talk about sexual health. But no, we can't talk about sexuality because your community doesn't want you to know about sex, the general population doesn't want you to know about sex.
Kate: I just want to say that legally there's a problem around asylum as well.
Nimco: Yeah, I was saying about women in Gambia.
Kate: There's a problem around asylum with the law, which is that you can seek asylum in this country on the grounds of being victimised because you're a member of a minority community, so if you come from a country where you're a member of a minority ethnic community and as such you're at risk of FGM, you can claim asylum in this country. But if you come from a country where FGM is standard, then you can't claim asylum in this country on the grounds that you're at risk of it, which is obviously fucking stupid. And ridiculous that when women come to this country having experienced it themselves, bringing their daughters, trying to get their daughters away from that, and then they're told 'oh no, but in your country it's normal so clearly it's fine'.
Audience member: And even in accessing services, so even if you are seeking asylum in the UK, you can't get access to secondary services anyway.
Kate: Yeah, to be honest, even if you've got a very legitimate claim for asylum in this country you're highly unlikely to be given asylum or anything as ridiculous as that. [To Nimco] Anyway, sorry about that.
Nimco: Oh, no!
Question 3: I know you mentioned there was NHS guidelines, but within that, I wondered is the medical profession fully trained? Do they approach it in an open and need-to-tackle manner or are they still very much like 'oh it's a cultural problem'?
Nimco: There's a very simple framework in which to protect children, and there was a letter that we sent to the Health Secretary, where all children are tracked from birth to five years old within the health system. So what Equality Now sought was to say that 'when woman presents at Maternity, or at her booking, and she's undergone FGM, then you put that child as "at risk"'. Just like you would when women present with domestic abuse. You put that child as 'at risk', then you know that this is a high-risk case that you're dealing with. And you have a conversation with that woman about FGM while she's pregnant. Then if she delivers a female daughter...'female daughter'? [laughter]... if she delivers a daughter, then that daughter is at risk of FGM, then what you do is you hand over to the health visitor and the health visitor's in charge of that child for the next five years. So you have that conversation. But no, they don't want to do that, they're like 'well it's just too complicated!'.
There is a very... for example, in terms of infibulation, which is where women are being sewn up, in the health profession, it's easy that midwives can't deal with it because they've been so standoffish, it's really...it's been made into a 'specialist thing' where senior midwives will say 'actually it's quite simple', and all midwives should be trained but they're not. So young girls and women are coming into Maternity and they've been infibulated. I went to... this was the last week(?) the midwives were just going to go out on the wards straight away. They hadn't been taught about FGM. And one of them, she was a very young midwife, and she was talking about a horrific experience that she had. She said 'a girl came in, she was eighteen years old. She'd undergone type 3 FGM, she hadn't gone to any of the antenatal clinics and it wasn't picked up because she didn't disclose the fact that she had type 3 FGM, she presented and she's in labour, and there's nowhere for the baby to come out. Her fifteen year old sister's with her, who's also undergone FGM...' so the young midwife freaks out, so she just leaves the woman [gasps]. And then the doctor comes in and he freaks out, and what does he do? He goes and looks for an African nurse. Because she'd understand [gasps] [laughter]. He's supposed to say 'OK, there's a woman in distress, I need to deal with this'.
So I think that one of the main things that's missing is about ethics and about the understanding about the holistic-ness of the healthcare system. Another one of the things about the healthcare system is that they were the ones that lobbied, when the FGM Act came out, for a caveat to be put in that if women, for medical reasoning, want FGM done, it can be done to them. For mental health reasoning. So under the FGM Act now, as a Somali I can go in and get labiaplasty. If I went in as an African Caribbean woman I can get labiaplasty done. They say as a Somali it would be for 'cultural reasons'. As though porn in our society's not a cultural thing as to why girls are going into Harley Street to have their labias removed. So the medical profession hasn't necessarily been as helpful as they can, and they are at the forefront of working [?] as well. I understand it in a very holistic way,
Question 4: I've come across a lot of men trying to derail FGM by saying... you know, trying to make it on par with male genital mutilation, and I was just wondering what your take is on that - how do you defend FGM and try and stop the derailing?
Nimco: I would say it's not the same thing, and when they're going on I'm like 'have you even seen female genitalia?'. The removal of the foreskin, that is what male circumcision is, it doesn't go above that, it's just removal of the foreskin. But type 1 FGM, which is the removal of the clitoris, would be equivalent to removing the total penis ad the scrotum. Type 2 would be removing the penis, the scrotum and also the testicles. So it's just not the same thing really. And I know you want to... I don't agree with any form of surgery on children, but the comparisons are not there to be made. And that's why I have problems, I never use the words 'female circumcision', because then it's undermined, then you think 'OK, it's just like male circumcision, it's fine, they've just got to get on with a normal life'. But you mutilate the genitalia of the woman, and I think a lot of people feel uncomfortable about saying 'mutilation', bet ween I'm talking to a survivor, I allow her to express her experience and say what she wants to call it, I never put any words into her mouth. But when I'm talking in a professional context I always use female genital mutilation and call the act 'cutting' , because mutilation is the actual results of what happens to genitalia, and a lot of people, when women have their defibulation, they call it a 'reversal', and a lot of people assume that's just fixing the whole thing. It's not a reversal, it's just defibulating a woman, it's just re-opening so she can go to the toilet more effectively and have her periods with less pain.
Question 5: I was wondering what advice and what tips you had for working in adult education? Because there's absolutely nothing on...we work in adult education, in community learning, so we do a lot of work all across communities in Bristol, and one of the things I find is that I have to train teachers and I have to set up training. There is absolutely nothing on safeguarding vulnerable adults from FGM... absolutely nothing. It's so difficult to find. And I was wondering a) if there is anything out there, because a lot of the groups we teach are a lot of women teaching ESOL in St Paul's in Easton and stuff like that and from a safeguarding point of view, and also from a child-protection point of view, we run creches, women are bringing their children in all the time, and I was wondering if you have any tips or any kind of stuff where we can go to get training to kind of help this conversation happen, with adult education classes in particular?
Nimco: There is training available, and there are women training, but I think it's essentially about writing emails to the Home Secretary saying 'why are there no safeguarding things in place?'. I remember a recent training thing that we had, one of the guys who was there said 'why aren't you doing anything to stop this?' I'm like 'because I'm only one person! I'm asking you all to join the fight against it'. And it is that thing, that it's a safeguarding issue that we're constantly pushing back, to those that perpetuate it and those that are greatly affected by the issue, and one of the questions I always ask is 'what other form of sexual abuse would we allow those that perpetuate the crime to come up with solutions or to fix the problem?'. You know, we wouldn't allow any of those people who are thinking about committing a crime or who actually committing a crime to be the ones to address it.
So...there is training available and the NHS does provide some good training, I can put you in contact with those kind of training courses, but in terms of getting the framing-works, it's actually about lobbying the Home Office and Michael Gove, who's not interested in having a centralised responsibility of education. Because we can all do it at home if we want to, we wouldn't home medicate, but we can home educate.
Nat: I just wanted to say that if I put a piece of paper at the desk, if people write down their email addresses would you be able to forward them the presentation?
Nimco: Yeah, yeah, that's fine.
Kate: We have about five minutes left to continue discussing this and I'm sure there's lots more to be asked, I don't know if anyone has urgent, pressing questions, I was just wondering, since we've got five minutes left, if you could tell us , I guess as succinctly as you can, what we can do? What we can sign up to, who we should write to, I don't know if anyone...it just seems to me like that's where we should finish, like with what we can all do to make sure we're doing everything we can to support your campaign. So tell us what website to go to, who to send our money to, etcetera etcetera so that we can maximise the potential of everyone who's here today to help.
Nimco: Bristol, amazingly, has actually been at the forefront of raising awareness about FGM, and on the 29th of May they're going to launch their fourth summer campaign, because young women will be taken away around the summer to undergo FGM, so we look at the 24,000 number that's going to be the minimum number of young women at least who are at risk.
And we're a self-funded organisation, and all our things are done on a voluntary basis, so if anyone wants to do a fundraiser for us, we're Daughters of Eve, so dofeve.org, that's our website, and we're on Twitter and Facebook so just join us because we're... our basis is just to kind of raise awareness, and send you things when things are happening so you want to attend or [?] to certain people.
And if you want to... I think there are events happening for your new police commissioner, so raise that on his... or hopefully 'their'... he or she... platform. And also your new directly elected mayor, actually ask them, what is she or he going to do to address FGM in a violence against women and within a safeguarding framework? So, talking about this 'cultural context'.
But, 29th of May, and I'll send that email.. that information around about Bristol's annual summer campaign launch. On the 14th of July as well at Bristol University [?] and women from the City Academy are going to put a conference together so there's a three-strand conference, so one is for young people, one is for people like social workers and the other one's for medics(?), so if anyone's interested in going there as well, it's on the Integrate website. I think CNN's coming on the 29th of May as well, so if anyone wants to talk to CNN, you're more than welcome, because I'm going to get my arse kicked if I go on television [laughter].
And that's actually, you know what? That's another thing in terms of putting your face on the agenda and having a conversation, it's about the backlash. That's why I always used to essentially talk about it in the third person. Because if I talked about the conversation, then it's about actually being pinpointed and targeted and also out of respect for my sister, because she's not ready to tell her story, and in telling my story I'm essentially telling her story so that's why I've always kind of never necessarily talked about my experience. It's about a way of sharing and it's a way of actually seeing FGM in a different kind of way. If you want to hold a workshop I'm more than happy to come and facilitate and support that as well.
If you wouldd like a copy of Nimco's presentation, please send an email to email@example.com