FGM

Hannah is eight years old and very excited because today the gedda has come to her home and Hannah is going to take part in a very special ceremony.

Hannah's mother helps her to undress and tells her to sit on the stool which stands in the middle of the room. When Hannah is seated, her mother stands behind the her  and, wrapping her arms tightly around the child’s upper body, tells her beloved daughter her to be brave. The child’s two aunts hold her legs apart as the gedda kneels in front of her. The gedda is the village wise woman and she is about to infibulate Hannah. Sometimes she uses a sharpened stone, a piece of glass or even a pair of scissors, but today she has a penknife. The gedda slices away Hannah’s clitoris and labia. The pain is terrible, but Hannah’s mother and aunts hold the struggling child firmly. Using long, sharp acacia thorns, the gedda pins the raw flesh together, leaving a tiny hole through which Hannah can urinate. Hannah’s legs are strapped tightly together to immobilise her for the next two weeks to allow the wound to heal.

An estimated 135 million of the world's girls and women have undergone some form of circumcision – known also as female genital mutilation and female genital cutting. And of the six thousand such mutilations performed in Africa today – and by today I mean Tuesday, 16th March – 15% were infibulations. 900 little girls were mutilated today in the manner I have just described.

A few infibulations would have taken place in hospitals under general anaesthetic, but most take place in the bush. Sometimes, a trained midwife is available to give a local anaesthetic, but mostly, no steps are taken to reduce the trauma and pain these little girls suffer

Not surprisingly, some will die from blood loss or infection and those that survive often have enormous problems – physical and psychological. When they marry, normal sexual intercourse will not be possible without a corrective procedure – usually with a knife wielded by their equally sexually inexperienced husbands.

When I first heard about infibulation, I felt the same kind of revulsion you are probably feeling, but I also felt some ambivalence about the practice. It’s been going on for centuries; and in the communities where FGM is practiced, an uncircumcised woman is considered abnormal and would be ostracized. Her marriage prospects would be zero. And in these societies, being unsuitable for marriage is to be less than nothing. What right do I have, imposing my Western values on another society?

Then reason and commonsense prevailed. FGM is a vile assault. It is a purely cultural tradition of superstition and oppression that goes so far back that no-one knows why it was begun. All of the reasons given for its continuation we know to be spurious:

Since the majority but by no means all of societies that practice FGM are Muslim, it is often thought that  it is a tenet of the faith. This is not so. In fact, Islamic law protects a woman’s right to sexual enjoyment and therefore prohibits FGM. It is purely an archaic cultural practice.

This assault on millions of young girls throughout the world should be of concern to all of us. It is an offence not just to women, but to all humanity – us included.

Comments

What a scary speech to give! I used a penknife as the prop for this speech and, at the point I produced it, I came very close to crying and found it hard to continue with the speech - which has never happened to me before. I hadn't been aware that I felt so connected to the speech content. Personally, I think this was a good speech badly delivered, though most of the audience thought I delivered it very well. I didn't, I foolishly took my notes on stage and did my old trick of looking at them and finding it hard to tear away. I wrote most of this speech about a year ago, so certainly didn't need notes at all!

I chose the name Hannah as it could have come from anywhere in the world and from a number of religions - I didn't want people immediately and erroneously to think Islam. When I was looking for statistics on the prevalence of FGM, the Amnesty International website gives the story of a woman called Hannah who was infibulated as a child.

"Very moving speech. Sincerity and emotion came through - powerful."

"Powerful topic. We tend to forget this stuff goes on. Maybe it's too shocking to think about every day. I though your delivery was good, but could have been slightly smoother. The preparation was excellent. Overall it was a powerful presentation."

"Spoke well on a very heavy hitting subject. Perhaps could have had a stronger ending."

"Wow. Truly grateful for your informative speech. Delivered professionally, genuinely and with heartfelt emotion. Thank you for the education. I did not know what you were speaking about at first. So glad I really tuned in."

"A great thought-provoking speech. The stats brought the message home and good composed delivery throughout did the same thing. I liked your commentary on the reasons why circumcision is done. This totally belittled them - very good arguments. One suggestion: would have liked to hear some comments from women who have undergone this."

"Difficult subject, excellently presented. Very thought-provoking. Good impact. Did know about the vile practice but now know more. Suspect a little more preparation would have helped avoid slips (only a couple!)"

"Attention grabbing and emotion-invoking intro. Really effective. Well researched. Sincerely delivered."

"Wow! What an unpleasant speech that must have been to give."

"Made us empathise with Hannah right from the opening. Thus causing us to find that the information presented was of importance to us as individuals."

"Very powerful subject spoken about from a personal perspective."