When I was seven, like girls born into many Bohra families, my Mummy and Daddy drove me to a doctor to undergo FGM. I had no idea what was coming. Afterward, nothing was said, not a word.
Even after counseling, I don’t remember anything about what actually happened, I can’t remember the pain, I have completely locked the memories away to forget about them.
I was 16 when I started questioning my mum. I knew what had happened to me was “khatna” but I didn’t know about FGM. My mum was very open and frank about sex so I asked her about when I was cut.
She said: “We did it to make you clean, to make you a good wife and so you would stay with your husband. The Arabs are oversexed, that is part of our ancestry, and girls who aren’t cut become prostitutes.”
I went to university in Britain to study the arts and feminism. That’s when I really started questioning things. The Bohra community pushes girls to be educated and sees the sciences like engineering or medicine as good. But they don’t want you to study the arts. It’s dangerous and makes you ask questions.
When I was 40, I went to tell my GP that I’d had FGM when I was seven, please can I have counseling. I could only do that because I was in Britain. The counselor was marvelous, she let me rage and cry. Now I am able to speak about things. The harm that FGM causes is not just physical, it is so much more.
Who am I angry against? I grew up in a loving family, do I rage against my mum who loved me, or my aunts who loved me, or the mosque that was my community? It takes a lot of time to say something horrific happened to me that caused a lot of trauma. I would like to heal now.
The Bohra community doesn’t talk about sex or what female pleasure is, and people are in complete denial that FGM causes harm. They justify it by saying, “I was done, my mother was done, my daughters will be done.” To move from the denial stage to even being a victim is a massive step, and to move from victim to survivor and then onto warrior – this is my fight and how I see myself.
I have a good sex life and I am lucky my husband understands me. I still wonder what would sex be like if I was whole and not mutilated? When my genitals were cut, something was taken away from me that is part of what makes me a woman. It was taken from me without my consent and I can never get it back. This is fundamental - it was my right to have as a human being, they took it away and they didn’t see it as harm.
I think we really need to change the face of FGM because it doesn’t just happen to people in Africa, it is everywhere.
It is not an easy path to negotiate when most in the Bohra community are still deniers. I think that both the Malay and Bohra think: “We are not hurting our girls, it’s not like the barbaric practices of Africa. We are purifying our girls, it is about cleanliness and perfection.”
Now people are saying that we can’t speak in public about FGM and the anti-FGM network in Sri Lanka has grown quiet. Women are terrified of talking and are very secretive. Most of the testimonies are anonymous. We have no funding and are very small and unknown.
It’s easy to turn a blind eye and say it is not happening in this country, in our community. Nobody thinks that it’s being done to girls from good families living in the UK, who go to grammar schools and their dads’ drive Mercedes. But if people don’t think girls here are at risk, it stops them from being saved because interventions that could help don’t happen.