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Somali Canadian Recounts Horror of Her FGM (Female Genital Mutilation)

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A woman who suffered female genital mutilation in her childhood yearstook to national media to detail the horrors of the practice.

Her goal?

To help share the stark realities of the barbaric practice in hopes of saving other girls from the horror.

The Star has more:

When Malaika was 6, she travelled with her family on an airplane for the first time, on a summer vacation to Somalia to see her aunts, uncles and cousins.

While there, she was rounded up with other girls in the village and taken into a stranger’s living room, where her genitals were cut with a razor blade.

Now in her early 20s and pursuing a post-secondary degree, Malaika, who was born and raised in the Ottawa area, says she was told by family members to not speak about the cutting. For about 15 years she kept the secret.

“I just felt really, really lonely,” she says.

That was until two months ago, when she read Yasmin Mumed’s story, published in the Star. Yasmin is a 24-year-old recent graduate of the University of Guelph who was subjected to female genital mutilation in her native Ethiopia when she was 6. Three years later, she immigrated to Canada.

On a recent day in August, the women met and spoke about their shared experiences and desire to see other girls spared from the same fate.

The Star is not revealing Malaika’s real name and has withheld some details that could identify her. She asked that her identity be concealed because she is not comfortable sharing intimate details publicly. She has also never addressed what happened with her family and is concerned about receiving criticism from her community.

She worried that photographs showing even the colour of her nail polish or the hijab she often wears could offer clues to her identity to those closest to her.

“A lot of women praise the procedure despite its negative health-related side effects,” she says. “I don’t agree with what happened to me or the practice being done to millions of women across the globe. (But) I feel like coming out not agreeing with it would be like siding against my community.”

A continuing Star investigation has revealed the federal government is aware of cases in which Canadian girls have been sent abroad and subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM). The term often used to describe what happens to these children is “vacation cutting.”

There is no reliable data on the prevalence of the problem here, but officials from Global Affairs Canada say “a few thousand” Canadian girls could be at risk, “some of whom will be taken overseas for the procedure,” according to a 2015 internal email obtained by the Star.

Recent evidence also suggests FGM may be happening on Canadian soil, including a report that found two women from a small Muslim sect called the Dawoodi-Bohras who reported being cut here.

Since 1997, it has been illegal in Canada to subject a child to FGM. It is also illegal to remove them from the country for the same purpose.

Although federal government ministers have called the practice “abhorrent and unacceptable,” experts say Canada lags behind other developed countries, like the United Kingdom, which has dedicated charities and government agencies collecting statistics, administering education campaigns and taking other proactive measures, such as programs designed to identify potential victims at the airport.

“It just makes me the most mad,” says Malaika. She is measured and thoughtful with her words.

“There was a possibility for this to not happen to me. It doesn’t mean that just because you were born in a westernized country that it’s not going to happen.”

FGM has no health benefits. It can cause severe bleeding, problems with urination and later cysts, infections, as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths, according to the World Health Organization. It can also deny women sexual pleasure.

It varies from partial removal of the clitoris to its most severe form, a procedure known as infibulation, in which the clitoris and labia are excised and the vulva stitched together, leaving only a small opening.

Read more:

‘I just remember screaming’: Toronto FGM survivor recalls the day she was cut

Canadian girls are being taken abroad to undergo female genital mutilation, documents reveal

Women in small Muslim sect say they have had FGM in Canada

Today, Malaika remembers little about her cutting.

She knows it happened without any explanation or warning. She remembers only that other girls in the village were coming in and out of a living room in someone’s home, one at a time. She’s blocked out her memory of the procedure, except pain. Afterward, she recalled, the family continued with the vacation as if nothing happened.

She doesn’t know for certain, but she believes her mother did not plan to have her cut before they left. “I think it’s just something in the moment. That it was a pressure thing,” she says. “And maybe other girls . . . were doing it as well, so I guess it would look kind of weird if they didn’t.”

She has never spoken with her father about what happened, and does not know if he is aware.

FGM is known to be practised in 29 countries — most commonly in Africa, but also in other places like Indonesia and India. It is seen by some as a rite of passage into womanhood or a condition of marriage. It occurs in both Islamic and Christian communities, but is largely a cultural tradition that dates back hundreds of years. In many areas, there is huge social pressure on families to have their daughters cut.

When Malaika returned to Canada from her summer vacation, she pushed any memories aside until high school, when students in her class began to learn about and discuss FGM and “how it was done in specific areas in Africa.”

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