“They cut us to preserve the virginity. They cut us to stop us having sex before marriage. The main reason is to control your sexual urge. So many times, you will hear them say to girls and women, ‘You’ve not been circumcised, this is why you’ll sleep with anybody.’”
Sarian, was 11 when she was circumcised, in Sierra Leone. She’s now in her 30s, and lives in London. She has a son, four daughters and a wry, ruminative delivery. “At the end of the day, it didn’t stop me from having sex before marriage,” she adds. “It didn’t stop me from having an unwanted pregnancy before I was 19. It is just very, very painful. It is the worst experience ever.”
Sarian is one of the community champions who were part of phase one of an anti-female genital mutilation initiative. The results of that – which were pretty good, though with caveats, as we’ll see – will be presented to parliament on Monday, in the report, Tackling FGM in the UK. Then phase two will begin.
FGM was made illegal in the UK since 1985, and taking a child out of the country to perform the operation in 2003. Joy Clarke, the lead specialist midwife for women affected by FGM at the Whittington in London, explains why we don’t really know yet whether or not that’s working. They know the awareness is going up – when her unit first opened in 2000, only four women went to it; last year, they had 107. This is a major achievement, considering what Sarian says about giving birth when your circumcision hasn’t been dealt with: “I was in labour for nearly four days. Nobody talked to me about it. I believe they thought they would offend me. You could see them talking between themselves.” [Rest.]