Blog Action Day post by Nigeen Akram.
As we all know from news reports from the region, the people of Iraqi Kurdistan have been facing great threats and hardships for many years and are currently on the frontline of the fight against ISIS (also known as the Islamic State). However there is another, covert threat facing Kurdish women, many of whom undergo female genital mutilation (FGM).
28 Too Many volunteer, Nigeen Akram, returned to Iraqi Kurdistan determined to learn more about this secretive practice and how it affects the lives of Kurdish women. In this blog she tells the powerful story of one of these women and we share it to highlight this secretive practice and support those fighting to end FGM in Kurdistan.
A Kurdish Girl
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter" - Martin Luther King Jr
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is unfortunately an ongoing practice in Kurdistan. Although there are organisations working to abolish it, many young women are afraid to share their stories or speak out because they are afraid of what would happen to them and what would happen to their families and those involved in the ritual of FGM. This fear has cultured these women into silence, so we are unable to know the exact number of the victims of FGM in Kurdistan because they are covert.
When I was in Kurdistan this summer I met a brave 26 year old women, from a village not far from Silemani who found the courage to share her story in the hope that other women would join her and share their stories so that we can put an end to this barbarous practice.
This is Payam’s story
“I remember distinctly, it was a Tuesday afternoon, my sister and I were playing in front of my uncles house; She was 5 and I was 7. An old lady approached us with my mother in tow; she was disliked by girls in the village but I was too young to understand why. She had a merciless face as she walked up behind my younger sister:
"You two, come with me" she said to us.
I looked up at my mother to see her approval: "Go with this grandma".
Too naive to envisage what was happening, my sister and I followed the old lady. However, my mother didn't follow...
Suddenly, I felt anxious. Why isn't mother coming with us, I wondered. Why did she leave us with this lady that nobody liked.
"Grandma, where are we going?" I questioned.
"Don’t speak so much" she snapped. We tagged along obediently, like little kids do.
We arrived in a small mud house which smelled of dirt and crushed leaves. In the corner of the room sat two other women whom I recognised from the village. They were what the locals described as "Doctors" even though they held no medical qualifications; or any qualification for that matter. Grandma walked up to the two ladies and rapidly whispered something in their ears, too quiet for me to make out what they were discussing.
The two ladies made their way to me and my sister each with a piece of black cloth in their hands. Fear settled over me. Where was my mother?
One of the ladies grabbed my arms and blindfolded me. I kicked and pushed, but she had much more strength. I could hear my little sister also struggling. She was screaming and crying for help, but I couldn't do anything to help her. I was helpless.
"Get off me" I screamed, but the lady pushed me down with even more force.
"It will be over soon, I promise" she said as she took my skirt off and tied my legs to the table.
I heard my sisters scream from across the room. It was the most agonising sound I've heard to this day. The sort of sound that I never want to hear again. I was blind folded, so I couldn't see what was happening. My sisters crying died out eventually. If my memory serves me well, she passed out. From the fear. The pain.
Then came my turn. I felt cold hands on my thighs, pressing down. Grandma's hands?
I started to struggle again.
"Hold still" grandma hissed.
I screamed. Cried. Pushed. But it was of no use, I was locked onto the floor.
And then it happened. The cutting occurred really rapidly. To this day, I have never experienced a pain as intense as being mutilated. It’s the kind of pain I wouldn't wish upon my enemy. They cut us without any use of anaesthetics, as a result I passed out.
I’m not sure how long it took for me to regain consciousness but when I did I felt sore. I opened my eyes to see one of the ladies applying crushed leaves to my wound.
"It'll heal quicker this way" she smiled as if she had an ounce of sympathy in her. But I guess I can’t blame her. She didn't know any better. She was following what people viewed as "cultural norms".
I stayed in that room with my sister for around a month. The ladies would visit us and put crushed leaves onto the wound daily until the wounds eventually healed into a faint scar.
My mother would come and visit us often, bringing food and new clothes with her.
I would ask my mother: "Why did they cut me? How could you let them do that to me?"
After a moment of silence she would reply: "My daughter, I did it to protect you. Those who are not cut in our village are looked down upon. No one will ever eat anything they cook. They are seen as impure. Unclean. You would be an outcast and I didn't want that for my daughters"
I'm still very angry. Angry that they dared brutalise me like that. But I think they truly believed they were doing my sister and me a favour. In a sense you could say it is their way of dishing out tough love, however unwanted it may be.
Talking about what happened to me is traumatising and embarrassing. Every time I speak of it I feel the same fear and pain I felt on the day of the cutting. FGM has affected my life negatively. This unnecessary practice is the reason for my phobia of cuts. No matter how small a cut is or where it is, I have a panic attack.
I am classed as one of the lucky FGM victims. Some girls weren't so lucky. A girl from our village died during childbirth due to complications as a result of FGM.
I hope more girls speak up and share their stories because together we can end this painful, life threatening practice. I want my future daughters to grow up in a culture that is free from FGM. No girl should go through what my sister and I did. I will make sure my daughters don't.”
After thanking Payam for being brave enough to share her story and assuring her that her voice will be heard I promised Kurdistan to work hard to end FGM and similar practices. Please share this blog and help Payam’s voice be heard. Many Kurdish women want FGM to end and we need to support them in their stand against the practice.
28 Too Many researches FGM and campaigns to end the practice in the 28 African countries where it is practised and across the global diaspora. You can support our work by donating to fund our research and keep up to date with our progress by liking our page on Facebook and following us on Twitter.