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Column 'It was done one day without warning' – a terrifying story of genital mutilation

Female Genital Mutilation involves partial or total removal of the external female genitalia with the aim of reducing a women’s enjoyment of sex. This abominable practise must be stopped, writes David Dalton.

“Nobody explained anything to me, it was just done to me one afternoon without warning. My grandmother held me down and my uncle performed the cutting. There were no painkillers or medical support – nothing.” – Ifrah Ahmed

IFRAH AHMED IS originally from Somali. She has lived in Ireland since 2006 having fled from her homeland to escape war. When she was only eight-years-old, she was subjected to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). FGM involves partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

30 million at risk from cutting in the next decade

Ifrah is far from being alone. An estimated 140 million women and girls alive today have suffered FGM. About 2 million girls a year – or 5,500 a day – are put through this excruciating and dangerous procedure. Despite international and local legislation, the practice continues, with 30 million girls feared to be at risk from cutting in the next decade.

In many countries where Plan Ireland works, such as Guinea and Mali, over 90 per cent of girls have undergone some form of FGM. In Ireland, it is estimated that over 3,000 living in this country have also undergone FGM and are forced to live with the health consequences.

“I still feel pain today, especially when I have my period,” Ifrah explains.

The procedure is traditionally carried out by a woman with no medical training and using basic tools such as knives, scissors or even pieces of glass and razor blades.

The health risks of FGM are manifold. Many woman bleed to death or die of infections from being cut with dirty utensils. Those who survive the procedure face severe and lasting effects such as painful sexual intercourse, menstrual problems, infertility and HIV/Aids. FGM also increases the risk of childbirth complications and newborn deaths.

imageIfrah Ahmed. Photo: Jason McDonald Photography/Plan Ireland

Plan Ireland works with governments and community leaders in developing countries to eliminate this harmful and dangerous practice. Today, 6 February, marks the International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM. The day underlines a commitment of member states of the United Nations to ending FGM.

Seen as requirement for achieving a “good marriage match”

In most countries where the tradition is widely practised, FGM is seen as a requirement for achieving a ‘good marriage match’ because it is associated with purity and virginity. It is believed that it will reduce a women’s enjoyment of sex meaning they are less likely to be promiscuous. It is also mistakenly thought to improve hygiene and cleanliness. Religion can be used as a justification – although the practice is not prescribed by any religion

Through its “Because I am a Girl” campaign, Plan works with community and religious leaders to build awareness about the negative consequences of FGM. We help to publicise personal stories of girls and women who have suffered FGM, through radio shows, leaflets and music concerts.

Plan also trains local health workers and traditional practitioners on the importance of girls’ rights and how to provide better medical and psychological support to survivors of FGM.

No girl in my village has endured FGM in the last two years

Kadi, 43, who lives in the rural village Mali, is one such woman who Plan has trained.

Before she was married, as a young girl, she underwent (FGM).

“They destroyed my body through this abominable practice, I have been through hell,” she says. She underwent extremely difficult births of each of her three children. She suffered excessive abdominal bleeding followed by days of paralysis, almost losing her life.

With help from Plan, Kadi now wages war on FGM. In her local area, where 98 per cent of all girls undergo mutilation; she has become a champion in the fight against FGM. Kadi and her comrades regularly organise discussion groups, show educational films and arrange couples counselling.

Despite the strong conservative nature of the people in her district, Kadi is optimistic, “A victory in the fight against FGM is not too far away. In the last two years, no girl in this area has been subjected to FGM,” she says proudly.

imageKadi. Photo: Plan Ireland

Plan Ireland’s “Because I am a Girl” campaign raises money and awareness for projects such as Kadi’s to tackle some of the biggest challenges facing girls in developing countries

David Dalton is Chief Executive of Plan Ireland. Plan Ireland is a child-centered community development organisation. It works in 50 developing countries across Africa, Asia and the Americas directly supporting more than 1.5 million children and their families.

Ifrah Ahmed is a social and community worker. She is on the steering committee for Ireland’s National Action Plan to address FGM.

Watch a video on how Plan is helping education against the dangers of FGM:

Uploaded by: PlanIreland

Read: 38 arrested for carrying out genital mutilation on girls as young as three

Read: Ireland’s EU presidency ‘confused and inadequate’ on female genital mutilation

Read: More than 3,000 women in Ireland subjected to genital mutilation, says TD

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