'I will never forget the day': Female genital mutilation continues to destroy millions of lives globally
"We were able to restore what was taken away from us." This was the rallying call among the women who underwent restoration procedures in response to the trauma caused by Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
On International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, the painful journey of FGM survivors is brought to light once again. But, at an increasing rate, restoration centres are providing hope for women as they seek to restore their bodies and erase the traumatic memories of mutilation.
Through the journey of survivors like Noura and Amina, we hear of their physical and psychological pain and the long road to recovery. The Restore Centre in Egypt provides a multi-faceted approach to healing, offering psychological treatment, legal guidance, and surgery to restore physical function and appearance.
"Female genital mutilation has three major impacts on women. Firstly, it causes severe psychological distress, leading to feelings of inferiority and difference from other women due to changes in their genital appearance. Secondly, it has a positive effect on genital function. Lastly, it alters the external appearance, making it an appealing option for shape-enhancing surgery"
With shaking steps and a heavy heart, Noura Muhammad walked into the Restore Centre, determined to conquer the fear that had haunted her for years. She was seeking treatment for the traumatic effects of female FGM, an experience she will never forget.
As she recalls that fateful night, she remembers being taken by her father and a woman who held a tray of sharp tools, scalpels, gauze, and cotton, in the remote wilderness of Upper Egypt.
Noura Muhammad, a former victim of this traumatic procedure said, “In 2003, I was 13 years old in a small remote village in Upper Egypt. My father and mother tied me down and held me when a woman with a tray of sharp instruments performed the procedure”.
The next day, Noura fled her home and never looked back but now struggles with poverty and pain. Still, with the help of the Restore centre, she could find mental and physical solace, "It restored my self-confidence," Nora added.
Noura struggled that night, both physically and mentally. Despite facing poverty, pain, and hardship for 19 years, she eventually healed and found peace. She devoted her life to helping others as a nurse, using her experiences to make a difference in the lives of those around her.
But despite her pain and fear, Noura still sought refuge from a cruel society that would not leave her alone. It was this fear that eventually caused her to step into the Restore Centre to receive help.
Through therapy and surgery, Noura has finally come to terms with what happened that night. She continues to heal and grow but is still in pain. Nevertheless, Noura said, “I will never forget the day that changed my life forever."
"I couldn't believe that the centre existed," recalls Amina Aziz, another woman who underwent restoration surgery. "But Allah rewarded me with patience with this surgery." Amina Aziz recounts her recovery from the effects of female FGM, stating, "I never thought I'd hear about a centre that restores the harm caused by FGM.”
Amina's mother mentioned in an interview with The New Arab that she tried to stop Amina's FGM, saying, “I tried to remind her father that Sharia prohibited it, but I didn’t have the power to stop him; I just couldn’t”.
Amina recalls seeing her father pressured by his cousins and extended family, who had already had their daughters circumcised. Amina was only seven years old when the procedure happened.
"At the Restore Centre, the psychological treatment provided is not limited to just the girls who have undergone FGM, but extends to their families as well," says Amina. "The centre conducts awareness campaigns to educate families about the legal and religious implications of FGM and offers legal support for victims."
In addition, the centre is committed to holding those who perform the procedure to account and in making a positive change.
After Al-Azhar banned female FGM after the death of a 12-year-old girl named Budour, Egypt witnessed a significant decrease in the numbers. But despite the Al-Azhar ban that renders this procedure illegal, many villages still hold onto the belief in FGM, making it crucial to raise awareness and end this dangerous tradition.
However, women who lived through the trauma still suffer, which makes it hard for the civil community to work with limited resources.
One Egyptian anti-FGM activist, Dr Amr Seif El-Din, a consultant obstetrician, gynaecologist, and co-founder of the (Tarmeem/Restore Centre), explains the idea of the centre had been in the offing for many years. He has performed cosmetic surgeries on women with deformed genitals caused by FGM even before the centre's establishment with Dr Reham Awwad.
Dr Amr said, “FGM has three major impacts on women. Firstly, it causes severe psychological distress, leading to feelings of inferiority and difference from other women due to changes in their genital appearance. Secondly, it has a positive effect on genital function. Lastly, it alters the external appearance, making it an appealing option for shape-enhancing surgery.”
Dr Reham Awwad stressed, “We need to highlight how female FGM destroys lives and the need to advocate stricter punishments for those responsible for the death of girls subjected to forced FGM. Despite the prohibition of this practice by Al-Azhar and the imposition of severe penalties, it persists in rural areas. It needs more awareness."
The stories of Noura and Amina are just two of thousands of untold stories we still don’t know about, demonstrating the power of restoration in restoring self-confidence and healing the psychological scars of female FGM on the body and soul.
FGM survivors and activists continue to advocate and promote awareness of FGM. Their efforts to eliminate this harmful tradition and rebuild women's self-esteem worldwide must be acknowledged and sustained. It is the aspiration of these women and all those impacted by FGM that they will eventually be able to eradicate this painful practice.
Yomna Abdo is an Egyptian freelance journalist. She graduated from Al-Azhar University and specialised in cultural affairs and human-interest journalism. Yomna has been published in a number of Egyptian newspapers, covering health, religion, culture, and investigations