“When I was three years old, war broke out in Sierra Leone in 1991. I remember literally going to bed one night, everything was good.The next day, I woke up, bombs were dropping everywhere, and people were trying to kill me and my family. We escaped and ended up in Gambia, West Africa.
While we were there as refugees, we didn’t know what was going to become of us. My mum however applied for refugee status and Australia accepted us.
Before our travel, my mum came home one day, and said, “We’re going on a little holiday, a little trip.” She put us in a car and we drove for hours and ended up in a bush in a remote area in Gambia. In this bush, we found two huts. An old lady came towards us. She was ethnic-looking, very old. She had a chat with my mum, and went back. Then she came back and walked away from us into a second hut.
I was confused and didn’t know what was going on.
The next thing I knew, my mum took me into this hut. She took my clothes off, and then she pinned me down on the floor. I struggled and tried to get her off me, but I couldn’t. Then the old lady came towards me with a rusty-looking knife, one of the sharp knives, orange-looking, has never seen water or sunlight before. I thought she was going to slaughter me, but she didn’t. She slowly slid down my body and ended up where my vagina is. She took hold of what I now know to be my clitoris, she took that rusty knife, and started cutting away, inch by inch. I screamed, I cried, and asked my mum to get off me so this pain will stop, but all she did was say, “Be quiet.”
This old lady sawed away at my flesh for what felt like forever, and then when she was done, she threw that piece of flesh across the floor as if it was the most disgusting thing she’s ever touched. They both got off me, and left me there bleeding, crying, and confused as to what just happened. I was only nine years old.
Later on, when I was much older and aware of what had happened to me, I confronted my mother about what had happened to me. I said to her:
“Those years ago, you circumcised me. You cut away something that belonged to me.”
She said, “Yes, I did. I did it for your own good. It was in your best interest. Your grandmother did it to me, and I did it to you. It’s made you a woman.”
I’m like, “How?”
She said, “You’re empowered, Khadija. Do you get itchy down there?”
I’m like, “No, why would I get itchy down there?”
She said, “Well, if you were not circumcised, you would get itchy down there. Women who are not circumcised get itchy all the time.Then they sleep around with everybody. You are not going to sleep around with anybody.”
And I thought, her definition of empowerment was very strange.
Even to this day, there’s still a lot of shock, confusion, a sense of hurt, and betrayal. To be lured away and then instead of going on a holiday, you end up having the most horrific act done to you. I don’t know how one processes that. To this day, I go to therapy.
I don’t think people can comprehend the brutality of female circumcision. It’s quite a horrific practice. It’s brutal. No anesthetic. No calming, loving words. Nothing to dull the pain. No painkillers. Just you and a razor blade, or a knife, or a scissors — whatever they can get a hold of — and then they start chopping away. I don’t know how one gets over that. I don’t think anyone does. I’m really frank in saying, I don’t think I’ve unpacked a quarter of the issues surrounding FGM. It’s like a constant reminder, every day. I can’t take a shower without somehow getting a hint of sadness and pain. I can’t escape it.
When I started having my period around the age of 14, I realized I didn’t have normal periods because of FGM. My periods were heavy, they were long, and they were very painful.Then they told me I had fibroids. They’re like these little balls sitting there.One was covering one of my ovaries.
I consider myself disabled, sexually. I don’t feel like a complete woman in that I don’t feel like I’m getting the range of sensations that I should be getting. I get only limited amounts — probably five to 10% of sensation.
I was told that it would be very hard for me to conceive, that I was practically infertile. Like most women who are told that they can’t have a child, it’s a pain you carry around with you and it’s hard to talk about. I wouldn’t tell people.Saturday 6 February 2016 is the International Zero Tolerance to FGM Day.
I would cry at night with my husband and he would wake up asking, ‘Why are you crying?’ I’m like, ‘Because I want a child.’ The idea that the choice was taken away from me — I didn’t become infertile because an accident happened and made me that way. I became infertile because my mother chose to do an act that caused that.
In my community, I got ridiculed for being the woman who couldn’t have a child. I was judged. When I tried to pick up people’s kids, they would take the child away from me like I was a leper. It was quite a painful experience.
Then, I got pregnant. I know I am the lucky few circumcised women, because there are so many women out there who have infertility.
A vaginal birth was out of the question for me, because of the scarring I have internally. So cesarean was the only option for me to have a healthy baby. The idea to have a vaginal birth and to have so much cutting down there was terrifying, and my midwife said to me that my scar could open up, which would, for me, destroy the five to 10% of sensation I have. With all of that, I became quite depressed during my pregnancy, because I didn’t know what a delivery would look like for me.
It was a very traumatic experience. The only joy was when my baby was given to me. He was healthy; I looked at him and I have never felt a love like that.”
And that is Khadija’s story. Moved me to tears. Today, Khadija is uses her FGM experience to advocate against the harmful cultural practice. She is the director of an organization called No FGM Australia, which seeks to create awareness about FGM.”
*Information sourced from Khadija’s TED talk, with excerpts picked from her interview with Refinery29.