Published on February 5th, 2019 | by Nima Ismail



On International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), and following on from the first successful prosecution for FGM in the UK, Nima Ismail of Handsworth’s Project Somali provides a reminder of a practice which continues to cause serious problems for many women, and to pose a risk of mutilation to young girls growing up here (click BirminghamLive for example). She also provides a link to her book ‘The Light and Dark Colours of My Life’ (click the link near end of the text below), which contains powerful testimonies from women who have experienced FGM. The images, created by Ahmed Magare (click AhmedMagare), are of one girl’s FGM story. The Heritage Lottery Fund generously supported the creation of the book, the paintings, and the networking around both.


Female Genital Mutilation, is defined by World Health Organisation (click WHO) as “all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons”. It is practised in many countries and cultures across the world.

The WHO describes four types of FGM, and the most common form in the Somali community is Type 111: ‘narrowing of the vaginal orifice with creation of a covering seal by cutting and appositioning the labia minora and/or the labia majora, with or without excision of the clitoris (infibulation).’

There are no medical benefits of FGM; it is purely a cultural tradition with many negative physical and psychological effects. It is a practice with deep historical roots, dating back to the Egyptian times. FGM is very harmful. It causes short-term and long term health implications, including problems having intercourse, giving birth, infertility and difficulty in passing urine. In some cases, women have even died from the traumatic physical effects.

Page et al (1999) state that FGM can also cause significant psychological damage, such as mental health and psychosexual problems which may include depression, anxiety and sexual dysfunction. Women may feel angry, depressed and suffer from post traumatic stress disorder.

Today in the UK, there is more public awareness of FGM then there was years ago. However the message is still not getting through sufficiently. Following the Female Genital Mutilation Act in 2003, it is illegal for UK nationals to take a girl abroad to perform FGM, but it is still happening. We need communities to remain alert and to report concerns.

In order to eliminate FGM and for campaigns to be successful, women from practising communities must be informed and educated, in a way that is sensitive to their culture and beliefs. They value their culture, and are defensive about it being perceived in a negative way. It is important to use language that is acceptable to their community, and also to promote oral communication rather than literature.

To help Somali women feel more empowered, they need to be encouraged to become more self-aware and celebrate their bodies. If women feel more empowered within practising communities, they will be more likely to reject FGM and to access  culturally appropriate information and self-help groups.

The book was made possible by seven courageous women in Birmingham, who love their Somali culture, are extremely proud of it, and want to share its good aspects as well those that have caused them difficulties.

I hope the book will help others also to come forward, including from other cultures,  and say ‘me too’, I have experienced health problems and I don’t want that for my daughter. Interviewing the ladies has been a powerful experience for us all.  One message which was common to each of them was that they suffered FGM and do not want the practice to be continued by subsequent generations.

Click TheLightAndDarkColoursOfMyLife to download the book.

If you are currently at risk of FGM, or know someone who is,  you can contact the police on 101 for a discussion (0800 555 111 if you want to remain anonymous) or on 999 if it is an emergency. If you are struggling with the consequences of FGM you can contact the Specialist Midwife for FGM on 0121 424 3909 or 07817 534274. If you want to get involved in efforts to end FGM you can contact Women’s Aid on 0808 800 0028.



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