I often read non-fiction titles & originally picked this as my Women’s History Month pick. I had studied Female genital mutilation as part of my degree in health & social care but nothing could prepare me for this read!
Hibo Wardere has courageously written about her own experiences of FGM from childhood through to becoming a spokeswoman & activist. The book is backed up with facts & statements from others affected by FGM. It is an incredible read & Hibo truly is an inspirational feminist whom I fully admire. I read this book in 3 hours straight! I could not take my eyes from the pages!
I want to be clear from the get go, I will not ever use my blog to condemn religion/religious practices or culture. I will however use it as a platform to condemn abusive practices that are leaving women mutilated! But please read on for further explanation.
Cut by Hibo Wardere 5*
Imagine for a moment that you are 6-years-old and you are woken in the early hours, bathed and then dressed in rags before being led down to an ominous looking tent at the end of your garden. And there, you are subjected to the cruellest cut, ordered by your own mother.
Forced down on a bed, her legs held apart, Hibo Warderewas made to undergo female genital cutting, a process so brutal, she nearly died.
As a teenager she moved to London in the shadow of the Somalian Civil War where she quickly learnt the procedure she had undergone in her home country was not ‘normal’ in the west. She embarked on a journey to understand FGM and its roots, whilst raising her own family and dealing with the devastating consequences of the cutting in her own life. Today Hibo finds herself working in London as an FGM campaigner, helping young girls whose families plan to take them abroad for the procedure. She has vowed to devote herself to the campaign against FGM.
Eloquent and searingly honest, this is Hibo’s memoir which promises not only to tell her remarkable story but also to shed light on a medieval practice that’s being carried out in the 21stcentury, right on our doorstep. FGM in the UK has gone undocumented for too long and now that’s going to change. Devastating, empowering and informative, this book brings to life a clash of cultures at the heart of contemporary society and shows how female genital mutilation is a very British problem.
We begin with Hibo as a young girl in Somalia before her ‘gudnin’ circumcision. Hibo herself expresses that she had a loving mother, one whom she loved more than anything else in the whole world. But it would be this mother that would go on to betray her in the worst way possible. Hibo retells her experience of circumcision, being paralysed with fear & living in a culture where FGM is not only acceptable, but the norm. We then read the shocking moments Hibo recounts being cut at just 6 years old! *At this moment I had tears in my eyes & felt anger on her behalf but I was determined to read her story.
Chapter one jumps forward in time and we meet Hibo now 24 years old, a mother of one and living in Britain. Shockingly she is only now discovering what FGM is and that it is not done in Britain. She is living with the discomfort, recurrent infections & pain of the procedure daily. Hibo expands to explain that there are 4 types of FGM. That it is prevalent in 29 countries globally and how some young girl are dying from haemorrhaging, infection or shock. Hibo further goes on to state FGM is NOT a religious practice, FGM predates religion even to the era of ancient Egypt. She also states it has links to the Victorian era where it was used as a form of control to stem a female’s sexual desire & ‘tame’ her! Do we as a society really want to embrace such a barbaric practice? Do we want to live within a culture where women must be broken to be controlled? Why are women valued do low? Why is men’s sexuality so much more dominant even in western Britain?
Hibo states how FGM is a British problem, many people migrate here from cultures where to have a ‘Kintir’ clitoris is still considered unclean, dirty & even cowardly! It can be a male/female divided culture. A culture where the first menstrual cycle is not considered a ‘coming of age’ moment but a cause for celebration. Hiob’s own mother linked FGM to purity & it is in this moment she became a figure of hatred for Hibo. It is clear to me with every page, that education is key!
We are navigated back to Hibo’s story and she tells us of her cousin Fatima’s experiences from the cut to her wedding night. It is a heart-breaking story of a strong willed woman broken by FGM. It’s similar painful to read that prior to her ‘Gudnin’ Hibo felt more loved than she ever had in her own life. The timeline shifts again and it tells the story of Hibo leaving Africa for London at 18 years old. She begins living in a hostel with a translator who refuses to help her. She is determined to get surgery to correct her scars. But this is a young woman who doesn’t speak the language & prior to arriving in Britain had never spoken to males before!
At this point Hibo’s story takes a huge turn for the better! Hibo meets Yusuf, she is fascinated by his caring manner & the way in which he speaks to her. Hibo is falling in love! The story now changed in its dynamic to one of love, hope and overcoming adversity in whatever form it maybe. It isn’t long before Hibo is married & pregnant, the moments she recounts learning English while reading her son story books from the library, really melted by heart. It also made me root for her & her families future.
Hibo’s mother moves to the UK & there is a strained relationship. Hibo’s family is now growing large in number. She is constantly afraid if she has a daughter her mother or Yusuf’s family will insist on the girl being cut. Something she & Yusuf refuse to do! Eventually she forgives her mother & they begin to rebuild their relationship. Hibo is a dedicated & loving mother who bends over backwards to support her children in any way she can. She is not going to repeat the mistakes & brutality of her childhood on her own children. Yusuf comes across as such a supportive & caring husband and I for one, am glad that Hibo has known such love in her life.
As Hibo learns more & more about FGM, that it is not a religious command but a choice & that religion is being wrongly used to abuse children. We read how she develops into an activist. Hibo seeks to empower other women, she will not follow other people who look the other way. Aware that FGM is a practice shrouded in secrecy. Hibo begins speaking to other women, reaching out, educating and empowering. We must remember that for some women it is a rite of passage and they do not know any different. Which is why Hibo’s voice is so important. Hibo speaks at Oxford University to an audience of professionals. She speaks of the facts, that women who refuse to repeat FGM on their own children are shunned from their communities. That the stigma, social exclusion & criticism can be overwhelming.
Hibo states many statistics in the book and it would be impossible to quote them all in this review. Also I hope this review inspires people to read the book and educate themselves on the facts themselves. But I did find some quite surprising, in Ghana 97% of women want to end the practice of FGM. Sierra Leone has implemented a zero tolerance policy, where a girl cannot attend school if she has been cut. This may seem extreme but I can see the need for strict controls/policy surrounding this issue. Unlike in Britain, FGM is illegal here and with 21/1000 female victims of FGM. You would think Britain would want to send a clear message. Hibo informs us that the police have dealt with many cases but the crown prosecution service refuses to take the cases further. She does explain how it can be difficult to prosecute but also the factors that impact the legal system. Telling the case of Sayfiya who’s middle class parenting & British citizenship would ensure no conviction would be brought. This is a frightening show of a class/culture divide in a society where the law stands for everyone!
Hibo has kindly agreed to a Q&A with me for my blog and I have a list of questions relating to FGM, women/men in society, what readers can do and feminism. I only wish this Q&A could be in person so I could meet this amazing lady! I sincerely hope she is honoured by our government for all her hard work & passion to protect other women & young girls.