FGM victim hopes to empower others at awareness event

FGM is practiced in parts of Africa and the middle east. Pic: Julien Behal/PAto

FGM is practiced in parts of Africa and the middle east. Pic: Julien Behal/PAto - Credit: PA Archive/Press Association Ima

Until just one year ago Fatoumata Jatta had never discussed being a victim of female genital mutilation (FGM) with anyone.

Fatoumata Jatta

Fatoumata Jatta - Credit: Archant

But now the 33-year-old is set to share her experience of undergoing the brutal practice in public in a Question Time-style conference with the UK’s leading campaigners that she has organised.

The debate at Apiary Studios in Hackney Road, Shoreditch, on June 4 aims to raise awareness about FGM, sometimes referred to as female circumcision, which involves the ritual removal of some or all of the external female genitalia.

The practice is typically carried out by a traditional circumciser in some parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East, using a blade or razor, however increasingly FGM is being performed by health care providers, despite the practice being illegal in the UK.

Harmful effects can include haemorrhage, shock, sepsis, psychological trauma and even death.

Fatoumata was ‘cut’ in her home country Gambia when she was less than five-years-old, and although she is fortunate not to remember exact details of the experience, she has been left with emotional scars.

It is thanks to participating in a Landmark Forum self-development course and therapy that she has been able to come to terms with what happened to her.

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“My parents are pretty forward thinking but they were in their early 20s at the time, my grandmother took it upon herself to make that decision and had me cut,” said Fatoumata, who made it clear that her family are “incredibly loving” and she “owes them everything”.

“There are issues around power to have that done to your body and not have a say in it, especially if it is someone loving you would expect to take care of you. I was under five, and you can’t really understand what’s happening,” she said.

“I know there is definitely some confusion there for me around that, my grandmother was obviously thinking she was doing right by me, she didn’t do it out of malice but out of love, and that can be very confusing.”

A trained lawyer, Fatoumata moved to the UK aged 13, but says the practice is still rife in the Gambia where most girls are still being circumcised.

Fatoumata and other women who have undergone FGM will be sharing their experiences at the debate, along Daughters of Eve co-founder Leyla Hussein, chairman of FGM charity Forward, Dr Sohier Elneil, Beyond FGM founder and midwife Cath Holland, and FGM specialist midwife and clinic lead at Whittington Hospital, Joy Clarke.

Speakers will discuss what more can be done to prevent the practice without alienating the communities which still believe the practice has social and cultural benefits.

The first official figures relating to FGM cases in England were recently published by the Health and Social Care Information Centre.

It revealed nearly 1,300 women previously subjected to FGM were being treated by 125 acute hospital trusts in England at the end of September 2014, and that more than 2,600 new cases were identified between then and January 2015 just three months later.

Fatoumata has found it empowering and cathartic to organise the event, which will raise money for the charity Beyond FGM .

“I have come to terms with accepting myself, that’s the thing with loving yourself and not feeling shameful and embarrassed,” said the property manager and university psychology researcher.

“It’s definitely been a journey.

“I feel stronger as I’ve been doing it. I started out being scared to talk about it, asking myself: ‘what am I doing putting myself out there, and what are people going to think’, having to overcome those fears has made me believe in myself more.

“Something traumatic did happen to me and it left quite a dent and I’ve worked through that, and can empower myself and hopefully empower others.”

To buy tickets at £5 for the event on Thursday June 4 at 6.30pm go to ticketea.com/panel-event-to-debate-how-female-genital-mutilation-fgm-can-be-stopped/.