Hackney FGM victim who nearly bled to death reaching out to others at risk

Hawa Sesay

Hawa Sesay - Credit: Archant

A victim of female genital mutilation (FGM) is appealing to girls who feel they might be at risk themselves to come forward for help.

Social worker Hawa Sesay runs a youth group reaching out to girls in Hackney, teaching them to say no to FGM, despite it being standard practice in many African communities.

In Sierra Leone where Mrs Sesay comes from, around 94 per cent of women have undergone FGM – which involves the partial or total removal of external female genital organs, which are cut off frequently without anesthetic.

The procedure is usually carried out in secret and leaves victims in agony.

Survivors can be left with lifelong physical problems and psychological trauma, and some even lose their lives.

The thought of the operation, in which she nearly bled to death aged 13, still traumatises Mrs Sesay, who is now 42.

“My memory is my aunty came and took me to the northern province. In the morning they took me to the stream side, I saw lots of women dancing and singing, then I was on the floor feeling a sharp pain and bleeding, still the memory is there.

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“As a social worker I say it’s child abuse, they abused me and it wasn’t with my consent.”

It was not until she came to have her own children – now aged 23 and 24 – that she realised it was because of the FGM that childbirth was difficult, and realised the health implications.

Mrs Sesay, who moved to the UK to study 19 years ago, finds girls who come along to her discussion group often don’t want to hear the truth about FGM.

“It’s a traditional thing to prepare for womanhood that has been going on for ages,” said Mrs Sesay who lives in Kingsmead Way, Homerton.

“Now if you stand in front of them telling them it’s a bad thing, some will slam doors at me, some will be pointing fingers saying: ‘If you go to Sierra Leone they will kill you.’”

Her charity the Hawa Trust, helped the NSPCC launch a 24-hour FGM-focused helpline for girls to ring if they feel they are at risk.

Mrs Sesay is urging girls to beware with the upcoming Christmas holiday which is often used as an opportunity to take girls to Africa for the operation.

“I am telling parents its wrong and telling the kids to resist, if you suspect it just call us, then the police are there, social services are there,” she said.

“If it happens in Africa people will be arrested when they come back. If we put more emphasis on it, one day we will get it right.

Mrs Sesay’s group meets once a month on a Wednesday, for more information email hawadsesay@yahoo.co.uk.

To contact the NSPCC FGM helpline call 0800 028 3550 or email fgmhelp@nspcc.org.uk.