Her face is known across billboards worldwide. Waris Dirie is a Somalian exile whose romantic rags-to-riches story drove her to become one of the world’s most sought-after supermodels…

She’s also a United Nations ambassador campaigning against female circumcision a procedure she says destroyed her life

Dirie says nothing prepared her for the day, when she was about five, when her father ordered her mother to take her to the ‘old woman with the bag’, who toured the villages performing female genital mutilations (FGM). At the time the little girl believed she was being taken for an important ceremony.

“The old woman took a blood-stained razor blade from her bag, and I heard her mother telling me to sit down, to be good and not to move. I opened my legs, closed my eyes and blocked my mind. I thought I must do it for my mother. There was the sound of the blade slicing my flesh. First the clitoris then the labia – everything that God gave me to enjoy being a woman,” says Dirie.

“After this the old woman took a needle and sewed the vagina up tightly. I was aware only of the searing pain and the fear that tightened inside me as I saw the bright, warm blood pouring out and around me. There is much about my young life that seems blurred but the terrible memory of this event stays alive, coming back each time I talk about what happened. I lay on the floor in agony. My legs were tied together to stop me from walking so that I wouldn’t rip open. I was on my back for a month. I couldn’t eat, couldn’t think. I wanted to die.”

WIN a R 2,000 Woolworths Voucher

Subscribe to our Free Daily All4Women Newsletter to enter

Waris Dirie at the premiere for “Flor del Desierto” (Desert Flower) at Callao Cinema on March 10, 2010 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images)

130 million women around the world have been circumcised

While this event may sound completely bizarre to so many, 130 million women around the world have been circumcised and some two million girls, from babies through to adolescents, go through FGM every year. In about 80 percent of cases this means an extreme form of infibulation – the excision of part or all of the external genitalia – although it can also mean piercing, pricking and stretching of the labia or cauterisation – when the clitoris and surrounding tissue are burnt.

The procedure is usually carried out by a traditional practitioner using crude instruments and without anaesthetic. Circumcision is almost always irreversible and one in four girls and women dies from complications – Dirie’s two sisters and two cousins were killed this way.

FGM is recognised internationally as ‘a violation of the human rights of children and women. It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against females. It is nearly always carried out on minors. The practice also violates a person’s rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death’.

“The pain inflicted by FGM does not stop with the initial procedure, but often continues as ongoing torture throughout a woman’s life,” says Manfred Nowak, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture. “In addition to the severe pain during and in the weeks following the cutting, women who have undergone FGM experience various long-term effects – physical, sexual and psychological.”

Chronic pain

“Women may experience chronic pain, chronic pelvic infections, development of cysts, abscesses and genital ulcers, excessive scar tissue formation, infection of the reproductive system, decreased sexual enjoyment, and psychological consequences such as post-traumatic stress disorder.”

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), FGM also causes women an increased risk of childbirth complications and new-born deaths. Many pregnant FGM victims experience difficult delivery, excessive bleeding and must sometimes undergo caesarean section. Babies born to mothers with FGM often need to be resuscitated and there is an increased number of new-born deaths (one to two babies per 100 deliveries die as a result of FGM). Studies suggest that FGM is also likely to increase the risk of HIV infection as the same unsterilised instrument may be used on many different girls.

Studies suggest that FGM is also likely to increase the risk of HIV infection as the same unsterilized instrument may be used on many different girls.

In 2016 the WHO collaborated with United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and launched the first evidence-based guidelines on the management of health complications from FGM. To ensure the effective implementation of the guidelines, WHO continues developing tools for front-line healthcare workers to improve knowledge, attitudes, and skills of healthcare providers in preventing and managing the complications of FGM.

Over the years a number of organisations have also been established to help WHO, UNICEF and UNFPA tackle this global concern. FORWARD (Foundation for Women’s Health Research and Development) is one such organisation. The Foundation, which works in the UK, Europe and Africa to safeguard girls at risk of FGM and support women affected, says contrary to popular belief the practice is not isolated to third-world countries. While Indonesia (86 percent to 100 percent of girls and women have been cut), Guinea and Somalia (more than 95 percent of girls and women have been cut) and Djibouti , Egypt, Eritrea, and Sierra Leone (it is near 90 percent) have the worst rates of FGM, the practice also occurs in the rest of Africa, the United States and the United Kingdom.

Types of FMG

FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION is classified into four types:

Type I: Also known as clitoridectomy, this type consists of partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or its prepuce.

Type II: Also known as excision, the clitoris and labia minora are partially or totally removed, with or without excision of the labia majora.

Type III: The most severe form, it is also known as infibulation or pharaonic type. The procedure consists of narrowing the vaginal orifice with creation of a covering seal by cutting and appositioning the labia minora and/or labia majora, with or without removal of the clitoris. The appositioning of the wound edges consists of stitching or holding the cut areas together for a certain period of time (for example, girls’ legs are bound together), to create the covering seal. A small opening is left for urine and menstrual blood to escape. An infibulation must be opened either through penetrative sexual intercourse or surgery.

Type IV: This type consists of all other procedures to the genitalia of women for non-medical purposes, such as pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterisation.

Recent estimates indicate that around 90 percent of cases include clitoridectomy, excision or cases where girls’ genitals are nicked but no flesh removed (Type IV), and about 10 percent are infibulations (WHO).

IF you think a girl is at risk of FGC, contact your closest child protective services agency or police department.

***

The post February 6: International Day Of Zero Tolerance For FGM appeared first on People Magazine.