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When Being Angry Is Not Enough

  • Leyla Hussein is an anti-FGM activist, psychotherapist, and founder of the Dahlia Project. 

    I underwent female genital mutilation (FGM) when I was seven years old. I was held down by women I trusted and it left deep scars physically and emotionally. However, it was not until many years later, when I gave birth to my daughter, that anyone talked to me about FGM and offered me help. This practice is shrouded in secrecy and shame with too many women suffering in silence through many years of pain. I was one of these women until a brave health professional asked that all important question, “Have you been cut?”. 

    That was the start of a long and often difficult journey which will last for the rest of my life. I had to face up to what had been done to me and how it had affected me. FGM cast a shadow over all my life choices and it was only after I began therapy that I could understand this. FGM cannot be undone but survivors can heal. We had to be strong to survive what was done to us and I see that strength every day in the women I now work with.

    I founded the Dahlia Project to help other women like me. As I came to terms with my experience of FGM I was horrified at how little recognition there was of how this devastating practice affects women psychologically. There were no specialists we could turn to and most of our GPs or other sources of help had little knowledge of FGM.

    At Dahlia Project we break the silence and provide a safe space and therapeutic support for women living with FGM.

    These are often women who have no access to other help. They are vulnerable, come from minority communities, are under-represented at all levels of government and policy making and yet they suffer such pain and are in urgent need of our help. They are also the most important asset we have in ending FGM but still they are ignored and not seen as a priority.

    This is not about austerity or any other easy political soundbite. Political parties in the UK all signed up to stand against FGM decades ago and progress has been made clarifying the law and raising awareness. However, none of them have properly invested in the community based work which is where we will change opinion and end the practice. There are many examples of good practice but these fall by the wayside due to lack of funding and time after time we must start over building relationships and trust.

    I write this blog as Dahlia Project is under threat. This project is close to my heart and I am so proud of what it has achieved. Working with the incredible women I meet at the project, who have gone through so much, and seeing them heal and support each other, is inspiring. Their determination that FGM ends with them and that their daughters will not be cut fills me with hope for a better future. Working with women who have been cut and supporting them so they can protect their daughters is how we stop FGM. My daughter lives free from FGM because I was helped and I can now protect and empower her.

    Over the last 3 years the Dahila Project has helped many women but it is the tip of an iceberg as an estimated 137,000 women and girls in England and Wales have undergone FGM and 60,000 girls are at risk.

    Awareness of FGM amongst the public has risen in recent years but the situation remains bleak for FGM survivors. Earlier this year, the Acton FGM Clinic which was one of the few community based clinics in London for FGM survivors was forced to close due to a lack of funding. Now Dahlia Project is also under threat. Unless we find new sources of income Dahlia Project will no longer be able to provide its unique and life changing services.

    Politicians from all political parties talk about how they are committed to tackling FGM but to many of us working directly with the women and girls it effects their words offer little hope while the specialist clinics are closing. Only last week at Prime Minister’s Questions Theresa May once again made a strong statement against FGM. While she was speaking we were working to launch the new appeal for emergency funding for the Dahlia Project. Rather than warm words and a pat on the back for being brave what FGM survivors really need is long term investment in the services which help them.

    Please share this blog and our appeal to help save this valuable service. We must also pressure for a long-term commitment to provide support for FGM survivors. Write to your MP and local councils asking what they are doing to ensure funded, specialist, community based services for FGM survivors. Sometimes being angry or upset about injustice is not enough and we need to focus that anger into positive action which will bring about change.

     

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