“FGM is violence, child abuse and sexual assault …and of course we handed out Vulva cupcakes” is not a phrase you hear every day. But of course, it isn’t every day you speak to Leyla Hussein.
Leyla has been at the forefront of the fight against female genital mutilation (FGM) for over a decade. Her willingness to talk candidly – and at times even humerously– about her experiences has played a key role in challenging the culture of silence around FGM.
Leyla’s campaigning has taken many forms from fronting TV documentaries, to founding therapeutic services for survivors, to lobbying parliament At the heart of all of her work, however, is an acute understanding of the physical and psychological impact of FGM; an understanding rooted both in her personal experiences and her psychotherapeutic training.
Lewis Garland spoke to Leyla about her path into activism, the progress being made in the fight against FGM and the difficulties, from threats of violence to the impact of austerity, faced by those on the frontline.
What was your path to becoming an anti-FGM activist?
“I never planned to become an activist. I was cut when I was seven years old but it wasn’t until many years later that I began to question the practice. The catalyst was when I had my daughter. I found the whole process very traumatic but no one seemed to understand why. Then an amazing and brave health professional asked if I had had FGM and supported me in a way no one else had before. I am naturally curious and started asking why this had happened to me and why so many girls are being cut. My activism comes from this curiosity and my fierce determination to protect my daughter.”