IT will make me a woman, I remember them saying that.” More than two decades later, the woman, who does not wish to be named, recalls the trauma of undergoing female genital mutilation as a child in Nigeria, where about 20 million women and girls are estimated to have undergone the abuse.
Aged just six, she was pinned to her bed by her mother and aunt while another aunt used a blade to cut her.
“I was only six-years-old and my mum came into my room that morning and she was extraordinarily nice,” she says. “She was telling me that she would take me to the park and take me shopping to buy new clothes. I could only wonder what I had done overnight to be so fantastic. I thought to myself maybe it’s my lucky day.
“She said you will have all this on one condition, if you do what I ask you. I said yes.
“Later two of my aunts came into the house and my mum came into my room. Somehow I was now in a panic about what she wants me to do. She said there was something in my vagina that needs to be removed so that in the future my husband would be proud of me. I didn’t really understand.
“I was really getting scared now. It will make me a woman, I remember they said that. They made me lie down and my mum held my legs and one of my aunts held my two hands and the other aunt cut me with a sharp blade.”
She adds: “I cried and cried and I was bleeding. She put this black mixture on me and there was even more pain and the bleeding didn’t stop.”
Eventually after two weeks of pain and depression, she was taken to hospital but was sent back home. “They said if this is female genital mutilation to go home because it’s something that happens to everyone,” she adds.
After moving to Middlesbrough ten years ago, the FGM victim has been seeking help in understanding what happened to her through the Halo Project, in Middlesbrough, which helps FGM victims, and women at risk of honour-based violence.
She says: “I still feel that pain sometimes. I had post traumatic stress disorder. I’m still coping with it now. I was on the verge of suicide because of the depression.
“I can’t block out that memory of that experience or the consequences.
“I lost relationships because at the point I felt so different. That’s why I went to the Halo project which is when I started to get some more awareness of what had happened to me.
“They could put a definition to what had happened. I went on a six week course and it has changed my life.”
Speaking ahead of the UN’s day of zero tolerance towards FGM, she adds: “I want to share my story to create awareness that FGM does no good in any way. Mentally, physically, emotionally, medically – it does no good, only harm. It’s an abuse. I was a victim but thanks to Halo I’m a survivor.”
SHE is one of around 137,000 women living in the UK thought to be affected by FGM, with a further 20,000 girls at risk. In the UK, figures from the NHS’s digital data service suggest that last year there were 1,060 newly recorded cases of FGM in England, with 265 reported in the North.
In the North-East, 20 FGM Protection Orders have been made since 2015.
Noreen Riaz, from the Halo Project, says: “We know there are 28 affected communities and there’s a large number of people living in the UK affected by this.
“We have evidence that some girls are flown to countries where it happens. We’ve also heard of cutters being flown into the UK.
“Girls at risk can be infants, right up to the age where they are getting married. In different communities and different countries the processes differ.
“It doesn’t excuse it but people think their children will be ostracised if they don’t do it. FGM is a child abuse. It’s a violation of human rights.”
Agencies in the North-East are working together to try and encourage more victims and potential victims to come forward.