Rites is a fantastic play based on interviews conducted with people with diverse experiences of Female Genital Mutilation throughout the UK. A deeply complex issue, the play provokes thoughts and debates by putting a taboo subject out into the public domain. Co created by a beautiful friend of mine, Yusra Warsama, it was harrowing but deeply enriching to watch, providing a platform for voices not often heard.
‘Do u think its wrong? Its just what we do. An ugly opening or a dignified closure.’
‘We were waiting to see the pieces of flesh, cuttings of our flesh…’
‘Why didn’t you come to help me, mother?’ Girl, aged 5
‘Every survivor remembers the dress.. The day I got the polka dress was the day I became silent.’
Nurse to pregnant woman, ‘Are you sure you have not been stitched?’ ‘I don’t know how the lady should feel sexually. I can’t see what was taken from me.’
Lawyer- ‘We need education. Girls are sent back. They are the sufferers and come back depressed refusing to do P.E. Some dont come back. FGM bill in Scotland added the extra territoriality clause. Crime doesn’t have to be done on UK soil thanks to Kathleen Marshall. You can be guilty if you were involved in the arrangement. Prosecutions don’t happen though and the legislation isn’t used! We must weigh up the body’s integrity to be alive with parental privacy. The problem is lack of referrals from health officials. Unfortunately the community are all for FGM.’
‘I want my parents educated – not prosecuted. It doesn’t effectively deter people.’
‘Overtly punitive law will lead to FGM practice going underground.’
Muslim chaplain, ‘There is nothing in the Quran to say FGM is lawful. It says don’t harm others and don’t harm yourself. The Prophet Muhammed was being kind to women much earlier than the West endorsed it.’
‘Economic condition of women are a contributory factor. I hear women say that I need to preserve my daughter’s livelihood and this means marriage. Proving their virginity by type 3 cutting is a good way forward, they believe. I heard one woman say that FGM was a good way to protect against rape. I had to hold my internal feminist back and ask for an explanation.’ Fatima- activist and campaigner.
‘There is a genuine fear of cultural dilution but there are tons of somalis not interested in FGM. They are interested in living. It has to be looked at in context, its bigger than rivers- like using water to tie a knot. You just can’t quantify it.’ Student.
‘Many are caught in the dilemma to mutilate or not mutilate. Real fear has consequences.Social pain and social rejection are powerful factors. Initiative to bring about change would be great but if people are circumcising girls you feel you have to too.’
‘I watched a film about designer vaginas. It was the first time I was seeing a normal vagina. My husband said I have the cutest vagina in the world and I replied that people are saying I’m not normal. He said I was fine yesterday- that was before I was tagged as a statistic, victim, mutilated.’ FGM survivor.
‘It’s a question of choice. Yes its an invasive procedure but I could process it as an adult. Pain was worth it and no it’s not about liking the status of having the procedure done. I understand women are not always given the choice but women of culture have a right to choose- I am pro choice! For adult women in Sierra Leone it is a form of power. The West have added the shock factor to FGM, just by labelling it as mutation, causing the patronisation of African women. When white women have plastic surgery to get a designer vagina, it’s vogue!’
‘There is an increase in teenage female genital surgeries which I think is still FGM cutting process 1 & 2 types. The campaign to stop FGM still doesn’t sit right with me. I see the double standards and wonder if I am being coopted into a white led anti- community, anti- culture cause.’
‘Examinations taking place that lead passengers from airports to clinics, stigmatise anyone travelling with daughters. We feel this is an infringement of basic civil liberties. Often the victims are portrayed as an African Islamic child. Plenty of changes have been made and there are fewer people doing it. It has declined. There were campaigners saying no to FGM worldwide and change has happened. Lots of people have been educated. The West is only catching up now which means our voices are not being heard.’
‘People forget that a form of FGM took place in the UK and USA for many years against lesbians to remove their clitorises as a cure. Eventually they shifted away from this concept. Why don’t we believe other cultures can? Cultures are not static. It’s worrying that FGM is being discussed around Ukip agendas and rhetoric about immigration and I don’t think this is accidental.’
It’s a deeply embedded tradition from long ago. We have left it now and people have re-entered religion. Now the concept is strange.’
‘Victims are not angry. People see us as mutilated but we dont see that. It’s not like it was systematic abuse- just one act of ignorance but we educated them. We have forgiven our mothers…’
“The way agencies pressurise families is so wrong. Social workers passing judgment- it’s invasive and humiliating. Child protection orders are issued and it’s hard for parents who didn’t hide the fact that their child had gone through FGM. It’s an embedded tradition and people don’t understand it. I saw that the agencies kept being rude and dismissive with the parents. They even suggested they couldn’t work out who the father was. One social worker said, ‘I have checked and they all have got beds'”
‘If you choose to be a cutter, you have basic training and sit, watching the cutter work. You watch the knife. Then you ask to be the one to start this on your sister or family. Action aid taught me it was wrong and I stopped.’ FGM Cutter.
Fara campainer- FGM activist, ‘Women know where to find us now. We are always sharing the information that men are happier in those communities where FGM isn’t practiced.’
‘People said to me, why are you working with the youth instead of mums, grandmas and religeous leaders? I wanted to work with young people as they are the ones creating change and setting standards for the future.’
‘Its our duty to protect. A part of me was taken but I don’t have hate. I’m here because I’m loved and I have a job to do. Mum won’t change her mind but I want to teach other women so they understand the damage, pain, infection and suffering. Our bodies are our own- perfect as they are. Change starts with good men and boys saying we don’t want our females in agony. Why should women’s bodies remain the property of everyone else? Women and girls are worth more to us. Progress has been made but we still have far to go. Let’s start by listening …… ‘