18 Mar 2014

‘The blade was cast iron and jagged’: a story of FGM

Female genital mutilation (FGM) affects hundreds of millions of women globally. The UK has 65’000 known cases, not one conviction. Alimatu Dimonekene’s story is being repeated across the UK right now.

It’s already uncomfortable in the meeting room beneath city hall when Alimatu Dimonekene begins talking, writes Channel 4 News producer Kamali Melbourne. Too many campaigners, civil servants, politicians and journalists and not enough air conditioning.

We are here to listen to one woman’s story. She begins by saying hers is a story she hopes she will not have to tell again. It starts when she was 16 in grandma’s house – “The place where every good thing you ever experience happens.”

Alimatu is pounced upon by women she knew, and some women she didn’t. Her aunt – her father’s sister – is one of them. As Alimatu fights and struggles with the women, she is confused and distressed. Her mother’s friend pushes her forcefully down and sits on her. Alimatu can hardly breathe.

Then the chanting begins and she knows what will happen next. While lying there, Alimatu can see her mother in the next room, fighting to get in to save her daughter. The woman who performs the cutting was a stranger to Alimatu too.

She now knows she was the local drunk – a woman paid to cut young girls. The knife they use is cast iron. Beaten into shape. It was jagged. Alimatu is mutilated but she survived. She knows of many others who did not.

No UK convictions

After listening to this, I look around and see the majority of the room in tears – the discomfort at the temperature in the room replaced by overwhelming empathy for Alimatu and those who suffer as she did.

Female genital mutilation (FGM) affects hundreds of millions of women worldwide. The UK’s Department for International Development has pledged 35 millions pounds across 5 years to 17 different countries to fight the practice. Sierra Leone, where Alimatu is from, is not one of them. In Europe there are half a million known cases, with 65,000 in the UK. The real number is far higher.

To date there has not been a single conviction in the UK for FGM. The Mayor of London Boris Johnson says he wants this to change in his last two years in office. He says that while crime in London has, on the whole, been going down, this crime is going up.

Talking is not enough

The conference today at City Hall has been organised by Marina Yannakoudakis MEP. (see video below) She has been campaigning against FGM for years.

More can, and is, being done in Britain. Alimatu tells us of the excellent work the Metropolitan police is doing, working closely with her and other campaigners to learn what to look out for and how to prevent it happening.

But talking about it is not enough. Someone in the audience from NSPCC says he knows of occasions where girls have presented to health workers with injuries that can only have been caused by FGM and that those cases have not been reported. People gasp. Cultural ignorance, fear of political correctness and just plain racism are the reasons there has never been a conviction.

As Janet Fyle from the Royal College of Midwives says, if blonde girls were going on holiday and then coming back with a part of them missing, would so little have been done?

The more we talk about this horrific child abuse that is happening in British cities right now the sooner we can help stop it.

Alimatu finished her speech by saying if her speaking out saves just one girl it will be enough. If everyone follows her example, we can save millions.