Thursday August 30, 2018
Women's rights organization Terre des Femmes estimates that 65,000 women
affected by female genital mutilation (FGM) are living in Germany. DW's
Kate Brady met one Somali woman who is calling for an end to the
The brutal practice is seen as a prerequisite for marriage in some countries
"I was about 11 or 12 years old. Several people held me down. Then
they cut me. They laid me on the table. I can still see the image. I had
such horrific pain. Then they sewed me together. They tied my legs
together for a month so that the wound would heal."
an increase of arrivals from countries where female genital mutilation
is most prevalent (FGM), the women’s rights organization Terre des
Femmes estimates that 65,000 affected women are now living in Germany —
an increase of 12 percent on last year.
Ifrah* is one of them. According to the UN's children's agency, UNICEF,
her homeland, Somalia, has the highest prevalence of FGM of any
predominantly Arab country, with an estimated 98 percent of females
between 15 and 49 years having undergone the practice.
'A knife and a razor' "The procedure is done
by a so-called ‘cutter'," Ifrah recalls. "They have no idea what they're
doing. They just have a knife and a razor and they cut."
for "female circumcision" vary. They range from damaging the
clitoris to sewing up the vaginal opening. The World Health Organization
(WHO) estimates that 200 million women worldwide are living with the
consequences of FGM. Chronic menstrual pain, recurring infection,
difficulties in childbirth, loss of sexuality — the effects, both
physical and mental, are lifelong. Some can prove to be fatal: Ifrah’s
sister died at the age of nine from blood loss during the procedure.
In some communities, the brutal practice is considered a rite of passage and a prerequisite for marriage.
my community, the belief is that if a woman isn’t sewn up, any man
could have been there," Ifrah says, her eyes glancing towards her lap.
Limited medical expertise
two and a half years in Germany, Ifrah is seeking advice at Berlin's
Desert Flower Center. The clinic, funded by donations, offers
reconstructive surgery, consultation and holistic treatment for women
affected by FGM.
Since it opened in 2013, Dr. Cornelia Strunz has
advised some 300 women. But the clinic in southwest Berlin is an
exception. Faced with a growing number of women suffering the effects of
FGM, Germany's services and expertise in FGM are still limited.
I studied medicine, FGM wasn't covered in the subjects,” says Dr.
Strunz. "But I know this is changing, and I hope that trend continues.
However, I still meet colleagues who either know very little or
absolutely nothing about female genital mutilation."
In a statement to Deutsche Welle, the German ministry for women's
affairs said it planned to work more closely with youth welfare offices
over the current legislative period. Whether there will be financial aid
to help support groups for affected women wasn’t clear. The Justice
Ministry was unavailable to comment.
if the government steps up its action to support women affected by the
practice, there’s little it or authorities can do about cases where
young girls are taken back to their parents’ home country for a
"vacation circumcision." Terre des Femmes estimates that some 15,500
girls living in Germany are in danger of being forced to undergo FGM
under such circumstances.
That’s where society has a role to play, says Terre des Femmes’ Charlotte Weil.
only way to really gauge what's going on is to have a vigilant society.
That particularly means people who work in close contact with families —
volunteers, teachers having to do with parents who might potentially
subject their daughter to FGM. These people should be particularly
attentive,” Weil says.
She says the government also needs to provide financial aid to volunteer support networks.
"It’s important, however, to not tar every family with the same brush," she adds.
For Ifrah, however, the fear of her daughters suffering the same fate as her 11-year-old self has already become a reality.
three eldest daughters who still live in Somalia — they weren’t so
lucky," Ifrah says. "They were ‘circumcised.’ But my 3-year-old hasn’t
From a nearby bench where she’s waiting with a friend,
Ifrah’s 3-year-old calls over to her mother: "Look!" she giggles,
tapping her tiny heeled shoes on the cobbles.
'That was our fate'
"If we're ever sent back to Somalia, I'm 100 percent sure that her
grandparents will make her undergo the procedure," Ifrah says.
For her eldest three daughters, it's already too late.
was our fate," Ifrah says. “Those of us who had to experience that. But
I'm a fighter. I hope that these women [that have undergone FMG] are
healthy. And I hope that at some point this ritual will be stopped."
* The name of the young woman was changed to Ifrah In the interests of privacy.