Names and identifying features have been changed to protect identity
In Eritrea we call circumcision 'girizat'. The word is a slang term for both the circumcision of boys and the female genital mutilation of girls.
Circumcision is a religious thing for boys. For girls it is a cultural thing, and it involves a girl's vagina being cut in different ways in a dangerous procedure. I didn't know this, until I came to the UK, as I was too young to remember having it done myself.
Back home, we never talk about this kind of thing, and so it is strange to speak about it now.
In my culture, it is believed that when the vagina is cut, the desire to have sex is cut as well and that the sex is only something a woman does with her husband to have children.
Most people in Eritrea think that if a girl is cut, she will grow up to be a good girl; that she will not bring shame on her family and she will marry well. If a girl is not cut, they think she will grow up to be a 'slut'; a girl who thinks about sex and will not be satisfied by one man. People believe that a girl who is not cut will bring shame on her family with her behaviour, that no-one will marry her and she will be abandoned. Most people feel this way in my country and it is only those who are educated that disagree with the practice of cutting.
My mother once told me a story about Almaz, a local woman who cut every girl and boy in the village. Almaz was one of the traditional elders, from a different time, and she was well respected within the community. She said 'When Almaz was cutting a girl, she would have another women stand at the door of the room to keep watch. Whilst she was cutting a young girl, the father of the child burst into the room, pushing the lookout girl out the way. The father then beat Almaz and the mother of the child, who had taken her daughter to be cut, and took his child away. He divorced his wife, and the daughter never married'. My mother used this story to warn me of the bad things that could happen if a girl was not cut.
I was cut when I was only a few months old so it is something I have no memory of. The first time that I became aware that I had been cut was when I overheard my parents fighting. My father was an educated and modern man who disagreed with the belief and culture of cutting. My mother was from a traditional family and from a different community of people to my father. My father blamed my mother for my girizat.
My mother had taken me to Almaz to be cut while my father was away on business, as she knew he would not have allowed it. I was cut and sewn up by Almaz when I was just a few months old, and when my father found out he was furious. The first time I heard about cutting was from overhearing my parents fight about it, which they did throughout my childhood. I am not angry with my mother for taking me to get cut; my mother is a traditional person and hasn't been educated about it. She thought she was doing the best for me.
I grew up not knowing that I was different, or that being cut was not normal for every other girl in the world. I didn't talk to anyone before I met Naomi from the NSPCC as it's not something that you speak about. Before Naomi took me to see the nurse I didn't notice any difference in my body as I'm the same as other girls from my home town.
I believe cutting is something that should be stopped. It is a disgusting practice that many people only do because they believe that the stories around it are true and they are uneducated. I do not think that people really understand the problems which female genital mutilation can cause for girls. I didn't understand myself until I was told.
I was separated from my family after problems started in my country and I was trafficked to the UK by men who raped me. It was incredibly painful for me, so painful that I couldn't think. I have grown up believing that this level of pain during sex is normal, but I now know differently. I look ahead and see problems in my future with any relationships that I choose to have because I'm afraid that sex will hurt. My periods are painful too and I've been told it will be very painful to give birth.
I think that education is the most important thing in helping people to change their views about cutting. I think they should have more information on female genital mutilation in clinics. Nurses give talks to all people on AIDS back home, and they need to do the same thing with female genital mutilation to tell people the truth. If you teach people that they can still keep their culture without mutilating girls, this would be better.
In my culture there is a belief that if a girl is clumsy, she had not been cut. People from my country, even believe this here in the UK. I was at church recently and I dropped a glass of water. Whilst I was cleaning the mess up, an older woman said to me 'you didn't have the cut'. She did not say this with anger or as a joke; she said it as a matter of fact, because she doesn't know differently.
When I am with my friends, many of who are from Eritrea like me, we still don't mention female genital mutilation. My friends and other young people will talk about boyfriends and sex, but they are embarrassed to talk about cutting, even though it is something that we have all been through. I've never been told about a girl having female genital mutilation in the UK as we don't talk about this kind of stuff.
I think that using health passports in the UK is a good idea and could help people to be more aware of the issues. I think it would be useful to have a document on female genital mutilation from parliament as it would give more awareness to young people and it would show older people that they could go to jail.
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