'I Thought Everyone In Britain Underwent FGM'. This Young Woman Is Speaking Out About The Barbaric Practice

Najma* was walking home with a friend from school when she asked her if she too had been "cut".

"She just gave me a blank stare," the 20-year-old recalls. "It was only after asking my teachers the next day and when I explained what FGM involved that I realised none of them knew what I was talking about."

When Najma moved to England after fleeing Somalia to escape persecution from the Al-Shabaab terrorist organisation, she just assumed everyone in Britain underwent female genital mutilation (FGM).

"I wondered if the girls here got stitched up," she says.

Najma underwent the procedure when she was 11 years old.

"I was taken to the room that I shared with my mum, and asked to lie down, my face towards the sky. I was held by three women, one holding the upper part of my body, and two pulling my legs apart."

"I realised none of my teachers knew what I was talking about."

Her mother had left the room, unable to bear what her daughter was about to go through.

"She didn't want it to happen," Najma explains. "I remember feeling cold hands tagging at my genitalia, pulling and parting, readying the skin for the blade.

"Warm blood ran down my lower body as the lady separated the clitoris from the rest of my body, without using any anaesthetics."

At some point during the horrific incident, Najma lost her sense of feeling.

"All I could feel was the blade tearing through my flesh, the back and forth movement like a saw on a piece of wood, but not the pain - my body had gone numb.

"I started screaming, thinking I was going to die."

A piece of string was tied to Najma from her waist downwards, to keep her legs together in the hope of speeding up the healing process. All in all it took about three weeks for the schoolgirl to physically recover, but "many years" for her to heal emotionally.

But Najma wasn't forced to undergo FGM; she wanted to.

"I was driven by the need to feel that I belonged. It was a way of forging a new identity for myself. The women in my family had been sewn up, my mother included."

At the time, the schoolgirl did not know what FGM entailed, she just knew "girls changed afterwards".

"They became a lot quieter, a sign which is often confused for maturity.

"It was a personal choice. But I now understand why it was so difficult to convince my mother to let me go through that barbaric practice."

Although FGM is illegal in the UK, and recognised as a form of child abuse, many young girls are being taken abroad to have the procedure. Figures published in 2014 revealed more than 1,700 females had been treated by the NHS in the space of just six months.

The NHS estimates as many as 137,000 women in the UK are affected, but says the true number is unkown due to the "hidden" nature of the crime.

The mutilation is usually carried out on young girls between infancy and the age of 15, before puberty starts. The procedure is traditionally carried out by a woman with no medical training, using no anaesthetic. FGM can sometimes cause death due to bleeding and infection.

Najma, who lives in Sheffield, is now working with youth charity Fixers to raise awareness about FGM and encourage others to speak out about the practice.

"I want to change the perception of what a woman should be and what it means to be a woman.

"I am doing this to save one more child's smile, life and happiness- to prove that you don't have to be cut to be clean or whole.

"I am doing this because I know what it means to not be whole, to be constricted under the shade of selfish motives in the name of tradition.

"I want to help people question the practice of FGM and gain a clear understanding of where it stems from and why the previous generations carried it out. It most certainly isn't for any health benefits."

You can read more about Najma's Fixers campaign here.

*Najma's name has been changed to protect her identity.

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