When the invitation request came through in my email, I accepted of course! Being invited as a Speaker for TEDX Swansea Women was pretty big right, and then when I replied asking what they would like me to speak about… FGM was the response. I got this!
However, as it soon came around, naturally the nerves started to kick in. Then the anxiety, let’s face it, I didn’t found an organisation around PTSD and Anxiety, because I do not suffer with it. This is where I really had to practice what I preach. Self-talk and questioning my irrational thoughts against reality.
The thing is, I always want to do this topic justice, it is extremely complex and sensitive. So I let the anxiety get the better off me, until I breathed and reminded myself that this was not a training session, it wasn’t a workshop, it was a 10 minute or so inspirational talk to open the dialogue of awareness of Female Genital Mutilation.
So on Friday 3rd November, as I entered the TEDX arena (the National Waterfront Museum ;), this was it. An amazing opportunity, with amazing organisers and sharing the platform with amazing women. As always, whenever I give a training session, a talk, a workshop or whatever it may, I am my own worse critic and though I was extremely happy with my talk, and the amazing feedback I have received confirms that, there were still parts I had hoped to perfect.
And so as I have been asked when the video will be released, how did it go, what did I say and so on. I have decided to do this write up, to present you with a written version of what I said, or at least what I had planned to say, though naturally it changed on the night with the ambience of the audience and some things may have been forgotten!
Female Genital Mutilation: Growing Hope for Warrior Women
My name is Mayameen Meftahi and I am the founder of Swansea Trauma Support (now known as She Can Consultancy), a Consultancy, Training and Healing Centre for women affected by various forms of Trauma.
I in particular am specialised in Violence against Women and work with women affected by Female Genital Mutilation, Forced Marriage, Honour Based Violence, Hate Crime and Trafficking, to list a few..
Intense right? The thing is with intensity.. It’s real!
And the problem we have today, is that with being real it can equate to being vulnerable, to being weak… and so this prevents people from talking about the things that are real and that are intense. But everyone has a story, the thing is you have to own that story, some are shared and some have to be revealed…
Having grown up with life-long trauma, my childhood was hell, and I felt vulnerable, I felt weak and that’s because I was real, I was real to who I was, to who I am and to what I had been through, that was the only way to break the cycle! I am an open book, and though I personally don’t see anything wrong with being an open book, I soon learned from this, that women struggle to empower women…
Sometimes at their own instigation, but other times through fear and comparison, we spend our whole lives comparing ourselves to others, if it’s the way we dress, the way we look, our career, our success and even when we have children… ohhh is he not walking yet…. Huh my baby was walking in the womb…
And that’s the thing, your Journey, your Story can never be compared… and why would you want it to be… You are unique. When we realise who we are, when we realise what is healthy to compare, we can grow.
As I grew, I realised that my wounds were worth it…
Because as Rumi says – “The wound is the place where light enters you”
And so in 2009, I was so excited to be a new mother, my first child and the next part of my journey, but you see even with pregnancy we are not real, I mean who wants to hear the scary birth stories and not the ones of birth bliss.
So after a long, traumatic labour, I was being rushed into theatre to have my baby surgically removed, only the surgeon was not just removing my baby, he was butchering me.
Whilst incorrectly suturing me, I was left feeling mutilated, violated and womanhood unrecognisable. If that wasn’t enough, I had right leg paralysis from the force and was never to know if I would ever walk again.
I spiraled into a black hole, I underwent reconstructive surgery and continued physio to walk again, a long recovery process and despite the surgeon eventually being struck off from practicing, there was still little room for hope, I couldn’t see the light.
After a second traumatic event, I embraced religion… just in case you hadn’t gathered… and I started my plight to help women who had suffered trauma. I came across this practice known as FGM – Female Genital Mutilation, as I travelled this journey and met survivors, I was connected on an empathetic level to the violation and mutilation. A right taken away at the hands of another…
Because FGM is the deliberate mutilation of the female genitalia. This is often the removal or cutting of the labia and clitoris, though with different types, the severest type being the complete removal of the clitoris and labia, completely sutured to leave a tiny hole, the size of a matchstick to menstrate and urinate! An illegal practice in the UK, but with an estimated 137,000 women affected by FGM, right here in the UK…
Yes you heard me correctly 137,000 women affected by a practice that is illegal and causes severe physical damage and psychological damage, and in some cases death.
The myth that this is an African problem or a religious problem… No this is a widespread problem that is our problem and not a problem over there.
A practice that is deeply engrained into a belief system, a strong cultural practice that is not only complex, but needs to be talked about… it is happening here and with interracial marriages, it can happen to anyone around us. This needs to be shared and we need to be real!
By being real, we open the dialogue to awareness of Female Genital Mutilation.
This is normal for many women, just as I was growing up thinking things were normal in the cycle of abuse… and so it is ironic when people say to me ‘well surely they realise its different down there to others’…
At what point, do we sit around the table and discuss… downstairs … see I can say this is probably the only part of our bodies we do not compare!!!
And so this burning passion inside of me knew that my wounds were to be a part of these women… They are not just victims, they are not just survivors, they are warriors and they empower and inspire women.
So the day I met my warrior, there was something powerful about her. She was young, studying here in the UK and invited back home on holiday. Little did she know, it would be the holiday from hell.
Forced into marriage, as she cried and begged, there was no way out. To bring shame and humiliation to her family, if this didn’t go ahead. No way.
After the forced marriage, she was put in a room for her husband, she was just a body, to serve a purpose.
The day she fled, she didn’t know if she would live or die. All she could do was run and hope… run and hope… that he wouldn’t catch her, her family wouldn’t catch her and the village would’nt catch her. Fleeing back to the UK, and now having to claim Asylum, she didn’t know she was pregnant!
This is when she would learn what FGM entailed. Not only fear of being a new mother, fleeing violence, she was to give birth as an FGM victim. When I met her, here in Swansea, when ironically I was on a career break, having recently had my own 3rd little boy, there was no question of doubt that I was not going to support her, advocating for her and after an extremely long traumatic labour, and having the honour of being there with her when she gave birth to her beautiful baby girl.
She had no intention of inflicting this horrific practice of FGM on her child… she vowed to give her child the best she could. Ending a generation in her own family of Female Genital Mutilation. Her grandmother, her mother, her sister, and her, were all victims of FGM, but her child was not going to be!
And you see everyone is a warrior, everyone has a wound, but how you manage your wound is how you will empower.
When we stop comparing and we start sharing, when we stop hiding and we start being real.
We can Grow and we can Inspire… Because beautiful things can grow in the darkest of places, so let yourself grow, because with growth comes hope, and with hope comes light… So Be Real and Grow Hope!