Many women affected by female genital mutilation (FGM) do not know that the health problems they experience is due to the traditional genital cutting they had done to them in earlier years. Through education and information they learn how the normal body works. The knowledge they receive about the different types of FGM and what has been cut and stitched, enables them to understand the harmful health effects they experience due the procedure they had. Once they are fully aware of this, they very rarely want it to continue to be done to their daughters or other girls in their families.
I believe that information and education empower people to make informed decisions and choices based on that information. Women and men who have attended our program realise they must that change must come and FGM must stop. They become the vehicles of change and take a role to empower others as they spread the information and knowledge they have gained.
Linda George was born and raised in Khartoum, Sudan but moved to Sydney in 1990. She has a Diploma in Business Studies from the Khartoum Polytechnic and a postgraduate degree in Social Science, (Adult Education) and Master’s degree in Social Science from the University of Western Sydney and has accumulated years of experience working in the field of social and health services. In her role as a Community Education and Development Officer, she trains Bilingual Community Workers who educate women from FGM Practicing Communities, settling in NSW, on the harmful repercussions arising from the traditional practice of FGM, also known as female circumcision.
FGM denotes the range of procedures involving partial or complete removal of the female genital organs. Although this process is often a violent and traumatic experience for girls and young women, many communities see FGM as an important ritual: an initiation into womanhood, a prerequisite for marriage, an act that upholds the family honour, and a means of ensuring female chastity before marriage and fidelity within marriage. Yet this is not a religious practice and it is not sanctioned by any religion. It is founded on tradition and superstition and motivated by the fear that without FGM, a girl’s marriage prospects are jeopardised.
There are numerous chronic immediate and long term health impacts from FGM including: menstrual problems, difficulties with intercourse, recurrent urinary and kidney infections, infertility, acute discomfort during labour and birth, incontinence, prolapses, fistulas, severe depression, and post-traumatic stress syndrome. FGM is outlawed in New South Wales and across Australia.
As part of the Community Education program of the NSW Education Program on FGM, which was launched in 1998, Linda works with women in target communities in an 11-session series, exploring many women’s health issues and the practice of FGM. The program offers a safe and comfortable environment in which women can confront their own experiences and speak freely. She encourages them to write about their experience of FGM, to share their fears and nightmares, and to understand their basic human rights to control what happens to their bodies. For most of them, this is the first time they have ever been given the opportunity to discuss FGM, and many have never previously made the connection between FGM and their health problems.
Linda is also working with the men in the community on a health program that is the first of its kind in the world. The program educates on men’s health in general and the harmful effects of FGM, the health issues that their wives are facing as a result, and she lists the reasons to abandon this practice for their daughters. Feedback from women and men in the program has clearly shown that they have decided not to circumcise their own daughters. Some have contacted relatives back in their home countries telling them not to circumcise their daughters. Linda is convinced that education and knowledge empowers individuals and communities to bring about change, and to eradicate this dangerous practice.