“After the pain, it was the screaming that I’ll never forget. It wasn’t just mine and my sister’s screams, there were so many other girls there – all being cut. I’ve never heard screams like that again and I don’t think I ever will.”
– Aissa, 29, from Mali. Speaking to Al Jazeera on her experience of female genital mutilation.
The airplane door on the flight to deport Afusat Saliu and her children back to Nigeria had barely closed by the time the Queen set out the government’s legislative program for the final year of this Parliament, announcing:
“My government will work to prevent sexual violence in conflict worldwide.”
– Afusat Saliu fled Nigeria to come to the UK after a family member in Nigeria threatened the genital mutilation of her young daughter Bassy. She has since had a second baby – Rashidat – born in the UK. She has spoken of her fear that if she were to be deported back to Nigeria, her children would be mutilated and she would be forced to marry against her will. She was also worried of the consequences she may face having converted to Christianity, from Islam. Saliu is a victim of female genital mutilation herself, was forced to marry a man 40 years older than her, and fled to Britain for protection and safety for herself and her children. She volunteered at a refugee centre to provide care and support for women in similar situations. On the fear of her children becoming victims of the violent patriarchy that currently holds power in Nigeria, Ms Saliu said:
“It’s so scary. I don’t want them going through the same pain I went through.”
– Despite this, and despite 125,000 strong petition, Afusat Saliu and her children were deported back to Nigeria last night by the British government, who less than 24 hours later, announced their commitment to preventing sexual violence across the World.
Nigeria has the highest number of female genital mutilations in the World. It accounts for around a quarter of all female genital mutilations on the planet, and around 60% (according to the WHO in 1997) of the female population of Nigeria have been subjected to the practice. It usually involves children at a very young age – as Afusat was – unable to provide any form of consent, having the clitoris removed, the labia minora and part of the labia majora removed, and then being stitched up in a hideous fashion. It is essentially child rape, cloaked in “religious tradition”. The child is often then married off to older men, to use as they see fit. A life filled with dreams and promise and excitement for the future, a life that should be protected, is cruelly crushed for the sake of the sexually aggressive power of patriarchal religious men. It is torture and it is rape. It cannot be construed as anything else.
A clear violation of a human being’s right to their own body, to their liberty, to free choice, and away from the violent religious beliefs of others, there are estimated to be around 125 million women dealing with the consequences of this most grotesque violation by mostly male, violent and controlling religious supremacists. And there’s very little Nigeria is doing to prevent it. Indeed, Ms Saliu has been told she will be given two nights stay at a Hostel and then will have to make her own way to an aid station in the country; one of which has just fourteen places available, and another doesn’t have a website any more. It’s difficult to consider that a form of protecting women and children from sexual violence worldwide.
Mother’s in Nigeria tend to fear their little girl will be considered immodest or impure, and so bring shame upon the family, if they are not mutilated ready for the pleasure of their future – often much older – husband. The entire premise of genital mutilation is therefore focused on patriarchal notions of exactly how women should look, and act, for the benefit of men. What it means to be an ‘acceptable’ female – ready for use by men – is decided by men, and so it is unsurprising that their first port of call, is to completely and forcefully control sexuality, whilst claiming “cultural” justification. The defence of “cultural tradition” is not, and never should be considered an acceptable excuse for the oppression and bodily harm of anyone else, and yet too often it is defended whilst the opposite – empowerment of all, free from the oppression of all – is written off as some sort of evil Western colonial encroachment on the cultural traditions of others. Too often, the anti-western narrative is a shroud in which human rights violations are defended.
The UK Government this week has privately given tacit acceptance to the notion that Afusat Saliu and her daughters are to be considered objects of the sexually violent nature of Nigerian men, whilst publicly advocating a tough stance on sexual violence worldwide. It is shameful. If Afusat Saliu is forced into a marriage, whilst her children are violently tortured and raped by aggressive religious fanatics; the UK Government absolutely shoulders much of the blame for failing to protect vulnerable people including children, and handing them over to those who seek to abuse them.