FGM: how a Nigerian refugee mom saved her daughters from circumcision
Ife (not real names), was born in Lagos to an accountant father and an entrepreneur mom. Nothing in her middle-class upbringing prepared her for the difficult choice she’s had to make—the most difficult choice for any mother. She had to abandon her son in Nigeria to save her daughters from female genital mutilation FGM.
Ife’s troubled marriage
Ife had already established a beauty salon business by the time she got married at 21. Her clientele included the who’s who in Lagos. She got married to her husband Paul (not real name) who was a widower and 20 years older.
Paul already had three teenage daughters from a previous marriage. Ife came in as his wife after his first wife’s death. Ife recounts her struggles with adapting to a household where her three stepdaughters were almost her age. She says her stepdaughters saw her as an intruder.
Not long after, Ife gave birth to children of her own—three daughters and a son. She remembers how her husband doted on their only son, idolizing him even.
Marital problems before the threat of FGM
The marriage was far from a happy one. According to her, her husband’s relatives marched in and out of her house at will. She says they accused her of coming out of nowhere to enjoy her husband’s wealth, which they claimed she didn’t work for.
They showed up at her house and instructed her on childcare and housekeeping.
Her relationship with her stepdaughters never improved. The girls demanded she clean up after them, and when Ife complained, her husband would physically and verbally assault her.
“I was like a maid in my own house,” Ife recounts.
Even more abuse
Her husband punched her in the face even when she was pregnant. She ran away from him then, but he came looking for her. In Nigeria, divorce is sometimes seen as a personal failure on the part of the woman. Ife had to go back to her matrimonial home due to the shame.
However, things got even worse. Her husband now forbade her from working, so she had to close down her profitable salon business.
Her mental health suffered
On the surface, Ife had a comfortable lifestyle, so closing down her business didn’t affect her financially. Her husband could afford to sponsor her on trips outside Nigeria where she could visit friends. But deep down, she was suffering from severe depression. According to her, her doctor advised her to move away from the environment for the sake of her mental health.
Ife’s patience came to a head when her husband suggested female genital mutilation for her daughters to stop them from becoming wayward. Ife herself doesn’t believe in this practice, but it is a common practice where her husband is from.
She convinced her husband to let her take the girls for a holiday in the UK before the cutting. She decided to leave her son behind since he wasn’t in danger.
To finance her plans, she saved earnestly and got visas for herself and her three girls.
Settling in Manchester
Even with her savings, the family could only afford to live crammed together in a flat they shared with many other people. After enrolling her children in school, authorities were notified when the kids couldn’t even afford lunch money.
Immigration arrived at their house soon after, but after Ife told them why she needed to remain in the UK, they fixed her up in accommodation of their own and even offered her some benefits while the government reviewed her case.
Her stay in the UK is not very solid at this point since the government is deporting people who grew up there without sorting out their legal status. FGM is still a possibility for her daughters if they return to Nigeria.
FGM is a form of violence against women
According to the NHS, female genital mutilation (FGM) is the deliberate cutting of the female genitals without any medical reason. Often, this procedure is carried out by people without any medical training.
Female circumcision can lead to:
• Difficulty and pain during sex
• Infections that can end up causing infertility
• Difficulty giving birth
• Chronic pain
• Urinary incontinence or inability to hold urine
The United Nations has classed FGM as a form of violence against girls and women. The international organisation is fighting to put an end to this practice which violates the sexual and reproductive health of a woman as well as her physical integrity and security.