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Serat – Canada

FGM is illegal in Canada. With diaspora communities from across Africa and the Middle East, it is estimated that over 80,000 women and girls are living with the effects of FGM in Canada. They may have immigrated having already undergone FGM, been subjected to it on trips to their homeland, or even illegally in Canada.

I was born in Somalia. When I was three, my aunt, who had moved to Canada a few years earlier, persuaded my mother I would have a better life if I went with her. I grew up with my aunt in rural Ontario, but I never forgot my mother. 

When I was 13 my aunt and I traveled to Somalia to see her again. 

Early one morning, three village women burst into the hut where I was sleeping. My mother had summoned them when she learned that I had never undergone the traditional Somali rite of circumcision.

I started screaming and tried to run. 

“What are you doing, what are you doing?” 

The women caught me, pinned me down, spread my legs, and, after administering a local anesthetic, cut off the tip of my clitoris. After, they sewed part of my labia shut over the cut.

I could see blood gushing, gushing down my thighs, then I passed out.

When I recovered consciousness, my legs were tied together. I stayed like this for a week, in constant pain.  It was really hard to pee. 

They took away from me what was rightfully mine.

When I returned to Canada a few months later, my aunt told me to accept what had happened and move on. I couldn’t. I felt incomplete, ashamed and devastated.

As a teenager, I would Google pictures of female genitalia on the Internet, compared them to my own, and cry. My girlfriends would giggle and talk about all the sexploits on Sex and the City, and I stayed silent.

I didn’t speak about it to anyone else for over a decade. 

Who could I talk to? It was really hard to accept that nothing is being done for Canadian women who have already been through it.

There’s a complete wall of silence around this issue here. People keep their hands off, saying, ‘That’s their tradition,’ and that attitude is wrong, wrong, wrong. That’s why FGM has survived hundreds of years

Giselle Portenier from the End FGM Canada Network interviewed Serat to document her story. The End FGM Canada Network is a non-partisan group of individuals and organizations advocating for an end to female genital mutilation in Canada and abroad.

An illustration of a group of women holding their hands up in a gesture to "stop"

Serat’s story was originally published in the Ottawa Citizen.