Hibo Wardere underwent female genital mutilation when she was six years old. Also known as being ‘cut’, the horrific procedure involves removing external parts of the female genitalia. More than forty years later and Hibo is celebrating the government’s announcement that they will commit to teaching about the dangers of female genital mutilation in schools as part of the curriculum.
Hibo, who is now 48, has been warning about the harmful practice of female genital mutilation at schools for nearly a decade, and this month the government has committed to teaching about the danger of the practice in all schools from 2020.
“It’s a dream come true,” the activist told RightsInfo. “For me, it was always education, education, education. I never stopped saying that for nine years: now finally it has been officially said.”
“A dream come true”: Hibo Wardere, a survivor, tells us what the news means to her. Image credit: Hibo Wardere
Children Are Very Receptive To My Story
She continued: “I have been fighting so hard for this. We need to educate children about the dangers, the devastation and the destruction female genital mutilation causes. It is a life sentence: when this happens you can’t go back.”
The delay in adding the subject to the school curriculum is the fault of people Hibo describes as the “dithering adults” in charge of the country. “Children are much more intelligent than adults give them credit, the way students react inspires me”.
Schoolchildren are game changers, the ones with the future for the next generation.
Hibo Wardere, female genital mutilation activist
Hibo calls the children she teaches, who range from eight to in their teens, “the game changers, the ones with the future for the next generation,” and has seen that from her experience, it is essential to teach both girls and boys about the practice because children, regardless of gender, “go home and discuss, which is the best part. They are subsequently educating their parents on everything they’ve learned”.
Hibo has taught about the dangers of FGM in schools for nine years. Image credit: Twitter
While for girls the subject feels close to home, “boys do not know exactly what it is,” Hibo says. “They are getting first-hand education, and it’s a shocker for them. Now we will see generations protecting themselves, and future generations”.
‘Catastrophic’ Life-Long Effects
Female genital mutilation can have “catastrophic” lifelong physical and mental effects on the victims, Education Secretary Damian Hinds has said in a statement around the news. “Everyone must do all they can to protect women and girls from this extreme form of gendered violence.”
“There’s a legislation aspect, and enforcement, but just as important is awareness and challenging assumptions – which is why we are making sure all pupils are given all the facts at secondary school.”
Hibo with HRH The Duchess of Cornwall at an event with The Orchid Project, a charity working to end female genital cutting. Image credit: The Maiden Factor Foundation
The practice is still common in Somalia, where Hibo hails from, yet there are also troubling statistics closer to home. According to the NSPCC some 137,000 women and girls that have been affected by the treatment in England and Wales.
For generations of children, the cultural acceptance of genital mutilation led them to believe the procedure was entirely ordinary, a subject Hibo tackles in her book, Cut: One Woman’s Fight Against FGM in Britain Today.
Alongside FGM, as it is often abbreviated to, the wider reforms of sex and health education announced for secondary schools will include warnings about other types of what’s known as ‘honour-based’ abuse, and further information on forced marriage, grooming and domestic abuse.
In a harrowing report for The Telegraph, Hibo wrote about the day she was cut and the feelings that day induced.
She wrote: “When she said, ‘Lift the dress’, I started to whimper. Mum standing there; no eye-contact anymore. She tells my auntie and the other helper ‘I need you to pull her legs apart’. I screamed so much. The first cut, I thought I was dying. And I remember literally saying ‘Mum!’ There was another cut and another cut. I could see my blood all over.”
My teaching is very blunt: I don’t hide anything. I can disclose that I am a survivor.
Hibo Wardere, FGM activist
Female genital mutilation was outlawed in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2003 and in Scotland in 2005 but Hibo believes school visits have the power to go further by eradicating the practice in private. “My teaching is very blunt: I don’t hide anything. I can disclose that I am a survivor.”
“There’s no silly questions, nothing embarrassing or too personal. You already have them in your corner, they already want to know everything you say, so it inspires me to visit more and more schools every day.
“Knowledge is freedom. We have to use knowledge to combat awful violence.”
Featured image: Hibo Wardere
Cut: One Woman’s Fight Against FGM in Britain Today is available via Hibo’s publisher, Simon & Schuster