Apr 20 17

Female Genital Mutilation


We are tied together

Once we are tied together

There is no breaking this trust.

Alina, 14 years old

As this blog develops you will read accounts of some of the 18 masterclasses I am leading with women and girls across the UK, from as diverse a collection of communities as I can find, and who are willing to speak and work with me. The blog will take you into women’s prisons, into refugee projects, on to traveller sites, into domestic violence prevention organisations, into extraordinary advocacy projects working with Afghan women landay writers, into the care system, survivor’s groups and white working class areas of extreme economic hardship. If you work with a women’s group who would like to develop their stories through the use of poetry and spoken word, then please do contact me here.

As a part of the project I wanted to work with women and girls affected by female genital mutilation (FGM). I wanted to explore those stories, give the girls the tools with which to tell their own stories and to consider the meaning and symbolism of FGM globally.


FACTS ABOUT FGM  from World Health Organisation 

  • Female genital mutilation (FGM) includes procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
  • The procedure has no health benefits for girls and women.
  • Procedures can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later cysts, infections, as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of new-born deaths.
  • More than 200 million girls and women alive today have been cut in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia where FGM is concentrated.
  • FGM is mostly carried out on young girls between infancy and age 15.
  • FGM is a violation of the human rights of girls and women.


There are 4 types of FGM (defined by WHO)

  • Cliterodectomy – partial or total removal of the clitoris.
  • Excision – partial or total removal of clitoris and labia minora.
  • Infibulation – the narrowing of vaginal entrance often through stitching. Can also include removal of clitoris.
  • All other types of FGM- piercing, cutting, cauterizing, scraping and other procedures.


According to NSPCC there are approximately 137,000 girls by FGM in the UK. Typically these girls are faced with the horrific procedure – which can cause a life time of pain, discomfort, loss of sexual pleasure, complications during labour and multiple infection as well as numerous emotional and mental health issues – eat any time between birth and the age of 15/16. Many of the UK girls affected will be forced into FGM by close or distant family members when they return to the countries of their parent’s birth. Many believe they are going on holiday.

In July 2016 a group of extraordinary brave women and girls took to the streets of Bristol to protest against FGM and to raise awareness of the long term damage it creates, in both their own communities and the wider world. The march was met with derision, shaming and anger. But still they marched, like women have always done. Heads high. Truth in their hearts.

I wanted to return to Bristol, and to work with girls from a local secondary school to explore the issues around FGM, to continue the conversation around it, and to help ease the pain of those affected. In other words, I wanted to meet the daughters of those women who marched. I was not disappointed.

I won’t give the name of the school here, but I would like to thank the incredible teaching staff who made the 2-day workshop possible and who provided me with a room full of outspoken, chest thumping, glorious girls.  I would also like to offer my sincere thanks to Stuart Wood of Boomsatsuma, a Bristol based creative consultancy who arranged the masterclasses.

The group was made up of around 15 young women between the ages of 13 -15. Some were known to each other, others came alone. Some were directly affected by FGM, others by issues relating to the female body. Indeed, it is difficult to find a young woman not deeply affected by dominant perceptions of feminine, and whatever that means in the world. Women grow to become afraid of our own bodies. Our body is the silent enemy that skips into bed with us at night, and is there again waiting for us in the bathroom mirror in the morning. We are all, to some extent, followed by ourselves.

As the first session begins it is clear to me that the girls are a little anxious. That’s okay. So am I. How do you begin to speak about something which is by definition about silence – in this case, the silencing of sexuality and the ownership of body?

But there is something about girls. There is something about the way in which they are able to listen to one another, and to absorb each other’s grief, something about the way they take suffering and turn it into poetry.

We took a deep breath and began. We shared our understanding of FGM and how it affects the female sense of self. We wrote poetry inspired by first lines, by ideas and characters of women worldwide. We made connections between isolated villages in East Africa and the suburbs of Bristol. We wrote letters to unknown girls in unspecified countries. Examples of these are published on this blog, including films of some of the girls reading or performing.

You cannot teach poetry without teaching empathy. If poetry is humanity’s attempt to understand itself, then empathy is humanity’s attempt at listening. Listen to what they say.

On the second day we asked ourselves an important question: do we need knives and thread to silence the female body; what correlations are there between survivors of female genital mutilation and other communities of women globally?

As always, the Songs My Enemy Taught Me blog is open to submission to women identified* writers globally. If you are a poet or artist and wish to contribute then please email me infoATjoelletaylor.co.uk along with the poems/ work you want to submit, a brief biography and photograph (non essential – anonymity will be respected).

*Women, trans women, non-binary, gender fluid.



EMPATHY POETRY – poetry inspired by becoming a character, like method writing.

Character: 6 year old girl, Somalia, on the morning of the cutting.


Her eyes are the night sky as it slips into dawn

Her skin is the dusty plains they drag her across

Her hair, the chains they use to drag her from her loved ones

Her teeth like the abandoned building where kids like her once lived

Her legs trembling, a baobab tree

Her mind as dull as their hearts

Wondering why the world could be so cruel

Her sex

A quiet girl on the edge of the village

Who no longer speaks.


Here eyes were the circle of strangers that surrounded her

Her lips like the dusty cracked floor beneath her

Her hands, snapped branches that were sprawled across the hut

Her skin as red and irritated as her mind

Her womb empty, it may stay that way forever

Cut and wrapped

Ready for whoever may take her.

Alina and Marta


Character: LGBTI+ 15 year old girl in Iran

Her eyes were the tunnels they chased her down

Her smile the mask she used to conceal her secret

Her skin was the cage the law forced her in

He hair used as ropes to drag her away

Her womb, a panic room, a safe space

Her sex

A love letter hidden between the mattress and bed base.

Ella and Elizabeth

Character: a 14 year old friend of Malala Yousefzi who was also in the van the morning the Taliban opened fire on girls attempting to go to school

Her eyes were the barrel of the gun that was aimed at the van that morning

Her fingers were the rope holding on to the hope that was still inside her

Her skin was the school book that she was forbidden to read

Her teeth the grave stones waiting to be filled

Her whole body, a target

Not belonging to her.


Character: LGBTI+ plus teen woman in Afghanistan

Her long dark hair is black like the night she slipped into/ as she ran to the house of the girl that looked the same/ yearning for each other’s touch/ Her gleaming brown eyes catching the street light as she tried to avoid the fight/ Her soft lips that speak only words of truth/ and whispers gentle things to her love/ under the cover of a safe place/ But when she’s alone and the beasts prowl/ her lips won’t back down/ and they’ll curl into a frown/ and her voice will shake the ground/ but the beasts won’t back down. Her ears are radars that pick up homophobic slurs that break her down/ but she cannot scream/ her parents will hate her/ and her friends will back away/ and her lover will deny her/ until she is not really sure of who she is/ or why she is there/

And so her feet climb the stairs of an office block/ and slowly she will stand at the top/ until her world stops.

Ella and Martha


There are women strung from washing lines

Swinging in the breeze

Chains wrapped around the wrists

Restricted from all other movements

People walk by and stare

Watching the washing hanging limply on the line

A teardrop falls

But the pegs hold strong.

Christella Cosba

Alina Ahmed


There are women strung from washing lines


To be observed, for the men that they ‘deserve’

Beautiful laughter lines representing fond memory


It is not what people want to see

Scars on your knees created by childhood dreams

Cover it, with Photoshop and foundation cream

Imperfections are what make your complexion

Cut and paste

Until she is peaked at perfection

Each freckle

Each mole

Each line

And each hair

‘Get rid of that, we don’t need it there’.

Millie and Emily


There are women strung from washing lines

Pegged up like clothes

No feeling of sunshine

Locked up in their homes


Swaying in polluted air

Held up tightly by their hair

Struggling ot break free

Away from this reality


Yet still they are there

Stuck on washing lines

As straight as their smiles.

Sholmiat and Izzy


There are women strong from washing lines

As their husbands watch from behind darkened blinds

The pegs that hold them are like knives

Scarring and damaging their gentle lives

Their bodies flapping in the wind

As they look out on their next of kin

But when the sun comes out the pegs will drop

And in that moment

The world will stop.

Ella and Martha



Fight for the girl whose brain contains more than permitted

The girl whose hair is the lines she is forbidden to read

She reads is pitch black darkness

She writes with shadows

The ink she holds is contraband



Listen for the girl silenced by screams

The girl whose lips are padlocked shut by the punches of her owner

Her master

Her father

She –



Look for the girl whose protruding ribs are her empty cage

The girl who guiltily stares toward the cleared plate

Images of media blind her

She sees what’s is not there

She sees nothing.

Ella Wiltshire


She stands in front of the brick wall

The rough, harsh brick wall


She stands

In front of her reflection

So big yet feels so small


She stands in front of everyone

But looks down at the wet floor


She stands in front of the puddle

Hoping to drown


She stands in front of her self

And she is not enough


She stands in front of crowds

To compare herself to other people


She stands

But inside she is curled up

with her head hidden

and her

hands damp.



Make an image in your mind

Picture a rope

Then tie a knot

A strong knot;

This s our trust.


Women stick together is the phrase

But something stuck

Can become unstuck.


But not like us.

We are tied together

Once we are tied together

There is no breaking this trust.


So take my hand

You will survive

Walk through this burning pain.



Secret Message for Urdu Speaking Girls


Aap a2ab hai

Aap akeleh nhe hai.

Hamna, Alina, Hessa


Prayer for Girls

This is for the girl whose mental disorders swallow her best memories whole

The girl who overthinks the smallest of ideas

The girl who has panic attacks every day

Yet nobody tried to empathise with her pain.


Her school makes her feel like a danios fish

In a giant pond

Her screams aren’t heard through the hundreds

For it’s all in her head

As she lays in bed

Hoping that all of this would end.


This is for

The boy who is trapped inside a girl’s body

Who cuts along limbs that leave scars

Which look like his arms are trapped in bars

The boy who wonders if one day this will change for the better

Like how the rain changes into brighter weather

The boy who is trapped in a cage

And cannot be free no matter how many times he tries to escape


This is for

The people who think it won’t get better

Who feel they cannot fit in with the trendsetters

Those who feel they aren’t as beautiful as

The nature that surrounds them

Who feel they are deserted on a desert island

Those who feel as blue as sky

Who feel the only solution is suicide.

Emily Heath


Is it true that pain is beauty,

Tweaked and moved until she is acceptable to see?

Trapped on a runway stage

Like animals, caged

Baby soft skin that turns to leather

Get a nose job, it will all be better

Girls that start to grow into their mother’s face

But society taught them to cut and paste

A couple of thousand pounds on compliments

Turning soft light hearts into cement

Appealing to society. Filled with enmity

When she looks in the mirror, the mirror is empty

She takea a knife

Slice after slice

this baby doll ends her life.


Mille May Holcombe

Sholmiat Sarfaraz

Izzy Serenity


This is for the abandoned beds with blankets withdrawn

And toys scattered like leaves

This is for the drawings of little mountain flowers covering the floor

A blanket of innocence

This is for the mothers whose babies were ripped from their clutch

And watch

As their husbands are killed and girls snatched

This is for the girls who were hit, sold, raped

And resold

To men who have no names

Just a voice and a fist

This is for those girls who dream of freedom

For her, for them

for the girls.



This is for the girls

Who when they look in the mirror think they are not enough

The girls who wish they had a perfect body

The girls who are not happy

The girls who hate themselves

The girls who cry whenever they are alone

The girls who don’t have anyone to count on

The girls who thinks they will never be loved for who they really are

The girl whose false smile melts into tears

Desperate heart thinking ‘why am I still alive?’

This. Is. For. You.

You don’t know you are beautiful

You don’t know you are amazing

You don’t know you are friendly

You don’t know you can make a difference

You don’t know others count on you

You don’t know you have a beautiful smile

You don’t know you have a nice body

You don’t know you are smart

You don’t know you are funny

This is for you all

Go out there

Be proud

Be lovely

Be you.