Jul 18 17

Scar Tissue – Amina Ahmed Osman


Scar Tissue: Introduction to FGM

I am very conscious of the shock value that FGM causes in places outside of where it is accepted as part of a cultural practice. I’m also aware that writers, journalists, activists and those in the medical, education and political sphere are working towards eradicating this outdated practice by eliminating the misguided, though often convenient, ignorance that fuels its justification in many Muslim and non-Muslim countries.

However, I think with such a sensitive topic as FGM, we should be more careful about the rhetoric we use when educating others, especially young women who have experienced it first or second hand, or are at risk of being exposed to it. It is not enough to simply show harrowing images and share stories about the act itself. It is also counter-productive, in my opinion, to concentrate solely on the “shock value” of the topic to rouse outrage even if there is a good intention to highlight this issue that is often dismissed or swept under the carpet. As it is, again, a delicate subject, not just in the western word but especially in the societies that practice it, we need to handle the topic with care.

Women and young girls find it difficult enough sharing their experiences, it’s exhausting as well as relieving, as most cathartic experiences are; but it will all be for naught if the exposure of FGM in society (which is only one branch of the very large tree that is global Gender Based Violence) is not opened to a debate that includes men as well as women.

I want to make it clear that though GBV leaves a physical and mental mark on the lives of so many women, it does not define us. What defines us is how we will overcome the trauma and to do this, I think it is important to consider one thing:

We should avoid hateful rhetoric directed towards the ignorant actors of the practice and those who defend, encourage and justify its necessity in the 21st century. We are women, we are strong, we can heal – and when we do, however long it takes, we must use that strength to educate others and have an open debate without the underlying contempt and resentment that violence often incites in us as humans. This is a lot to ask of someone who has been wronged, understandably, but from my experience it has been the most effective method in beginning a healthy debate.

I honestly believe that poetry is a platform to have such a debate; because at this stage we all should know what FGM really means, and if we don’t it’s our responsibility as global citizens to learn and share experiences to educate one another about its physical and psychological effects. This is not limited to those who have experienced GBV or FGM, but it includes everyone; I feel that all communities should continue to do this.

Having said that, it’s not enough to talk about it, the question isn’t even limited to what we’re going to do about it, but how we are going to engage both men and women; young and old from every background to join the discussion.

I cannot speak for anyone else but myself, but for me personally, poetry has given me a medium to do this.

Guilty Pain is a poem I wrote to highlight the shame and humiliation that FGM causes for women. It tries to portray the way it is dismissed with distractions and rewards, for overcoming the pain, something all parents can relate to when their children are suffering. It also tries to show the guilt associated with that pain, for those who have experienced it outside of Somalia or any country where it is common practice. The voice/speaker in the poem comes from the perspective of a child.

This guilt, in my experience, made it difficult for me to ever imagine complaining about FGM or challenging it, in light of the fact that it is performed in even more horrific and life-threatening contexts, e.g. rural areas in traditional nomadic communities, where medical aftercare, for example, is limited or perhaps not even considered as necessary. These women, and so many from mother’s generation (and they still exist today) were under a different type of risk, with even more severe consequences; including but not limited to immediate death as well as obstetric fistula and total isolation from their community. After experiencing devastating infections after FGM or complete rejection and inability to marry well for not having had FGM at all, the woman is publicly shamed and isolated and is withdrawn from her community. Most importantly, for many women the effect FGM has on child mortality during and after pregnancy is perhaps the most heart-breaking, a risk that the child in the poem is grateful not to have to worry about. Still the elders take pity on her ‘guilty pain’.

The final part of the poem reflects on how mothers have the difficult task of trying to allow their daughters not to feel as though they have lost something, or that they should have anything to be ashamed of. Instead, mothers, whether they agree with FGM or not, try to give their daughters a positive, unique perspective immediately after the tragedy (mutilation) takes place. In the case of Guilty Pain and from my understanding, this is to assert that the young girl has now crossed a threshold into womanhood, that if she can overcome this then it will make her stronger in the face of any violence in future. This kind of initiation into womanhood is often celebrated after the act takes places with gifts. For a child, this is incredibly influential and has an almost euphoric affect, one that resonated with the speaker in the poem, though only for a short term period. Once the ceremony comes to a close, the child is no longer a child, she has lost her innocence will continue to bear her guilt and pain for the rest of her life, in silence.

The witch doctor and his bride:

This poem, in short is about the binary of anger, injustice personal vendetta that instigated the need for revenge versus forgiveness. It poses the question:

Do we take action against our aggressors, who have themselves acted out of ignorance, or can we afford the patience and humanity to avoid further bloodshed, even if, or especially when, we feel we are in a weaker position and perhaps do not have the voice to speak, or act out. This poem is not limited to the topic of FGM or even GBV but all violence as a whole against men and women. The title also alludes to the opposite sides of past cultural practices and their relationship to girls as they enter womanhood, or women in general.


This poem reflects on the experiences of women who successfully overcome the initial stage of FGM and enter a new life as a bride, where they now will share their mutilated body with their partner for the first time, whether against their will or not; and the anxiety and psychological strain that could possibly involve.

Despite the lack of knowledge women share with one another in rural communities regarding matters of sexual gratification, and it’s benefits in a marriage for example, there is a culture of trying to reassure the bride before her wedding night in every way possible, sometimes with made up stories and sometimes with painful truths, which I’d like to celebrate – even if they are sometimes complete falsehoods, myths, beautifully designed and shaped and in the allure of well-respected and accepted traditional Bedouin folklore, passed down from generation to generation.

There is a message of hope in this poem, a message that I think has not been carefully considered yet. Once a female has undergone FGM or GBV in general, is it not only her mental and physical health that has been violated. Her identity as a woman has also ben mutilated as well as her sexual health, sexual freedom and basic human rights over her own body; a, some might argue, God-given right from birth in the anatomical structure she was born with, to enjoy the pleasures of her genitalia with her future partner. The end of the poem is a message to her future partner, and a comment on sexual gratification as a whole.

I wanted to highlight that though certain areas had been removed, it is still very possible to regain female sexual identity again, with confidence. This idea can be supported if others, as well as the woman herself, do not allow the horrors of FGM to impede their lives, and the future health of their relationship and sexuality. Although FGM is very much a physical act, how we overcome it might be a question of willpower and mental perspective on how we can still continue to enjoy our bodies, in spite of what is out of our control. Though, having said this, I am also aware that for many women this may seem like or be a myth, an illusion or fallacy created by none other than Pharaoh himself, a fable too out of reach even for a community like Somali people, who are famous for their oral tradition. With that in mind, our partners, like Pharaoh, hold a great deal of power when it comes to reassuring the woman’s sexual experiences in her future relationships, whatever form she decides that relationship takes.


This is perhaps the most controversial of all the poems, and probably the most difficult one for me to write. The main focus isn’t on religion at all, and it is not a criticism of religion because as we all know by now, FGM is a Pharaonic tradition and has no relationship with Islam whatsoever. I am also not making critique on the relationship between Islam and women – that is not the intention in this poem, the references are purely a matter of circumstance as many who undergo FGM, unfortunately, come from countries where Islam is the main religion practiced.

Freedom here is only in reference to state of mind. The psychological strain that FGM causes I feel can only be lifted by a healthy and supportive community of men and women, self-confidence, self-understanding and peace of mind. Having said that, in the most extreme cases an individual is not able to reconcile their trauma with either gender in our outside their community, (sometimes even with the women in their community) as well as within themselves; Following this, the young woman may choose to withdraw herself from life entirely or keep the topic silent; echoing the women in the village sent to live a life in exile, but instead of physical banishment, the woman in the poem escapes in another way. In the case of Freedom the topic of FGM is silenced permanently through its death, perhaps the only option so many think is the only way to overcome tragedy. For the heroine in this poem, she chooses to take her freedom, in the form of a suicide. This is to suggest that not only is GBV likely to cause a woman substantial grief to the point of taking her own life, but it also signifies that as women we so desperately want to have control over our bodies and in her final act, Feridah achieves this.

I also wanted to suggest here that the only way to destroy the power FGM has, is if we (those outside of the experience) reach within ourselves and kill whatever part of us thinks it is necessary or acceptable, and also fight the internal struggle that it brings within ourselves so that we may continue to live a happy and peaceful life.

The death in this poem serves another purpose, it reflects on the unfortunate path so many choose to go when they feel they have no other option and give up all hope entirely; this loss of hope and engagement with their community, lack of freedom stems from the burden FGM brings, based on an individual’s experiences. These experiences that so many women undergo is something that so few, family and friends, can ever understand, including the individual herself. Freedom is a reflection on the frustration of when families, friends lose their loved ones in such a unexpected way, without knowing how they could have prevented it; because so many cannot even begin to try and comprehend the internal battles an individual faces, something that is necessary to speak openly about to avoid further tragedy in the form of suicide.

The reference to Islam in this poem is there to suggest that without peace of mind, or wherever a person tries to get that peace of mind from – be it religion or academia or philanthropy or work at a community centre in the case of Feridah (The centre with the crescent moon is a symbol of Islam) – the individual, ultimately, is a product of their environment. However, regardless of how hard the heroine in this poem tries to obtain that peace of mind, unfortunately because of the environment she lives in and her damaged psychological state of mind, she gives up.

The message of this poem is more symbolic, a warning perhaps, to highlight the long term psychological effects of gender based violence in the form of FGM after the fact; with specific reference to post-natal depression and the effects on motherhood (and the relationship between the mother and her children can be so negatively affected, or even destroyed as a result). Again, the physical effects of FGM have been long understood, though I feel more can be done to highlight the complicated psychological effects of FGM, a study that I will endeavour to continue in my personal academic studies.

The final part of the poem focuses on the woman’s name, to bring light to the many secret troubles she faced in silence; as there are many faceless and nameless women who keep their suffering to themselves. The focus on her name is to focus on bringing to light a woman’s identity and role in society in general; a topic that to this day is still being challenged in many countries, east and west.

The narrator asks the reader to say her name, quickly; urging the reader to take action and demanding the audience to recognise her and accept her for what she is.

The narrator then asks its reader to bring their lips together at the end, mouthing her name, changing it from Feridah, to Freedom; something all women should have the right to pursue when it comes to their bodies and their lives. Also closing the lips is a symbol of closing the gap between what we think we know about women who suffer in silence and what the harsh reality is. Once known, it would silence, I hope, anyone who would dare challenge it.

In the case of Feridah, Freedom from the burden she carried was not possible. Though, like many others of faith, I take comfort in the idea that she is in a better place, where she is free and happy, something we all want in life, but cannot always achieve while we are alive. My only regret is that I could have done more to understand her better, I think that is why I wrote this poem, and perhaps if we did she might have found some peace with us instead.

And so I will make my duty to join the discussion about GBV, FGM and all violence against innocent young people in the hope that Feridah’s story and so many others who have lost their lives, need not be repeated.

The last line of the poem asks the reader to question what they think about Feridah’s name now that you know her story. It is slightly a rhetorical questions; it asks the reader to, coyly, share what their view is on women from Islamic backgrounds is, who experience FGM. The question is delicately put, wrapped in metaphor for a reason – there is no simple answer, and often people become very heated when they share their view. The question posed, in some small way, challenges the concept that women in from Islamic countries are expected to be subjected to such treatment; which from my knowledge and study of Islamic doctrines taken directly from the Quran, is not in fact the case – nevertheless the treatment of women in Muslim countries makes that a hard idea to even entertain. The speaker suggests, with the question, that it is rather the society and culture we live in that allows GBV and FGM to happen systematically.

If communities in and outside of places where FGM in practiced can entertain such an idea for a moment, and humour the speaker, and take their minds of the shock-value factor in harrowing graphic images of suicide for example or the mutilation itself, there is one small benefit we can find:

If FGM is indeed cultural and not religious, if it is a product of our environment created by men without faith and correct practice of valued religious doctrines – then there is hope that we can change our culture of thinking once again; change our perspective on complicated subjects, or at the very least, open a discussion and try to understand it better.

I would like to take this opportunity to express my sincerest thanks to Joelle Taylor for your incredible contribution to not only this debate but poetry in general as means to reconcile and make sense of the world and ourselves.

I hope this is a worthy contribution to your songs that your enemy taught you site.

I look forward to learning more songs from you and your peers in the future.