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‘Once a Survivor, Twice a Victim’

Updated: Jul 10

Yap Xin Ran sat down with Youth Ambassador for the EU End FGM Network Alya Harding to discuss FGM in the UK, the meaning behing the title of her upcoming workshop at BAME Birthing With Colour and motivation to campaign against FGM

Alya Harding (left): Amplifying the voices of victims and building understanding


Around 137,000 survivors of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) are currently living in England and Wales says Alya Harding who will be leading a workshop on FGM together with Naana Otoo-Oyortey at upcoming conference BAME Birthing With Colour.


"The NHS annual statistical publication for FGM in 2017 stated that there were 5391 newly recorded cases of FGM," says Ms Harding. "Of those newly recorded cases, 112 occurred in girls who were actually born in the UK. It seems like a small percentage, but it is enough to show that FGM is not an African issue, and it is happening to British girls. Of those 112 cases, 57 cases occurred within the UK, and the majority are'Type 4'.


Type 4 has a very wide definition and there’s an assumption within practising communities that these types (rangng from piercing to cauterisation) are the “least harmful types”.


A lot of girls don’t even know they’re cut until they become pregnant. They don't know what type of FGM they have because either they don’t want to know, or they’re not aware of the different types

"All types are harmful," says Ms Harding. "We’re also seeing an increase of medicalisation. This is the growth of health professionals carrying out FGM. It’s seen as a way of decreasing the risk of girls dying or having further complications down the line. A lot of girls don’t even know they’re cut until they become pregnant. They don't know what type of FGM they have because either they don’t want to know, or they’re not aware of the different types.

"If you are a first-time mother and a survivor, your pregnancy automatically becomes high risk, so there will be a lot of specialists taking care of you, who are in charge of FGM patients. With 'Type 3', infibulation, some girls are stitched up. They need to be either cut open, or have a cesarean performed which can lead to further, painful complications."


I was shocked to discover this... especially in a lecture and not from my family

Ms Harding first learnt about FGM while studying at Portsmouth University. "I was in a lecture about harmful cultural practices when I was shown a slide with a map about the prevalence of FGM. Sierra Leone was on the map. I was shocked to see the country on the map as I am of Sierra Leonean heritage and am proud of my culture... and doubly so I learnt this in a lecture, and not from my family.


"I started reaching out to local campaigns in Portsmouth and I was able to join the International Zero Tolerance of FGM in 2017. That's when I would say my journey began. I decided to take a placement year, which is how I started interning for FORWARD UK, a women's rights organisation tackling FGM and other forms of violence against women and girls."


Ms Harding says that the last three years campaigning against FGM have confirmed "there is a dark and shameful FGM victim narrative." This can be attributed to the practice being done on girls and against their will.


At BAME Birthing With Colour Ms Harding will be leading a workshop exploring how FGM impacts BAME maternity. The workshop is themed ‘Once a Survivor, Twice a Victim’.


A medical examination can trigger trauma

"You are a victim when it happens to you. You overcome it but then can face a multitude of other challenges. For example: when expecting a child medical examination can trigger trauma. Then there are wider societal assumptions and prejudice. These include an assumption that if it happened to you, you will automatically do it to your child. What can follow is invasive home visits from the authorities once the child is born."


These issues explain Ms Harding's decision to get involved in BAME Birthing With Colour. "This event is performing a vital service in amplifying the voices of women who deeply understand what is going on and connecting those voices with those shaping policy and carrying it out."


About Alya Harding

Alya Harding is studying for a degree in International Development at the University of

Portsmouth. She is a Youth Ambassador for the EU End FGM Network and is

committed to spreading awareness of FGM and key-related issues.


Together with Naana Otoo-Oyortey MBE, Ms Harding will be leading a workship on FGM at BAME Birthing With Colour.

About BAME Maternity Birthing With Colour

BAME Maternity Birthing With Colour is a one day conference organised by registered charity The Brun Bear Foundation in association with a top team of healthcare professionals led by Helen Knower, Director of Midwifery, Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust.

The conference’s objectives are to draw together medical professionals, policy makers, the third sector, community groups and mothers themselves for an outstanding programme that helps shape, deliver, direct and influence higher standards of BAME Maternity care.

Proceeds from the day – which is being organised on an entirely voluntary basis – will support relevant medical and other causes.

For more information including speaking, attendance, sponsorship, media and supporting organisation opportunities please email team@bamematernity.com

To secure your ticket please visit www.bamematernity.com

Author: Yap Xin Ran

Subeditor: Edwin Lampert

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