Khadija Gbla didn’t realise she was a victim of genital mutilation until she was 13.
It had happened years before, in a remote town in the African country of Gambia. But Khadija didn’t know what was done to her until she was standing in a women’s centre in Adelaide, reading a brochure on female genital mutilation (FGM). All at once, she recognised herself.
“I was looking at a brochure and instantly I was drawn to FGM Type II (there are four types),” the now-28-year-old and founder of No FGM Australia told Mamamia.
“All the memories came back. Until then I had blocked it out.”
FGM Type II involves the removal of the clitoris and the labia minora. It can be done with or without the excision of the labia majora – in Khadija’s case, the labia majora was also excised. The other types range in severity. Some victims have the hood of the clitoris removed; some have their vagina “sealed” with only a small hole left for menstruation; others have their clitoris pricked or sliced to cause nerve damage. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), at least 200 million women worldwide are affected by FGM. It’s usually done to young, prepubescent girls, with the consent of a family member.
Khadija is one of the 83,000 women living in Australia who have suffered FGM. She immigrated to Australia after the mutilation, but young girls, growing up in Australia, are also having it done today. A report published last week, from the Australian Paediatric Surveillance Unit, found children living in Australia are presenting to paediatricians with FGM.
"We asked 1003 paediatricians about their experience with FGM," Professor of Paediatrics and Child Health at The University of Sydney Elizabeth Elliot, who was involved in the study, told Mamamia.
"Ten per cent had seen a child with FGM at least once in their career and 2.5 per cent - or 23 doctors - had seen 59 girls with FGM within the last five years."