“Get your mitts off my muff.”
Nimco Ali was just 7 years old when she underwent the most severe form of female genital mutilation (FGM).
Now 32, the Somali-born activist has spent her adult life campaigning against the brutal practice, vowing to be the last woman in her family to be subjected to it.
“I knew it was bullshit then,” she said in a recent profile in the Anne Summers Review, but says like many other survivors, she kept silent about what had happened to her for nearly a decade and a half.
It wasn’t until Ali had graduated from her studies at the University of Bristol that she began to realise that her experience was not rare or unique.
She was working in child protection services in the UK and giving a talk to some young Somali students, when one asked about FGM, which triggered a conversation within the group.
“I was shocked, completely shocked, that twelve out of thirteen had been cut,” she said.
“Here was this population of girls I never knew existed.”
A video explaining the practice from UK organisation Daughter’s of Eve (post continues after):
The United Nations estimates that between 100 million and 140 million women and girls worldwide have been “cut”.
We often consider FGM to be a practice that occurs in other counties — certainly it is most prevalent in Africa and the Middle East — but it happens in Australia too.
As many as 83,000 women and girls in Australia may have had their genitals mutilated as part of cultural or other practices, according to advocacy group No FGM Australia.
While no official government data has been collected here, the group estimates that three girls a day are at risk of cutting in Australia, despite it being illegal in all states and territories.
It is also illegal to remove children from the county for the purpose of FGM, and all suspected cases must be reported.
At present, the first ever Australian prosecution of an alleged case of FGM is under way in the New South Wales Supreme Court involving two young sisters who were just six and seven when their mother organised for them to undergo the procedure.
In the UK, Ali has spearheaded a campaign against the tradition, grabbing the media’s attention with her “fanny suit” — which she wears to rallies — and “muff marches” (protests against the increasing numbers of labiaplasty operations).
She refers to herself as the “fanny defender.”
Ali actively rejects terminology or cultural excuses used to justify and legitimise FGM as anything other than child abuse, a sentiment echoed on the No FGM Australia website:
“Female genital mutilation is a form of violence, predominantly committed against children. It is not only child abuse, but serious sexual abuse, grievous bodily harm and a violation of human rights. There is no excuse, whether religious or cultural, for violence against children.”
Ali is in Australia as a keynote speaker at a conference to mark 40 years since the publication of Anne Summers’ feminist classic Damned Whores and God’s Police. She will be appearing in conversation with Anne Summers at the University of Sydney, Sydney on Thursday September 24 and at Deakin Edge, Federation Square, Melbourne on Monday September 28.