We got the chance to have a chat with Rania Ibrahim who was recently named a modern day suffragette in an article by the BBC. The article took the time to look at women who are still ‘fighting for females in 2018’. Rania is campaigning to put an end to Female Gender Mutilation, and in speaking to Rania we got the opportunity to educate ourselves about FGM and how we too can work against it.
Thank you so much for taking the time to chat to us here at Her Campus Leeds.
First of all, could you tell us a little bit about you?
Of course! So my name is Rania Ibrahim, I’m a medical student. I study at the University of Bristol, I’ve completed 3 years and I’m loving it, it’s such a rewarding career path and a dream to hopefully be a doctor one day. I’m passionate about social and gender issues.
How does it feel to be named by the BBC as a modern-day suffragette?
I’m somewhere between over the moon and ecstatic! Truthfully, it just feels incredible to feel like you’re being heard. Although I mostly grew up in the UK, I’ve also lived in Saudi Arabia and Sudan, both of which are places where unfortunately women’s voices aren’t being heard as much. The suffragettes were inspirational so to even be compared to them is a privilege!
Could you explain to us a bit more about female genital mutilation?
So the World Health Organisation (WHO) defines FGM as all “procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” (1) In lay terms, it’s any cutting of the external genitalia, weather it be the clitoris (type 1), the labia along with the clitoris (type 2) or even both with subsequent sewing up of the area to preserve virginity (type 3). FGM is a violation of human rights and It comes with no health benefits to women. It has serious consequences such as infections, childbirth complications, haemorrhage, depression, flashbacks and increased risk of death for both new-borns and the women themselves. The consequences to a girls social and educational life are also debilitating. It takes a girl with type 3 a whole hour to be able to completely empty her bladder!
Do you work with any charities surrounding female genital mutilation? How did you first get involved in working against it?
Yes, I work with a youth charity called Integrate. (Check out their site here.) I’m an Outreach Worker with them. We tackle difficult social issues including FGM, grooming, radicalisation, child sexual exploitation and gang culture. We go into schools and health care settings to give talks and raise awareness and understanding.
My parents are originally from Sudan with some Egyptian roots, both of which are countries where the majority of girls have sadly been cut, around 90% in both countries(2)
Considering my roots, and also the fact that I’m a medical student, of all people, I should have been the first person to know about FGM, but even I was very ignorant until I joined Integrate. Only after joining did conversations start happening in my family and I regretfully found out that a significant number of girls in my family have had it done.
This is when the emotions and passion came flooding, and the cause started to really hit close to home. I was so angry at how little people talk about it, not only within my family and my country but also within the medical community. The lack of knowledge and awareness is unbearable.
In 2018, we like to think we’re pretty ‘evolved’, (some) women won the right to vote 100 years ago…So why do you think this is an issue in our modern society?
I think it comes down to a gender-based issue. I hate to sound like a hard-core feminist but I have to ask the question, would the knowledge and awareness around FGM be this little if it was a male issue? I personally think not. It would be all over the news and that speaks volumes. We clearly have a lot of work to do around equality and we’re not as far as we probably think we are. We’ve all heard about the gender pay-gap, the gender employment gap in general and the countless report of sexual harassment in the media. I hope to see the day where women politicians, surgeons and engineers are not seen as odd or out of place. We need to also facilitate women’s needs if we want to achieve equality as well! As a female doctor in training, being a surgeon is off-putting because if I ever want to have children, my career will have to be put on hold which makes my career prospects suffer. There’s even a stigma around pregnant surgeons, which is ludicrous! Measures should be put in place to not discriminate against basic needs like this and to allow for easy access and advice.
Is it widespread across the UK or is it concentrated in certain areas?
So according to the NHS there are 200 million girls affected by FGM worldwide and there are 137,000 living with FGM in the UK. (3)
In the UK, London has the highest prevalence with an estimated 2.1% of women affected by FGM. Outside London, Manchester, Slough, Bristol, Leicester and Birmingham also have high rates. (4)
It most commonly happens between the ages of 5-9. Abroad it happens mostly in Africa, the Middle East and Asia and girls are often at risk in the UK during the summer holidays where they are taken back to their countries of origins giving them enough time to “heal” from the procedure.
Obviously it’s appalling and I feel like so many people will be shocked they haven’t head more about it in the media. What can people be doing to put an end to this horrendous surgery?
Education, understanding and breaking the taboo. The power education holds is so compelling and influential. Likewise, understanding harbours so much cohesion, which is the only way we can combat FGM. A lot of these communities are carrying out FGM not because they’re sadistic or hate their children! We have to understand their reasons. They think it’s the right thing to do, they genuinely think it’s a form of purification in a similar way to male circumcision. Anyone with a basic education is able to realise how false that is! FGM and male circumcision are not analogous and that’s part of the education and knowledge we are trying to share. Another factor is hopefully implementing mandatory FGM training in our medical curriculums, which currently doesn’t exist. I hope everyone who’s read this can now feel they can speak up and start conversations to break the stigma and taboo these delicate issues carry.
Please follow IntegrateUK_ on twitter, Facebook and instagram and listen to the song #myclitoris on youtube! Following their social media channels is a great way to keep updated with their work across the UK but also find out more information about FGM.
Thank you so much for chatting to us Rania, it has certainly been educational and eyeopening to say the least.