Book Review - Cut by Hibo Wardere

Hibo Wardere endured the barbaric practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in her native Somalia when she was just six years old. It is an experience she has never forgotten and one that prompted her to speak out against this brutal tradition. FGM continues to be illegally practised in the UK despite having been banned in the mid-1980s. Latest figures from the NHS suggest that around 137,000 women in the UK are affected by FGM. The final tally could be much higher owing to the secrecy surrounding this inhumane abuse of young girls.

Wardere begins her hugely accessible and compelling book with a graphic description of her own ordeal: “Terror ripped through my body in a shattering wave, as my lungs struggled under the weight of arms that crushed them; as my legs were forced into excruciating angles; as the cutter gripped her dirty razor and flicked the skin between my legs”. During the conflict in Somalia, Wardere fled to the UK and later married a fellow Somalian. They agreed that their daughters would not be cut. Wardere writes with unflinching honesty about the difficulties she had coming to terms with what she perceived as her mother’s betrayal, the pain associated with sex and giving birth and the hostility she has experienced in her own community for her outspokenness.

FGM is prevalent in twenty-nine countries in Africa and in parts of the Middle East and Asia. Many believe cutting a woman’s genital organs curtails her sexuality and prevents promiscuity. It is also considered proof of a woman’s virginity and is associated with family honour. Education is key, Wardere argues, and this also involves the re-education of fathers: “until men stand up against FGM and say, ‘I do not want this done to girls in my name’, the practice will continue”. She advocates “zero intolerance” towards the practice, claiming that any fear of “offending different cultures” is far outweighed by issues of child protection. She leaves no room for doubt. “If a visible part of the body was cut – an ear, an arm – would the practice then be seen differently?” Wardere recognizes, however, the problems faced by the police and law-enforcement agencies: “Girls and young women refusing to testify against their parents is one of the major reasons why there has not been one successful prosecution in thirty years”.

Cut is a courageous and heartfelt condemnation of a terrible violation against women which urgently needs to be stamped out.

Originally published by the TLS