This week, Global Woman P.E.A.C.E. Foundation sits down in An Exclusive with a wise young lady, Aisha Hagan. She is a fascinating woman to whom we should listen. Her story is not just another FGM story. She wants education in her community and the world.
GWPF: Aisha, tell us where you are from originally?
Aisha Hagan: I am originally from Sierra Leone in West Africa.
GWPF: What part of Sierra Leone did you come from?
Aisha Hagan: I come from the Western Area of Sierra Leone.
GWPF: Tell us what it was like growing up in Sierra Leone.
Aisha Hagan: Growing up in Sierra Leone had the good side and the bad side. I enjoyed hanging out with my friends, playing pranks on people, coming together during holidays to celebrate… It did not matter which celebration – on Eid-ul Fitr, we would go from door to door visiting our families and friends, and we did the same on Christmas. On Easter and New Year, we went to the beach. On the other hand, I hated the school system; they would beat kids for silly stuff like reciting the time-tables incorrectly. Children were forced to purchase whatever the teacher had to sell because the teachers were not paid well. Most times, the teachers took their anger and frustrations out on the innocent kids. I also disliked the fact that drivers were not made to stop for the children when we crossed the streets. Another thing I disliked about growing up in Sierra Leone is that the parents and guardians often sent the children to the market to sell goods, which exposed kids to a lot of bad things. I was raped when I was only 5 years old and no one took notice that I was suffering. The people trusted their neighbors and other adults to the extent that they did not care if an adult took advantage of their children or not. That, I found to be really sad.
GWPF: With Sierra Leone being a highly FGM practicing country, were you subjected to FGM as a child?
Aisha Hagan: Yes, I was subjected to female genital mutilation, after I had been raped.
GWPF: At which age did you undergo female genital mutilation?
Aisha Hagan: I experienced FGM at the age of 10 years old.
GWPF: What do you think needs to be done to protect little girls from FGM?
Aisha Hagan: I think we need massive comprehensive education on the health risks and effects of FGM.
GWPF: What are some of the personal affects you remember suffering as a child as the result of FGM?
Aisha Hagan: I remember bleeding for two full days; I was fortunate to survive, and it took me many months to physically heal.
GWPF: What are some of the current affects as an adult you still suffer from the result of FGM?
Aisha Hagan: I’m currently getting a divorce because of FGM. I lost two babies during childbirth because I was so badly scarred from FGM; the only surviving child I now have was through Caesarean Section. Going to visit a physician is a huge problem for me. My whole life is one big mess because of FGM. My self-esteem has hit rock bottom.
GWPF: Tell us how you have been able to overcome the trauma of FGM.
Aisha Hagan: Even though I had reconstructive surgery in 2014, I’m still struggling with the whole FGM experience, which is very painful psychologically. The only thing that keeps me going is my daughter. I owe it to her and all other little girls like her to share my story, and hopefully people will listen and learn about this awful practice.
GWPF: What are some of the steps you think anti-FGM activists and advocates need to take to best assist survivors?
Aisha Hagan: I think the first step is counseling. I think it helps a lot if a survivor talks about it. I’m sure it will not go away entirely but it helps lessen the emotional pain. Secondly, I don’t want to go to a doctor who will stare at me like I’m from another planet. After all, it is not my fault; I was subjected to it. So I think more doctors should be trained and made aware of FGM and the trauma that goes with it. I know that several doctors do, but from my own experience, it makes me very uncomfortable when the doctors stared at me prior to my surgery. I know that they don’t mean it in a bad way but it is due to ignorance or lack of knowledge.
GWPF: From a health care perspective, what are some of the needs that exist in the communities?
Aisha Hagan: As I said earlier, massive education in the communities and in the health care sector.
GWPF: What advice do you have for young mothers with daughters to protect them?
Aisha Hagan: I don’t think any mother should put their daughters through FGM. I want all the mothers who are thinking of doing this to their daughters to know that they are destroying them. Those mothers are snuffing off their light before it even begins to shine. I want you mothers to know that FGM has no benefit physically and emotionally. It is painful, horrific and barbaric. Please, if you want to bring up a healthy and happy child, and not a child who will be miserable for the rest of her life, do not put her through FGM. Please, do some research and know everything about FGM, and see if it’s worth it.
GWPF: Finally, do you have an appeal to the world leaders about the practice of FGM?
Aisha Hagan: I want to make an appeal, especially to the government of Sierra Leone. Please do not use FGM to gain votes from your constituents. Please help the kids instead of using them. Don’t you see that you’re destroying the children? Please help stop this practice now!
Remember to tune in for another Exclusive in next week’s edition when we hear from another fascinating woman!