One of the specialized types of evaluations I conduct are with women who have undergone Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) procedures. These brutal mutilations are still performed, according to the World Health Organization, in 28 countries, mainly in Africa and the Middle East. Because this practice is so physically and emotionally harmful, women who have undergone FGM are considered for asylum applications. My evaluations help to describe the life-long negative consequences these procedures nearly always cause.
The women I have met with report having their FGM as young as in infancy up until as old at 12 or 13. Many are so young they don’t remember the actual procedure. For those that do remember it, they often describe PTSD-like reactions, with high startle responses, flashbacks and avoidance and fear of anyone who reminded them of the event. They also describe a change in socialization, going from having been more outgoing and confident prior to the FGM, to becoming withdrawn and self-conscious afterward. Over time, these feelings become more specific to relationships with men. Nearly all the women I have interviewed admit that they feel like they are somehow not whole or real women, that because their most sensitive female body part has been mutilated, that they are somehow not able to be fully feminine, or to please a man intimately.
For many of the women I meet with, talking to me about their experience is one of the few times they have ever admitted to or discussed this event. Despite the fact that they were usually raised in communities where many young girls experienced FGMs, they never vocalized what they went through. Growing up with a feeling that they were not supposed to talk about their FGM added to the feeling that it was shameful and secretive. These women all feel that they are carrying around a horrible secret that will only be discovered if they ever enter into a romantic relationship. Because of this, many avoid relationships entirely. Others enter into relationships, but nearly all report problems with intimacy, and none have reported enjoying intimacy, but instead enduring it for their partner’s sake. I often meet with women who have had to let go of their dream of ever having children, having passed their childbearing years and not been able to engage in a long-term relationship.
The stigma of the FGM, and the additional shame of living illegally in this country, can cause these women to completely isolate themselves. Many have suffered from a Major Depressive Disorder for years. Frequently they report having difficulty forming relationships even with women, feeling withdrawn and alone.
For these women who have endured so much hardship and pain, the prospect of gaining their legal status and being able to access educational and vocational opportunities, is the one hope they have for their futures. My reports lend a voice to these immigrants who have carried around such a heavy burden for so long.