Tag Archives: Bearing Witness


This is a poem I wrote after seeing Pratibha Parmar’s film “Warrior Marks and reading Alice Walker’s Book, Possessing the Secret of Joy about Female Genital Mutilation.

PURIFICATION (Published in “Did I Tell You? 131 poems for Children in Need, Wordaid, 2010.)

 The girls spat at me, frothing like hyenas,

shouting, “kintirleey”. They rubbed mud

 into my face telling me I was dirty

but I was wearing a crisp white shirt.

At home I cried and my grandmother sent cold

looks to Mama.


 Mama went back to our old village to stay

while my auntie had her baby. Our new house

lost its dance and song. My grandmother

smiled like a crocodile. I felt sad. I felt naked

to the eyes of her sisters and cousins whispering

on the courtyard steps.


My first term of school ended. I woke to voices

chanting. My grandmother fetched me

telling me this was a special day,

telling me that the other girls would like me now,

telling me that the dirty thing that grew between my legs 

was going to be taken away.


In her room there was a table with a clean white cloth.

There were lots of aunties and a man with a mole on his chin

and a gold front tooth. They told me to lay on the table.

My grandmother leaned across my chest and held me down.

Her breath was sweet as she moved across my face to whisper,

“the kintir will be removed now”.


Two of them take off my panties and hold my legs out far apart.

I can’t breathe enough to let out the scream sitting in my throat.

The man takes a pair of scissors from his bag and pulls my skin

down there. I feel sick. My body explodes into my head. I’m dying.

I wake and shake, see blood and shake, pee a burning fire and die again.

 They sew me up like a football. 

They tie my legs together.


My grandmother grows soft during the days

she tends to my wounds. She hums and washes me

telling me to be very still. She smiles and strokes my forehead

telling me, “You are pure now.”


The Cruel Cut Channel 4 documentary was shown last night and I was appalled to hear that despite the thousands of young girls who are mutilated and abused in this way, this practice goes on in the UK without any one case having being brought to justice. Please sign the petition below to make sure this practice is stopped here:

 I enclose the summary to be found on the Channel 4 website with details of a petition we can sign to help stop this practice.

Leyla Hussein is an anti-FGM activist, psychotherapist, a member of the FGM Special Initiative and co-founder of Daughters of Eve, a charity dedicated to ending gender-based violence including female genital mutilation. She writes:

‘FGM is one of the worst physical and psychological scars a girl can be left with. I was cut when I was 7 years old. I didn’t know what Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) was until the day it happened to me.

I remember speaking to Katie Piper at the Cosmopolitan award show in 2010. She came up to me and told me that she had been touched by my story and she understood what I had been through but realised that whilst her scar is outwardly visible, for survivors of FGM their scars are hidden from view.

There are many of us silent survivors of FGM in the UK; it could be the girl sat next to you on the bus, someone you work with, a girl in your child’s class at school. I want to give them a voice and encourage the government to take action. You can help stop FGM by signing the petition at http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/52740. If we get 100,000 signatures our petition will be considered for discussion in the House of Commons.

FGM is child abuse and needs to be stopped. One misconception is that it is similar to male circumcision. It’s much more painful and can lead to serious and sometimes life-threatening complications and there is no medical reason to do it. Another misconception is that it is something only practiced by Muslims however FGM has nothing to do with religion and isn’t mentioned in any of the Holy Books or condoned by any religion.

We seem to have been picking and choosing which children matter and that needs to stop. This is happening to British girls and the numbers are staggering – more than 24,000 are at risk and over 66,000 women are living with the consequences of FGM. It is time we took a stand.

Despite increased activities around FGM recently, we’re still failing to effectively stop this form of child abuse. We have multi-agency guidelines here that are not statutory and very little is practically being done at local level. Funding is minimal and noone is monitoring the situation or holding anyone to account, so let’s push the Home Office to take responsibility for drawing up and enforcing a National Strategy and Action Plan to eliminate FGM in the UK.

You could save a girl – and every signature counts. Sign the petition athttp://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/52740

You can join the conversation on Twitter using #StopFGM

Leyla Hussein
  • Leyla Hussein


Some films of war show victims that are so helpless and hopeless that all I can think to do is to write a poem to honour the victims and bear witness to the reality of what they went through:


A Channel 4 News Documentary shown in November 2013 filmed the Killing Fields in Sri Lanka in 2009 where 40,000 Tamils, including many women and children, were massacred.

I see your pictures.

Your children look like

my children.

Your love looks like

my love.

I see you shooed

into an ever decreasing

space and being told it is safe.

You gouge bunkers

with your rawboned hands,

place your children in first

and scramble in behind them.

Shrapnel smashes into their bones, into your bones.

The earth is stampeded with savagery,

a flood of red evaporates

into a malodour as any shape of life

is beaten from beautifully wrapped gifts

and is blown away in the wind.

I see your pictures.