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Keynote Speaker: Dr Leyla Hussein

Melanie Douglas, SI Downpatrick

Today’s session by Leyla Hussein on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) was emotive, hard to listen to but real.

It was a true, shocking, raw and educational presentation delivered by a survivor who wants to end this practice, campaign for laws that truly protect all women and girls and who wants to help survivors on their journey to healing.

A powerful presentation with the delegates moved to tears.

Below is a short summary of FGM , followed by Leyla’s story and work.

FGM – The procedure

  • Generally done without anaesthetic
  • Special knives – the sharper knives are more expensive
  • Carried out with legs closed
  • There are different types of FGM – Clitoridectomy, excision, infibulation

Long term effects of FGM

  • Sexual Discomfort
  • Trauma
  • Complications with labour

Short Term effects of FGM

  • Pain on urination
  • Retention of urine
  • Severe pain
  • Haemorrhage
  • Infections
  • Fractures
  • Death

Signs and risks to identify girls and women who have been subjected to FGM

  • Girls have gone on long holidays
  • Taking a long time to urinate
  • Girls not wanting to take part in sports


  • Follow safeguarding issue – this is difficult in cultures where FGM is prevalent and part of cultural practice
  • Laws have been tightened but this still has a long way to go.

#HerStory The Women Whose Shoulders I Sand on

Leyla has come from a long line of activists, came from a Somali family. Had to undergo FGM before she started school. She is a survivor

FGM is child abuse, sex abuse, violation of human rights. It is not an African, muslim or a black thing. It is widespread.

Children are groomed to believe this is right for them. At the age of 7 Leyla was told that in order to have friends she had to have FGM performed.

This is a global problem. If you google FGM stories, you will find articles that show FGM across the global. FGM is about controlling women’s sexuality.

First period, first pregnancy, first birth – FGM affects you during your entire life. The body remembers the shock of FGM.

Dahlia project

Leyla created a counselling service for FGM. The service offers group and 1 to 1 support. The psychological impact is huge.

The victim of FGM comes to the FGM counselling service. Many suffer from PTSD, Fear of sex, mother/daughter relationship, depression and anxiety. Many women feel resentment- against schools, clinics and the system that was supposed to protect them.

Many women also have been victims of

  • Sexual abuse
  • Domestic abuse
  • Child marriage
  • Economical abuse
  • Child trafficking
  • Breast Ironing

Women can be potential perpetrators – women are indoctrinated and can allow it happen to their daughter.
The counsellors are highly specialised and in near future will be producing guidelines for practicing clinicians.
A pre-assessment determines the women’s needs – this includes practical help and also agreement on the terminology used. It is very important to ensure that women are as comfortable as possible.

Leyla finished by reiterating the importance of self-care when campaigning and working on difficult issues. She acknowledged the important work of Soroptimists and urged us to take care of ourselves to ensure we are best able to take care of others.

Captivating, tear jerking and intellectually stimulating. FGM is abuse and needs to stop NOW.