At seven in Grade Two, I could cover my own exercise books; first the brown paper, neat corners, sticky tape, then a cheerful picture from an old greeting card stuck on with clag and finally a layer of smooth plastic. I was so good at this, my friend Leonie wanted me to cover her books too. That made me incredibly pleased with myself.
I could hardly wait for Old Miss McConky to read another chapter of The Magic Faraway Tree every afternoon. One sunny day after school Cheryl asked me to go to her house because she had some nail polish. We could paint our nails. I’d never done that before!
Giggling with excitement we raced across the park. But my secure little life was about to change. I was about to lose my innocence. There was a man in a car driving really slowly and smiling at me. At ME! Not Cheryl! It was ME he liked and I smiled back, blonde fringe and dimples and pretty dress.
That was the day I was molested by a stranger; the day I started to believe I was dirty and there was something wrong with me. It was my secret. I was a good girl on the outside but I was bad inside, full of guilt, full of shame. It was my fault because I was so silly to get in his car. And then there were the nightmares. He was coming through the window to kill me with a knife, or a gun. I would scream and climb into bed with mum, sobbing and trembling.
This is why I understand and empathise, with every fibre of my being, what it’s like to be a happy little girl skipping along enjoying childhood innocence and then suddenly one act, just one single trauma, changes you, shames you, forever.
The little girl in Africa, dark skin, tight curls, beautiful smile, big brown eyes, is dancing through the desert dust to class to learn and sing and laugh. After school she helps her mummy make family meals and she plays with her pet goat. One day this sweet child is taken to a terrifying secret place, held down, her tiny legs are forced apart and her tender parts sliced off with a razor blade, blood gushing, the wound sealed with thorns, the pain swamps her body and crushes her heart, destroying her trust forever.
In this troubled world, there are so many problems to solve, so much cruelty to stop, so many worthy causes to champion. Which one will I choose? The issue of female genital mutilation breaks my heart and outrages my mind because I was once an innocent little girl who suffered a life-changing trauma too.
My experience of being molested was traumatic but doesn’t compare in magnitude to the extreme trauma of being mutilated. If the little African girl survives the shock, the blood loss and infection, she will suffer for the rest of her life; every time she wees it hurts, and later, every time she menstruates is agony. Having sex with her husband will be excruciating, not pleasure. And childbirth; a horrendous, life-threatened ordeal.
8000 girls a day are subjected to FGM; three million girls a year globally. 200 million women around the world live with the post traumatic emotional and physical damage of being mutilated as children. Yes this is a cause that demands attention. Our genitals are a source of power. Female empowerment depends on stopping this violent crime.
There’s another reason I can relate to this disturbing issue, even though I’m a pale-faced, mature-aged woman who grew up in suburban Australia and is now living in rural England, not a remote village in Somalia, Ethiopia, Uganda, Sudan or Kenya.
For 12 years, after giving birth to my second child, I suffered undiagnosed endometriosis. Every month I was incapacitated with overwhelming menstrual pain until a hysterectomy at 44 ended my roller coaster of suffering.
Now I want to join the fight to stop the needless suffering of other women because a lifetime of pain is preventable. Empowerment is possible. The empowerment of future generations of women all over the world begins with the end of this widespread, disempowering abuse.
Of all the worthy causes in this troubled world, stopping FGM is a cause worth fighting for. Will you join the fight to protect innocent little girls from the worst form of child abuse?