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A Cry for Help

May 5, 2017

12.05.27-30 seared red 066This is a deeply alarming account of female genital mutilation (FGM), female subjugation and the consequences of extra-marital sex in a village near Cairo, the capital of Egypt. The tale Sabha (Siba) Azeez shares here reaches back to the 1980s, and the level of oppression and cruelty experienced then by women such as the narrator is distressing.  But even today FGM and other gendered violence continues almost unabated in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Over 90% of Egyptian women and older girls have experienced FGM, and recent research indicates that even now three quarters of Egyptian men, and over half Egyptian women, support continuation of this harmful traditional practice for ‘cultural’ reasons. Likewise, despite the emerging hopes and ambitions of their sisters, young Arab men, almost as much as their elders, do not hold equitable views about women.  Things, it seems, have not changed much since this sad tale began…

A CRY FOR HELP

I was a normal girl with an ordinary life. I was the youngest of a poor and very struggling family. I enjoyed being the most spoiled child between my family members, at least by my dad, as my mom has always had a tendency towards boys.

I was happy – though we had a lot of family issues – with no responsibilities, accompanying my parents to the fields and my sister to the wedding parties where she used to dance on drums (there were no DJs yet) the traditional dance, jumping up and down in a circle with her friends. I used to be called ‘the girl with the blond hair’ in a community of dark people, which made me feel so special.

I barely knew my mom as she was always working day and night to provide for us, so I was completely attached to my sister who took care of me and another brother who was about one year older than me.

One day, came my sister and said to me: let’s give you a bath because there’s a wedding party on the opposite side of our house. We went together then my sister vanished. I found myself alone with a number of young men who grabbed me, put me down on a table, and then opened my legs for an old white haired man.

I was shocked and understood nothing, I fought and managed to free my hands of them and gave the old man a strong slap on his face. He felt pain in both his face and most importantly his dignity. He said: ‘Oh, dog’s daughter, I swear to God I will cut all of it for you.’

Then the young men took back control over my body and tied me securely to the table. The old man cruelly planted a syringe needle in the most sensitive and painful part between my legs, I felt pain like hell, started to screaming shouting and crying. I tried to find someone to rescue me. My eyes searched between the women in black sitting there, and saw my mom. She was crying for me.

The operation ended and I don’t know how long it lasted or how it ended, I woke up to find myself wrapped with an enormous amount of gauze and cotton between my legs and around my waist.  The old man was generous enough to wrap me in order not to let me die because of bleeding after he had removed all my sex organs. And my generous mom cooked me some chicken.

As a 9 or 10-year-old child I couldn’t do anything but bury this memory along with my childhood. I lost trust in the family; I turned into an introvert person and the most important thing NO weddings. I pretended nothing had happened and completely avoided that part of me they used to hurt me.

I repeatedly had two constant dreams, in one of them I was alone with my mom in a garden of orange trees, their stems were long and their branches were too close like the trees in the rainy forests where no sun lights are allowed down, only the shadows. In that dream, my mom used to tie me down for a retarded middle aged man to rape me.

The other dream I had more often than the first was about my sister.  I used to dream of her tied by strange men in the dark and I am frightened for her. She was silent while I was terrified for her and I tried to scream and shout for help, in my dreams I honestly tried to scream from deep down my body; but not a single sound came out of my throat. No matter how hard I tried I was voiceless.

Barely anyone noticed the harm which had been done to me. They thought I had forgotten and everything was back to normal. Even I continued my life and didn’t stop to question what happened and why, as our life never lacked excitement. My dad used to mistreat my mother and she never stopped provoking him.

My eldest brother used to imitate the father’s role with my eldest sisters, until one of them burned herself. I was too young to be aware of that tragedy, I was playing with my friends while my mum was shouting and screaming and then neighbours took us away. I cannot hold my tears for that sister, though I feel happy that my mother still suffers the pain of losing her, more than thirty years after her death.

My mother is a weird person. I am still convinced that she should never have married. She is illiterate and she was taught literally nothing about anything in life but physical and hard work as a farmer. I have to admit that she suffered a lot.  She lost her dad in her early years, and when her mother remarried, her half brothers forced her to choose between her mother or them.

Surprisingly, she chose the brothers over her mom, and consequently lost both parents. She made her choice based on the common culture of overestimating males regardless how irresponsible they are, and underestimating females regardless of how hard they work; and this how I can justify why mom kept herself stuck to my late dad though she’s always believed she was a better and harder worker than him. She kept on complaining and provoking him, but only once tried to leave him because he’s the man and she’s only the woman.

So my mom grew up with half brothers and their wives. They partially took care of her physical health; feeding and shelter were provided but they never had conversations with her, only orders and demanding hard work in the fields like the men. She was beautiful woman and it is apparent on her face, with her white skin, beautiful lips, pointed nose and one big brown eye – the other one had suffered serious disease before her marriage. That eye was severely harmed, occasionally she mentioned that they took worms out of her ill eye.

What confuses me is that my mom still loved and cherished her mother despite the fact she had given up her daughter without a struggle and did not fight for her, and she respected her brothers despite their separating her from her mother.

Even if I wrote a book about my mom, it would not be enough to describe and analyse her complicated personality. She was and still is a ball of negative fire. She made gods of men and slaves of women.

My experience completely shaped my life. I realized that my back is uncovered and anything I have to face, no one will be by my side.

Somehow I turned all my care and attention to education; and even this became a strange story.

There was a male teacher who used to beat me along with other educationally weak students, I used to escape from school until a kind female teacher talked to me gently about the reason I did not come to school and she encouraged me to answer a math question and I did it, then she praised me in front of the class. I felt a self-esteem I never experienced before. Then I started to go to school constantly. Education became my addiction. I studied hard almost all the time and did not, fewer times.

For sixteen years I continued my education and graduated with a bachelor degree at 22 years of age. At no time did I have any contact with male colleagues. All my friends were girls. They never allowed a man into my life and I never tried to approach one. I was aggressive and kept pushing them away. I feared if I allowed any near me I would be hurt again.

In my community, only the woman is to blame for any love affairs with a man; he is not blamed at all. And this blame varies between bullying and patronizing to severe physical harm. I witnessed one such tragedy at the age of 12. I distinctly remember it.

All the villagers talked about a young girl and an aborted dead baby boy who was thrown into a small creek. There was gossiping about her everywhere, even a student in my class told the teacher about a rumour that someone saw something in the water and it was a small child. I felt huge anger for the girl and great empathy with her. I remember that I verbally attacked a classmate because she had the same family name as the young man accused of having sex with that girl, leaving her pregnant whilst he then ran away fearing to be killed. It was a catastrophe for the girl.

One day, her eldest brother locked her in the bathroom and forced her to spill fuel on herself and then set herself on fire.  He claimed that an old fashioned stove exploded whilst his sister was using it to heat water and take a bath. She was buried on a rainy winter night. My anger never decayed, especially that the boy came back later, got married and formed a family.

Another incident from Islam history relates the story of a woman who had sex with a man and got pregnant. She came to the prophet Mohamed and confessed her sin. He told her to go back home until she give birth to her child. She returned to him after her delivery, and he allowed her time to breastfeed her newborn baby. After all she came back and was killed by people throwing stones at her.

The woman was executed for the sin of having sex without marriage. No mention for her partner in that sin. And no investigations were done to find him and make him have the same fate as her.

POSTSCRIPT

I am a woman who was punished for nothing.  Eventually most other women accept traditional ways and insist on inflicting this punishment on their girls; but I refused to break my girls’ confidence in me and themselves.
I am grateful for my suffering and to my irresponsible and immature husband. Failing me and letting me down has made me the strong woman I am now, but I still have some remaining fears which I have to overcome.

I can be contacted via  sibaazeez1977 [at] gmail [dot] com

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This NoFGM website is owned and edited by Hilary Burrage, an authority on female genital mutilation (FGM).  Hilary’s introduction and general information about FGM can be found here, or for a more detailed, referenced discussion of FGM, you may like also to read her post Female Genital Mutilation: An Introduction To The Issues, And Suggested Reading and see her two books on this subject:

Eradicating Female Genital Mutilation: A UK Perspective (Hilary Burrage, Ashgate / Routledge 2015).   Contents and reviews  here.
FEMALE MUTILATION: The truth behind the horrifying global practice of female genital mutilation  (Hilary Burrage, New Holland Publishers 2016).   Contents and reviews  here.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. May 29, 2017 9:58 pm

    This piece is so powerful and amply demonstrates one superiority of qualitative over quantitative research. Numbers simply can’t orchestrate the multi-layered complexity of the experience nor reach out to readers’ emotions. Yet without emotional involvement that strengthens resolve, and empathic allies willing to take the back of individuals like the writer, things will continue at the snail’s pace seen so far. Thank you to courageous Siba Azezz and Hilary Burrage for disseminating this work of art.

    Liked by 1 person

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