November 25, 2020

Universal Children's Day Series-- Maryam Sheikh and her Fight to End FGM

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the ICPNC.

This is the story of Maryam Sheikh,  a Human Rights and End FGM activist , who was identified as one of 100 Black Women to watch in Canada in 2020 after only one year of being here.


I was cut at six years old. I still remember that day. The sharp cut. The unbearable pain. And the aftermath. I went through the most severe type of female genital mutilation, infibulation. They sewed everything together and left only a tiny opening. I recall the pain during the grueling three-hour journey home after that day in the Bush. We couldn’t walk; we had to shuffle through the hot sand because our legs were tied together from the thighs to the toes.  I remember the pain and the burning when I peed. I recall the fear two weeks later, when the cutter came back to check her handiwork, fearing I would be cut again if I wasn’t ‘closed enough.’  Yet this was something I had looked forward to because it had to happen. Because every girl had to go through it. Terrified about the impending pain, I still looked forward to going through it. That is the kind of brainwashing that takes place. And at only six years old, what could I do other than comply?

Years later, at 24, I was stunned to learn that a friend of mine was not cut, yet she was a Muslim. I was brought up believing that Female Genital Mutilation was Islamic and a must do for every girl. I’ve since learned the most liberating piece of information-that FGM has no basis in Islam. On the contrary, it violates Islamic teaching on the human rights of women and girls.  It’s a message I have owned and share with my people and the world to save girls from FGM.  Fighting female genital mutilation is a most challenging task for me as a survivor because it is such a personal issue, and I want it to stop right about now which is not possible. That’s frustrating and heart wrenching too. But it is the knowledge of the pain that pushes me. I don’t want another girl to go through it.

When I had my daughter, I was determined that she would not be cut. But the pressure on girls is enormous.  Relatives told her she was beautiful but if she wasn’t cut, she would be ugly; that she would grow horrible organs that looked like fangs of snakes; that she would smell of urine all the time; that her whole class would smell like kintir-like clitoris. Seeing her innocent eyes look at me for confirmation of the urine or the snake was just too painful. No amount of hugs or reassuring words were enough to counter those messages.  That’s how I came to cross the Atlantic.  I could save my nine-year-old from mutilation in my native Kenya, but not from the shaming.

After I arrived, just over a year ago, I was shocked to realize that there is a silence about FGM in Canada;  that there is fear of offending other people’s rights, traditions, and religion.  As a survivor, I want to tell Canadians that they are very much welcome to condemn female genital mutilation. Nobody deserves to be taken through this terrible pain that affects you for life.  Canadians have opened their borders for many immigrants and newcomers, and among these are girls at risk and women who are survivors. We need Canada’s silence on female genital mutilation to end, so girls can be protected, and survivors supported. And we need that silence to end now.

Maryam Sheikh

EndFGM Canada Network

St.John’s Newfoundland

Maryam currently has a campaign on Facebook and  Twitter, trying to get the conversation about FGM out there in a big way.

Child Safeguarding and Protection