3 Books that will help you understand the complexity of FGM

There are many great books that comprehensively cover the entire issue of FGM, such as Cutting The Rose by Efua Dorkenoo and Female Mutilation by Hilary Burrage, which I would definitely recommend to anyone looking to learn more about the practice as a whole.

However, it’s sometimes necessary to take a closer look at certain factors on their own, and a deeper understanding is important when it comes to considering the more sensitive interpersonal issues that make FGM so difficult to eradicate. These 3 books have been invaluable in enriching my understanding of FGM alongside more general resources, and I hope they’ll be beneficial for you too.

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1. CUT by Hibo Wardere

As a developing psychologist, I have always found autobiographies fascinating and essential for understanding an individual’s perspective on life events, disorders and trauma. While I had a decent knowledge of survivors’ experiences and had witnessed Wardere deliver her story so powerfully in person, this book addressed some aspects of FGM in a whole new way. Wardere gives us an insight into how FGM affected her relationship with her mother, which is crucial for us as readers because we can almost feel that trust being built up and then completely violated as the horrific abuse takes place.

Wardere also provides a very personal view of her experience coming to the UK and realising what has been done to her body. For us, this is an important aspect of compassionate activism as we should always be considering what survivors might find difficult to see or hear and what challenges they may face. Finally, Wardere gives an individual account of the effect that FGM has had on her marriage and family life.

It’s one thing to know that the practice takes away sexual pleasure and makes giving birth incredibly difficult, but it’s something else to learn what it must be like for a wife trying to connect with her husband and the difficulty of interacting with medical professionals who may not know how to approach the subject.

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2. What Was Never Said by Emma Craigie

If there’s one thing I’ve learned since getting involved with FGM activism, it’s that there’s no one way to raise awareness or educate others about the practice. In this short but compelling novel, Craigie takes us into the life of 15 year-old Zahra – a girl of Somali origin with a younger sister named Samsam, who she must protect when 3 terrifying women arrive at their house. Much like CUT, this book is important for understanding the difficulty of the transition between cultures and the psychological impact that FGM can have. Zahra is haunted by the past, and Craigie emphasises this by starting and ending the novel with the same sentence: ‘The cutter came last night’.

Informed by the work of Integrate Bristol, What Was Never Said gives a very relevant and vivid perspective on the issue of FGM for students and educational professionals in Britain today. I would recommend this book to anyone wanting a better understanding of the roles that culture, family and religion play in the issue of FGM. 

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3. The Hidden Face Of Eve by Nawal El Saadawi

Though The Hidden Face of Eve may seem much more academic than the two books mentioned above, El Saadawi writes her account of the oppression of women in a very accessible way. As an activist, a medical professional and a survivor of FGM herself, El Saadawi offers a unique view of systemic sexism and its incompatibility with the core principles of religion. A significant amount of my knowledge base was formed by this book and I would recommend that anyone interested in the issue of ‘honour’ keeps a copy nearby.

While The Hidden Face of Eve offers a broad overview like more general FGM books, El Saadawi’s own experiences and knowledge comes through powerfully, making the book quite personal in a similar way to CUT and What Was Never Said. El Saadawi’s ability to step back and analyse the support that political and economic systems give to oppression also offers a level of clarity that is difficult to find.


All three of these books tackle the complexity of FGM in unique ways. Whether you’re looking to engage on a personal level, find out how you can help your friend or student or how you can deconstruct the frameworks that keep FGM going, taking the time to understand the intricacies of the practice and its effects is key. These books will connect with you on an emotional and an intellectual level, giving you a deeper insight into the incredibly complex issue of FGM.

Links to the books and reviews:

CUT:

What Was Never Said:

The Hidden Face of Eve:

General books on FGM: