Having followed Nimko Ali OBE’s political campaigning for some years, I was delighted when I heard on an author special episode of podcast The Highlow that she had written and released a book centred on the stories of women from all over the globe, exploring the commonalities and differences of their experiences at key points in every woman’s life.
The book discusses pivotal aspects of female life, starting with periods before further delving into losing one’s virginity, marriage, childbirth, and the menopause. Another prominent topic covered by the book is female genital mutilation (FGM). Ali was appointed her OBE for her services to tackling FGM and has, amongst a plethora of political campaigns, founded The Five Foundation and Daughters of Eve both of which raise awareness and fight to protect girls against FGM. It was therefore intriguing as a reader with little to no previous knowledge on FGM to learn from Ali’s own lived experiences from the position of both a victim of FGM and an anti-FGM campaigner.
The format of the book consists of autobiographical accounts written by contributors telling their own personal stories, some of which were highly relatable and others which came from a standpoint which is worlds apart from my own life and background.
My initial remark before recommending it to anyone is that it is not for the weak stomached. Not one to be squeamish often, I’ll readily admit there were certain accounts which I skipped to the end of because the details were a little more graphic and stomach-turning than I deem palatable. That said, I pushed myself not to skip any of the accounts of FGM as it’s a topic which is so rarely discussed in mainstream Western literature and is nearly never presented in an educational format, so I felt it important to take a few deep breaths and power on through for the sake of informing myself on a subject about which I know nothing. I’m grateful that I was disciplined as I feel so much more aware of the effects of FGM. For instance, I had no idea that so many British girls are subjected to FGM and are often sent to the country of their family’s origin for the very purpose of being cut when the time comes. I’m crossing my legs just writing this, as the thought of FGM is still something that, even having finished the book, makes me feel nauseous but – as Ali’s campaigning has so proficiently proven – if we shy away from discussing matters which make us feel uncomfortable, they don’t just go away. They need to be tackled head on.
The great majority of the accounts come from women not living in the UK which makes for a rich variety of experiences and opinions on matters which are unavoidable in every woman’s life no matter where in the world they are located. However, there was no clear indication where each contributor came from or which country’s culture they were referring to. Some accounts give hints or clues, however it was only a small fraction of the accounts which were clear on the location of these women’s stories. On the one hand, this proved how common the female experience is regardless of location due to our biology as well as the ever-present patriarchy which it would seem varies in prevalence depending on which part of the world you find yourself. However on the other hand, I feel it would have been insightful to know which countries were home to these women’s cultures and traditions. Many of the accounts were very detailed in the misfortunes to which they were subjected at the hands of their community’s traditions, which to me was the most enthralling aspect of the book; it was therefore frustrating to not be enlightened as to which country or community these traditions belong. To me, reading non-fiction as a means of educating myself is one of the most gratifying forms of education in my post-uni full-time work life, so to have that key bit of information omitted from most accounts impeded on my enjoyment of reading an otherwise very insightful book. I’ve tweeted Ali to ask her reasons for withdrawing this information as I’m intrigued to learn the decision-making process behind it.
If, like me, your knowledge is limited on the healthcare and support available to women across the world, then this book is a must-read if not only for the insight into the horrors of FGM and how close to home the effects can be seen. Whilst it’s a harrowing read in parts, it’s worth taking a couple of deep breaths and persevering – the wisdom gained far outweighs the leg-crossing squeamishness of some of the accounts. Pick up a copy here (or any good book stockist…just preferably one that pays its tax)!