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F.A. Cole, a representative of the Global Woman P.E.A.C.E. Foundation and female genital mutilation survivor.

Worldwide, there are multiple human rights issues different organizations work to spotlight and resolve. One such issue some may not consider is female genital mutilation.

FGM consists of procedures aimed at altering a female’s genital organs, according to the World Health Organization website. The health of women and girls’ does not benefit from these procedures.

F.A. Cole, a representative of the Global Woman P.E.A.C.E. Foundation, said she was a victim of FGM and is now an activist for preventing FGM. She is set to speak to the Texas Tech community from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Nov. 5 in the Red Raider Ballroom of the Student Union Building about this topic and how some girls and women are forced to undergo FGM.  

Cole said she will always utilize the opportunity to educate people about FGM.

“They may or may not have heard about FGM, they may or may not know the long and short-term consequences and impact of FGM,” she said regarding Tech students, “and they may or may not even know about legislation and the controversies surrounding the topic of FGM.”

There are four main types of FGM, according to the National Health Service website. The first type is clitoridectomy, consisting of removing part or all of the clitoris. Excision, the second type, consists of clitoridectomy and removing the inner labia, the lips surrounding the vagina, and possibly the labia majora, the larger outer lips.

The third type is infibulation, which is cutting and moving the labia to create a seal to narrow the vaginal opening, according to the NHS website. A fourth type consists of other procedures that harm female genitals.

Cole, who is also an author and has written books such as “Distant Sunrise - The Strength in her Pain to Forgive,” said she thought she underwent type 1 in her home country of Sierra Leone. She said she discovered a few years ago that she actually underwent type 2 when she took part in restorative surgery.

Regarding her life in Sierra Leone, Cole said her dad is Mende, her step mother is Lebanese and Mende and her mom is Creole. She said Creoles, who were considered the elites in Sierra Leone, did not undergo FGM.

“It was my step mother’s idea,” she said. “She manipulated my father to have me and my oldest sister undergo female genital mutilation. My mom had nothing to do with it.”

On Aug. 1, 1984, Cole said her and her sister underwent FGM at the age of 11 and 13 respectively.

Some people saw FGM as a rite of passage into womanhood, Cole said. FGM was a process that was kept secret from young girls.

“Nobody told us they would amputate our clitoris,” she said. “We found out the hard way.”

After her sister went through the process, Cole said her turn was next. Throughout the process, Cole was forced to undress, blindfolded and tied at the hands.

A nude woman, who acted as the cutter, sat on Cole’s chest, she said. A group of women held her down as the procedure commenced. As Cole was gagged, a razor was used to amputate her clitoris.

“I felt more betrayal than anger,” she said regarding her feelings toward the process and not being told about it sooner.

After approaching her mother about what happened to her, Cole said she felt angry.

“She laughed,” she said about her mother. “That was when I felt angry.”

Despite Cole’s experience with FGM, some people may lack awareness and education on the issue.

“Growing up, I didn’t even know the damage that was done to me, sexually, physically, psychologically and spiritually,” Cole said. “It was when I came to America in 1997, and then I went to school in New York. [Marymount College] in Tarrytown. I believe I was a first-year student.”

Speakers visited to talk to the students about a variety of issues related to women, as the institution was an all-girls school, Cole said. One speaker spoke about FGM.

After the speaker spoke, Cole said she volunteered to share her story and answered a lot of questions.

“Based on their questions, it got me thinking that most of them didn’t even know what this practice is,” she said. “They have not read about it. They have not done any research. And why should they?”

When learning about FGM, Cole said one factor to consider is the procedure is an attempt to control a girl’s sexuality and to kill their drive to engage in sexual activities. In addition to the procedure itself, she said another aspect some people do not realize is that survivors of FGM are ostracized depending on the community they are from.

Through teaching people about FGM, Cole said she also wanted to be an advocate for survivors of FGM. She said she has started support groups for FGM survivors.

Some of these members took part in restorative surgery, Cole said.

“I was the first woman to have restorative surgery in 2017,” she said.

Regarding why people get restorative surgery, Cole said there is a psychological effect. Whether it is because a FGM survivor feels they are ugly or imperfect, she said there a variety of reasons why people get the surgery.

When wanting to understand the impact of FGM, there are a variety of aspects one may need to learn. Due to efforts from different organizations, learning about FGM and how it impacts women across the globe may be easier.

Julia O’Donnell, campus program and public relations manager for the AHA Foundation, said the non-profit organization works to amplify the efforts of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, AHA Foundation founder and FGM survivor. Ali worked to defend women’s rights and educate people about women’s rights issues.

“Our work with campuses comes from our campus program, which we call Critical Thinking Unit,” she said. “This is a program we do in collaboration with another organization called Ideas Beyond Borders.”

The program was created in the hopes of giving a voice to survivors of FGM and other attacks, O’Donnell said. There are campus fellows in universities across the U.S. and Canada trained in hosting events aimed at promoting the AHA Foundation’s message.

For those wanting to know about where FGM is prominent, Alana Krafsur, fellow for the Critical Thinking Unit of the AHA Foundation, said one may need to consider that FGM occurs in the United States.

Krafsur, who is also a second-year graduate student from El Paso on the professional track in the Tech College of Media and Communication, said a lot of people in the U.S. are at risk of FGM.

“So, specifically in the United States, according to the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], 513,000 females are at risk or have undergone FGM in the U.S.,” she said regarding how at risk means one is in a family situation that warrants FGM. “Specifically in Texas, we have a very high number of women at risk. That’s a little over 33,000, and they’re the fourth state in the U.S. with the highest risk.”

The numbers are higher in the Dallas area, followed by Houston and then Austin, Krafsur said.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if there are girls at Texas Tech who are at risk,” she said.

Because of the FGM cases in this nation and other countries, Krafsur said informing people about the issue though different avenues could prompt action.

“I believe that stories amplify your message,” she said. “So, for [Cole] to be able to share her story is extremely important in spreading awareness and even stimulating action.”

Spreading awareness through the perspective of a survivor may be a necessary step to inform college students.

“Alana told us that she specifically wanted to bring F.A.,” O’Donnell said. “She wanted to talk about FGM, and she knew she wanted to bring a survivor.”

With the issue of FGM, education and listening to someone’s story may be beneficial for people whether they are attending Tech or not.

“[In the U.S.], when I realized that people really are not educated about [FGM], they don’t know how this really impacts people, young girls,” Cole said. “Then I said, ‘You know what? I’ll keep talking until I can talk no more.’”

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