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Creating a Space for Women Healing from FGM

One night 14 years ago, Hawa Bah crept out of her house in Guinea and slipped into the darkness. She says she had lost count, but it may have been her 14th or 15th escape attempt from an abusive marriage she was forced into with a man 37 years her senior. ow 32, Bah is an advocate for the Blossom Clinic in Leeds, a red-brick building north-east of the city centre that provides services for survivors of female genital mutilation (FGM), the ritual of removing or injuring the genitals of a girl or woman for non-medical reasons. Women who have undergone FGM often suffer in silence due to stigma. Bah lived through the physically and mentally scarring ritual as a child in west Africa and was told that she would die if she talked about it. Now she uses her experiences as a survivor and refugee to connect with those hard-to-reach African women in diaspora communities who are disproportionately affected by FGM. Amid clinic closures during the pandemic and fears that those suffering with FGM were not referring themselves under lockdown, she has provided a lifeline for dozens of women. The Blossom Clinic team has been able to meet women face-to-face for only 15 months due to startup delays and Covid-related closures, so it has only been able to help 46 women so far. Most are from Guinea, the Gambia, Sierra Leone and Eritrea.