Gutsy Goddess—Hibo Wardere

“I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become.” Hibo Wardere, survivor of FGC, educator, writer, and activist.

Unity is powerful. You are not alone.

There was a flicker of light—when I realized there are millions of us out there. I am a survivor and activist against FGC—female genital cutting. Telling my story has changed my life. It has been a healing process for me, knowing I can help someone.

When I was six years old I was forced to go through FGC. Every part of my female genitalia was literally cut off and discarded. The pain was great. I prayed to die that day. Words cannot describe the pain. You are engulfed in pain, physically, emotionally and psychologically. It lasts your whole life.

With Somalia torn apart by war, I fled to the United Kingdomat the age of 18 years. I married an amazing man and had three daughters and four boys, yet I continued to see myself through my trauma. Socially I became very reclusive. I got completely submerged in cooking and cleaning as my way of coping. For much of my life after FGC I hated myself.

When my youngest daughter started school I began to volunteer at her school. I was called into a meeting where the administrator invited a young girl and her parents, who were returning to East Africa. The young girl reminded me of myself as a girl: shy, timid, and skinny. I was very angry about what they might be planning to do with this young girl. I was studying level 3 of childcare at that time and I was asked by the assessor to write about an abuse I knew very well or experienced. That day after the meeting with the young girl, I decided to write about FGC. I was looking for stories on the internet about FGC, when my husband asked me what I was looking for. I told him I wanted to write about FGC. He closed the laptop and asked why are you looking for a story? Why can’t you write about yourself. I said no, but then I asked myself—why not?  

That night I wrote about my own trauma; it was the first time ever I actually went back to that day. When I was six, I was told never to discuss it with anybody. It took me four decades to discuss FGC. My campaign, my work now, is not only about FGC it is about protecting children, empowering women, and protecting our future. I am never going to stop. Children’s wellbeing belongs to everybody, regardless of color, race, or religion. Children are universal; their wellbeing belongs to everybody in the world. What hurts a child, what hurts another human being—hurts you.  

It’s a humanity issue. It is very important that we get men involved, they are the biggest missing part of this fight. We need to hear from them. We need to teach our boys. I say to men, get involved, make it your business, don’t be a bystander. We need to strive together.

My insight: trauma doesn’t define you, it’s how you see yourself that matters. The day I stopped seeing myself through my trauma was the day that changed my life. Today I am blessed. Talking about it, sharing it, is the most effective first step. You have the power to change.

 

I was moved to tears talking with Hibo and feeling her power: to heal, to change herself, to change the world. What do you think about her story? We would love to have you join the conversation. Please comment below. You never know who you might inspire or where it might lead. 

For more information on Hibo Wardere please click here.

For Hibo’s book Cut please click here.

For more information of FGC/FGM please click here.

To read about more Gutsy Goddesses please click here.

 

32 Comments

  1. “Trauma doesn’t define you, it’s how you see yourself that matters.” – Such an amazing quote, story, and individual. Humbling and inspiring.

    • I am so glad you are making a point of telling these important stories. FGM is violence against women and needs to be stopped. Hibo’s courage in the face of shame and stigma is awe inspiring! There is still so much work to be done in the world to end men’s violence against women.Thank you Heidi! xoxo

      • admin_laughingatthesky November 30, 2017 at 6:52 am

        Layne, I’m grateful for your comment and all of the tireless hours, days, years you too have worked to reduce violence against women, and the wisdom you have brought us. I actually though of you when I was listening to Hibo. Among other things she said, “…We need to teach our boys.” Layne, like Hibo, you are a champion here. I hope you and Hibo will meet one day and that all of your joint efforts will continue to magnify through our world. Heartfelt thanks to you both for your courageous efforts.

    • admin_laughingatthesky November 30, 2017 at 6:37 am

      Thanks so much for your comment Katie. This courageous woman certainly gave me a great deal to think about when she said that. Also when she told me, “I am what I choose to become.” When I think of her words in light of her story—I agree—humbling and inspiring. Again, thanks.
      Heidi

  2. Powerful story! I applaud her courage and willingness to make a difference! Very inspiring!

    • admin_laughingatthesky November 30, 2017 at 6:56 am

      Denise, I am humbled by your visit and by all of these comments by people who, like you, have done much to support others in their journeys to heal. Glad Hibo’s story has inspired you as it has to me. As Hibo says, “Unity is powerful.” Thanks.

  3. Heartbreaking. Inspirational. Brave. Wow … “The day I stopped seeing myself through my trauma was the day that changed my life.” Thank you, Heidi, for helping shed light on these important stories. Thank you, Hibo, for bravely sharing your story.

    • admin_laughingatthesky November 30, 2017 at 6:45 am

      Heartfelt thanks Ann. I’m fairly certain Hibo has changed the lives of many with her story and her work. My words can’t begin to describe the impact of her phone call with me.
      Hibo, Ann too is a Gutsy Goddess, writer, and brave, inspiring soul. Perhaps one day you two will meet. Her words ring true, “…inspirational, brave, wow.”

  4. Thanks for sharing this. It’s such a heartbreaking issue. I’m so glad that Hibo is strong and is speaking out.

    • admin_laughingatthesky November 30, 2017 at 9:45 pm

      Thank you so much for you comment Nancy. It is very heartbreaking, especially to know that it is happening now and that according to the World Health Organization there are over 200 Million women and girls that have undergone this. I had no idea. I appreciate having you join the conversation.
      Heidi

  5. This is a practice that I’ve heard about several times now over the past many years. Every time I hear about it, I get an awful feeling inside that is hard to describe. It is empathy, to the extent I can manifest that, for the physical and psychological pain and suffering that must be a part of this horrible practice, but it’s also a visceral discomfort deep inside. Hibo is indeed a very courageous woman, but she is now speaking not just to other woman, who firsthand understand violence against women in its many forms, but directly to men. It is clear that now, more than ever, we need to get involved in whatever capacity we can to help put an end not just to this horrible practice, but to all forms of violence against women … everywhere. Hibo, you are truly inspiring and I will do what I can to help spread the word!

    • admin_laughingatthesky December 1, 2017 at 7:43 am

      Dennis, heartfelt thanks for your thoughts. I was moved, first to tears and then to action, as I heard her story and her request to be inclusive to men. Her words, “they are the “biggest missing part of this fight,” and that “we need to hear from them,” rings true. Heartfelt thanks for standing with women and importantly for “spreading the word.” I hope in my heart other men will join you. Awareness is powerful. Allies are important.

  6. This is such a difficult thing for so many to fathom, and yet it continues to happen to young girls. Educating others is so important, and that’s where Hibo’s story is invaluable. It’s heartbreaking but also encouraging that Hibo has not allowed her circumstances to dictate her joy.

    • admin_laughingatthesky November 30, 2017 at 9:42 pm

      It is very difficult to fathom Lynda. When I heard Hibo say something about the numbers I thought I misheard her. Then I read the World Health Organizations report that there are over 200 Million women and girls today that have undergone HGM/HGC. It does happen, and spreading awareness is critical. Thanks so much for your comment.

  7. What an amazing woman and what a terrible and traumatic experience to have gone through. Thank you for telling your story and for helping others to come forward with theirs.

    • admin_laughingatthesky December 1, 2017 at 7:34 am

      Nice to have your comment Tammy. Hibo’s comment that “Unity is is power” reminds me of how empowering it is to tell our stories and not feel alone. It is so important as we heal ourselves, support those around us, and in Hibo’s case support others around the globe. Very glad to have you join the conversation.

  8. When someone so deeply traumatized as a child can rise above such a horrific act of violence and bring healing change to herself and to others, such immense personal resolve and selfless courage is beyond remarkable…it is awe inspiring. It causes me to reflect on the fantastic power and beauty of the human spirit. May we all speak our truth and empower others along our way. “Trauma does not define us.”

    • admin_laughingatthesky December 1, 2017 at 6:48 am

      Beautifully said Bonita. I’ll add that it goes beyond those traumatized as children. Whenever one of us rises above trauma, it lifts us all. Her words, “Trauma does not define us,” and “I am what I choose to become,” are very powerful. Standing with you and Hibo—”May we speak our truth and empower others along the way. Heartfelt thanks.

  9. Wow I am so touched beyond words. I am a simple woman, no hero, just someone who was hurt. There is no greater evil than the evil that is imbedded in your own life. How do you live with that. For me it consumed me for over 3 decades. Now how I fight through talk, and never ever let the evil restrict me anymore, like boa constrictor killing its pry. I ran so much that i couldn’t run anymore. It made me feel like an incomplete woman, a freak of nature, not worth it, not loved. All this and many more, indescribable emotions. Millions of women and girls suffer in silence. Suffering in silence is the deadliest form of suffering. I am so grateful for who i am today. I survived and became defiant and proud. Most of all I see what is happening to woman today. This cruel practice is designed to control sexuality, designed to make us feel inferior to opposite sex. It’s designed to shut us down in mind,body and soul. Its designed to make us feel worthless because we were born girls. This is one of the worst forms of child abuse. Thank you for your support. Love to you all

    • admin_laughingatthesky December 5, 2017 at 7:38 am

      Hibo,
      You are so much more than “someone who was hurt.” You have transcended your fear and trauma, and broken your silence to a level that you help others. You are a inspiration and role model to others.I have a favorite quote—you never know who you might inspire or where it might lead. You have touched the heart of many. Love to you.

  10. Hibo’s story is so heartbreaking. She is truly brave and inspiring to share her story and make a difference in the lives of so many other kids and women. A Gutsy Goddess indeed. More power to her and thanks to you too, Heidi!

    • admin_laughingatthesky December 6, 2017 at 8:08 am

      Shilpa I’m glad you found Hibo’s words inspiring. I too have been inspired by her and also by some of the brave and compassionate people you have featured on your blog. It’s great to have you join the conversation. Thanks.

  11. What a story of pain turning into sheer courage told by a gutsy goddess who deserves to be applauded! An empathetic person is almost always a person who has the courage of her convictions and the need to do the right thing by people. Here’s wishing Hibo all the very best in her endeavours! Kudos to the gutsy goddess!

    • If you share your experiences, whether good or bad, you will truly do great for humanity. Your story can inspire someone else or give them strength to face their darkest fears. We owe it to humanity to help others feel that whatever the experience they had, there is always a light at the end of the dark tunnel. Humanity needs a helping hand. Humanity needs compassion,love,caring and all that can be achieved through sharing, helping, giving love and most importantly understanding and not judging.

      • admin_laughingatthesky December 6, 2017 at 8:23 am

        I respect that not everyone is ready or interested in sharing their stories, however I too believe that it can help others when a person is ready to speak out. I was unable to talk about childhood violence for several decades, and I felt alone and bit isolated by it. When I finally reached the place of looking deep inside and sharing what I found, I realized there was such beauty mixed in with the pain. I also learned I was not alone. I took a leap from living and reliving my trauma as a large part of my life, to transcending above it and feeling whole. It is so true Hibo, we need non-judgemental understanding, compassion and love. Thank you for your courage.

    • admin_laughingatthesky December 6, 2017 at 8:11 am

      Thanks Deepti. I’m applauding with you and wishing her the best as well. The world is a better place because of her courage to speak.

  12. Thank you to Hibo for sharing your moving and powerful story and to you ,Heidi, for providing this platform. What can we do to support women who have been abused by this practice and to help abolish this barbaric practice?

    • Thank you so much Susan for your comment and support. As Hibo mentions below, Orchid Project is doing amazing work; simply adding to the conversation is helpful. She also mentioned to me that having male supporters is crucial. I sent out an email with this link to many of my male friends just to read the post and like or comment and have, so far, only had two responses—sigh. I’m hoping we can invite more men to join the conversation. What surprised me the most is how widespread this is. I read on the WHO site that there are 200,000,000 women alive today that have experienced this and that a new girl is cut every 11 seconds. Anyway, thanks for commenting!

  13. First thank you so much for yoyr support. There are many ways you can support. You can support the charity that my story has put link to it—Orchid Project. Or you can start conversations in your area. I know many people arent aware of FGM or how widespread it is today. Conversation is vital with people you are around. It is such a cruel practice that invades Body, Mind and Soul. Its designed to control every single aspect of us, girls and women. It is a life sentence that you learn to cope with if yoy are lucky. Thete is no recovery from FGM but coping and learning to live with it is critical. so please let me know whatever your profession is so that i can tell you how to help. thank you Susan

    • Thank for your response Hibo. I had no idea how widespread this practice is today—just shocking. Thank you for opening our hearts and minds, and for your amazing courage and great work.

  14. Thank you for your willingness and courage to step forward and bit by bit, change the world into a better place.

    • Dana, Thanks so much for joining the conversation and for being a women of courage and inspiration. You’re right, “bit by bit” we can change the world into a better place. Standing with you.

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