Egyptian Journalist Rabab Azzam on Undergoing FGM at Age 13: It was a "Collective Massacre"
Egyptian journalist Rabab Azzam told her story of being circumcised at the age of 13, recounting the physical pain she had endured, the humiliation "beyond words," and how it had changed her. Calling it "a collective massacre," Azzam talked of her loss of innocence, her desire for revenge, and her acting "like a boy," after her family had "denied me the right to be a full woman." The CBC TV interviewer voiced her own views on the topic, saying that "nobody... has the right to remove part of your body" and that parents who subject their girls to circumcision are "true criminals." The show aired on October 10.
Rabab Azzam: Let me tell you my story. In 2003, I was about to enter 9th grade.
Moderator: How old were you?
Rabab Azzam: 13 years old. Everything to do with the number 3 is a nightmare for me. Like all the people in Cairo who came from the villages, my sisters and I - the entire family - would go back for the summer vacations. It turned out that the family, led by the head of the family, had decided to conduct this operation on five girls - on me, my sister, and three cousins. My father was against it. He was an educated man, a teacher who taught generations of children. But he could not overrule the decision of the head of the family.
Moderator: Who was the head of the family?
Rabab Azzam: My grandfather.
We were playing together, and all of a sudden, they took us. My mother could not make the decision. Both my parents were entirely out of the picture. My aunt is kind of strong, and she took us to the doctor - me and the four other girls. We didn't understand what was going on. They didn't tell us. They didn't even use anesthetics. Two of them grabbed me. No anesthetics were used. I'm telling you how it was. I see that you are surprised.
Moderator: Surprised? I mean... No anesthetics?
Rabab Azzam: No. And it was done by a doctor. He was a well-known gynecologist. When I heard he had died, I didn't pray for his soul. I cannot forgive him, to be honest. He's the one who brought me into this world, and he's the reason I am dead.
Moderator: What did you feel, Rabab?
Rabab Azzam: I was humiliated beyond words. They had always told me that no man should see any part of my body, and as soon as I began developing as a woman, a man was exposing my private parts and performing this operation, and he was assisted by male nurses. All the while, my uncles and my aunt were coming and going. The place was packed. I call it a collective massacre. It's nothing less than the massacres in other countries that we see every day on TV.
Moderator: Were you dizzy from the pain? The pain must have been terrible.
Rabab Azzam: I was screaming. I would faint and then wake up, and I was trying to fight them as hard as I could. I was frantic. Four of them had to hold me down. Eventually, when the doctor saw that he had no other choice, he gave me a shot in the spot where he was performing the circumcision. That's it. It wasn't even general or regional anesthesia. Just a local shot. Two or three hours later, I lay there awake. I didn't know what was happening. People were coming in and out, but I wasn't really there. I was in another world. All my innocence and my feeling that I must protect myself had turned into a desire for revenge, into very negative feelings. For two or three years, I wouldn't talk to my family. I was still a little girl. I used to be a very active girl who loved the world. But if they performed this circumcision because they didn't want me to be a girl, and to lead a girl's normal life, the way my Lord created me - fine, I would become like a boy. You made me like this, so don't tell me...
Moderator: What do you mean "like a boy"?
Rabab Azzam: I started picking fights like a boy. I started talking like a boy. I learned how to fight like them. I would beat up any kid that would come near me.
Moderator: Did you confront your family?
Rabab Azzam: Very much so.
It got to the point that if my mother asked me to do a girl's chores at home, I would refuse and say to her: "I am not a girl anymore. You and the rest of the family denied me the right to be a full woman, so don't ask me anything as a woman anymore. This is wrong. Just like you robbed me of my right to..." Many girls become like that. Egyptian men always complain that Egyptian women are too masculine. No! You have made us become like that! It is the men who support female circumcision the most. - Of course. We did some field research with married women. I met many men who complained that their circumcised wives were frigid, and would not fulfill the wife's duties. But as soon as their daughters reach the age of 12 or 13, they personally take them by the hand to the doctor, and say to him: Do it!
Moderator: Are you afraid to get married, Rabab? Are you worried that... The very idea of...
Rabab Azzam: I'm worried that he will be disgusted, that he will see me as deformed.
Moderator: You are a human being. You are a complete human being. Nobody - not your father, your mother, your uncle, or your husband - has the right to remove part of your body. Since our Lord created you this way, it means he wants you this way. Nobody can tell you... The problem is with the mothers... I believe that people who do this to their daughters are true criminals.