A year ago anti-FGM campaigner Leyla Hussein wrote to her teenage daughter about her hopes for her generation in 2016. She had no idea what was to follow.
My dearest Feyrus,
Where do I start? I wrote to you a year ago to express my hopes and fears for you and girls around the world in 2016. I did not predict the battles ahead!
First and foremost I want to say I’m so proud of you for being such a cool, kind and empathetic young woman. Watching you grow up has been one of the few pleasures amid the upheavals of the past year.
When the election of Donald Trump was announced, you climbed into my bed and asked: “Mum, does the world hate us women so much?” I was heartbroken myself and didn’t know how to answer you.
Now I’m sad to say that despite fighting for democracy, 2016 made me feel that democracy only benefits men. After the Brexit vote, you were extremely upset when some kids on the street shouted: “Go home Pols, go back to where you came from.” I came to the UK as refugee at the age of 12 with my mum and two younger siblings, fleeing the civil war in Somalia. It was hard enough to settle into one of the most deprived areas of east London after our comfortable lives of chefs, maid and drivers. My heart goes out to Britain’s recent arrivals who are suffering in this atmosphere of legitimised xenophobia.
As I write this I still can’t explain how hurt and betrayed I feel by my gender over the election of Trump. But even though 53% of white women voted him in, let’s remind ourselves that not all white women support him. That percentage reminds us that internalised patriarchy infests many women. So much so that they voted for an under-qualified businessman rather than a very qualified woman. Fear gets the better of all of us at times and I feel that fear of the collapse of white privilege was why this man was voted in.
When you sternly told your cousins – little boys who are five and eight years old – “just because this misogynist and racist man won, doesn’t mean you boys can get away with it!” I had my proudest moment of parenthood so far.
The sexual abuse of women and girls is something that I sadly I see on a daily basis here in London. I’ve seen fathers who sexually abused their daughters, brothers selling their sisters as sex slaves and a mother who was running a brothel. As a therapist my biggest challenge is always getting the women affected to recognise they have been abused and their bodies have been violated.
Sadly many of these abused women feel the need to protect their “culture and clan”. The challenge for all of us is to break that vicious chain and help them see the culture they defend so much has no respect for them or their daughters. Sexual abuse in the Somali community has always existed like any other communities. I love being Somali, we were voted the fourth kindest people in the world, but I will not stand for the abuse and oppression of women and girls.
Feyrus, you are now 14, you are about to embark on your first work experience, which you organised all by yourself. Superdrug are very lucky to have you! Work hard, be polite and enjoy it my lovely. I’m looking forward to visiting you there (without?) embarrassing you.
You’ve started your menstrual cycle, which we celebrated with brunch and cakes. I wish more parents would celebrate when their daughters start their period. I wanted to do this for you because so many of us women were brought up with shame of our own bodies and its development. You have no idea how happy it makes me to know that you get to have your period without suffering with consequences of female genital mutilation. Sadly many are still living with such horrific physical impact. Over 200 million girls are suffering with such consequences globally, 80 million alone are in Indonesia and 30 million in Nigeria.
This milestone was an opportunity to revisit our conversation about sex. You are used to this now. But as lessons on sex and relationship aren’t compulsory in our schools, I believe it’s my duty as a parent and your basic human right to receive such information. Teaching girls about sex and relationships is important to keeping them safe and empowered in their bodies.
My advice to you is “sex is amazing, stimulating and intimate – make sure you share it with someone who you trust and cares for you”. I am still learning about this myself. I’m aware that you maybe cringing as you read this but you will thank me one day. I hope more mums have this open discussions with their daughters. I will continue to create a non-shaming space for you as much as I can, but make sure you are strong enough to face those who will try to shame you.
As I’m reflecting on our 2016 I’m realising that as crazy as the year was, you and how you dealt with the ups and downs was the best part of that. The aim of this letter was to give you hope after such disappointing year for women but I’ve realised it’s the other way around. You give me hope with your opinions and values, that you give without apology. I applaud that.
We began 2017 by marching with sisters around the globe and are proud “nasty women”. I loved your banner: “Pussies In formation”. Thank you for coming to the march for human rights even though you were sick that day. We will continue to fight into this year and beyond.
Love your mum
PS I love you but please stop including me in your Snapchats with such nasty filters!