Meet Soraya Mire. When we met, little did I know that she’d been through the unimaginable, and that she had taken her pain and used it to heal, and to become a leading Human Rights activist, author, lecturer, filmmaker and champion for justice the world over. Life has a beautiful way of bringing people together. Serendipity worked its beautiful magic one day last year, at a local coffee shop where I was writing. As I headed for the largest table in the place, I joined a beautiful woman who smiles with her whole face. Little did I know that asking to take a seat at that table would would lead to a wonderful friendship and a chance to hear, and read, her story.
Little did I know…But I know now, and you should know, too. I am so honored that she agreed to allow me to share her story here.
Though Soraya was born in Somalia, this story isn’t based in Africa, the Middle East or Asia. All countries, cultures & families have cycles of pain. It is how we choose to look at them, respond to them and act in contradiction to them that matters. This story is based in our own backyard, wherever you are in the world. It is the story of children, of refugees, of moving parts. It is people coming from other cultures that we aren’t aware of. It is in America.
In her book, The Girl With Three Legs: A Memoir, Soraya writes about the extreme devastation and physical, mental and emotional trauma she faced and overcame as a survivor of Female Genital Mutilation at the tender age of 13. This book takes us on her journey of how she overcame this horrendous trauma, moving forward as a champion for women and girls all over the world. Her story blew the lid off of this largely ignored “rite of passage”. “The misconception,” she explains, “is that this somehow equates to a first drink or experimentation with a drug. Or perhaps even a girl’s first menstrual period. But this has a different meaning. This is something put upon my body before I was even aware of my body.”
How did you become an activist, and what activism have you been involved in?
Looking back, I was born to be an activist. My mom used to say, “You are a reign of terror!” I believe in fairness and justice. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong, but if I’m right, and something is unjust, I’ll tell you without a filter. I respect religion but we are talking about child abuse under the cloak of culture. Mutilation is the ultimate child abuse. The children subjected to it were born perfect. It’s my choice if I want to enhance my body in any way at the age where I can decide for myself correctly, not influenced by the idea of the perfect body.
When I was faced with the decision to choose my family or my activist path, I was considered to have discarded my family because they disagreed with my choices to speak up and reveal what has been happening young girls in our culture, and many others, for about 2000 years. I had no choice.
I have spoken before the United Nations, U.S. Senate Human Resources & Health Assembly and the World Health Organization. I have worked with medical professionals, government officials and with women and families affected by FGM. My goal is human rights for women & girls, and to end this violent global oppression while empowering women.
I was struck by the way you were able to express the emotions of yourself as a child in your book, going through all of that trauma, but speaking as your adult self. What was that like for you?
I want you to smell that burning rotten flesh. That’s the fire that keeps me going. My voice and experience matters. I know that speaking and making you feel how I felt, you will understand millions of innocent children who are forced into this before their bodies were developed. Women can’t have a normal delivery when they give birth. The fistula -the tissue between the anus and vagina falls off – and childbirth is excruciating.
Let me walk with 3 legs. I would rather my clitoris dangling between my legs. I’d rather be “different”.
People refer to Female Genital Mutiliation as body-enhancing surgery. How could this be viewed as that?? I can’t believe this is actually a real perspective! The belief is that this is the mistake God made; that we need to fix this body so that we can make a woman the wife a husband “should have”. It’s wrong.
These are the hidden secrets in our cultures. This is the shame they live with. I wanted you to know it so that change could happen.
What do you say to the people put off the topic of FGM?
This is a crime against humanity.
There is a difference between Empathy versus Sympathy. Any human being who doesn’t have empathy has no reason to block the feelings of the other human being – especially on the topic of FGM. Sympathy comes in the form of looking horrified, turning a blind eye and downplaying what is actually happening. People say things like “What do you think about yourself? If that happened to me, I would have killed myself. What kind of a woman would I be then?” One American woman told me that she considers any person who has experienced it less of a woman because they are mutilated.
When we think of it in the right context, the response is “You’re a survivor. Beautiful. You were abused; how can we make this right and stop this cycle?”
Somalians and other Africans say ‘you brought the most intimate secret out – we had this.’ The countries and cultures knew. Torturing our kids every hour and we kept silent but I refused. I remember my mother’s eyes looking at me allowing my mother provide the ultimate betrayal.
I love and respect, understand and forgive my mother, but it doesn’t give her the right to do that without fighting for me. I have the right to say ‘you are my mother but you were wrong to do this to me. You thought I was like an animal, to do with me whatever you want.’
This happened to my mother, and her mother, and on and on. My mother was abused and so she continued the cycle with me. I didn’t ask for this so now I ask myself how I can make it better for others.
What is your advice for people who feel exhausted by the current political climate, and who may want to take action but feel that they won’t have an impact on lasting change?
We all have a spark inside. Sometimes dimmed with worries, depression, fear – it takes a lot to get off the couch and make things better. Remember why you wanted to make a change a long time ago. Make the choice to live your truth. Television will numb your brain, and you will find yourself forgetting what your truth was. Beware of the hypocrisy of religion & power.
Stay in touch 100% what your mission and purpose in life is, and you will always have that torch to pass it to the next generation. We were too angry or radical, fighting too many fronts to have a torch. Focus on one issue. CHANGE IS HERE – always remember your mission to have that spark to have that torch.
What is your advice to the youth of today, who may not be able to vote yet?
Educate yourself on the topics at hand. Become an expert and learn the opposition’s facts. A good activist must know what their opponent is thinking before your raise your voice. Be an expert without arrogance. Be authentic. Not only when the cameras shine on you. Others may not see your truth because they see standing in their truth. You have to understand what the other is feeling to bring them over.
Angels make mistakes and become eagles. Too much power goes to our head awhen we allow ego and you really must know what you’re standing for.
- Know who you are and where you stand.
- Be humble.
- The closest people you know will be scared of you standing in your truth
- Have strong, open dialogue.
- Never, ever, ever back down when improving someone else’s life and you have done your homework
- Know your facts.
What about parents who are raising baby activists for the future?
It is the hardest job to raise a child. A parent’s first job is to really understand their own self; making peace with their past, how they felt in society, how they saw their bodies in the eyes of others, how they came to be a parent.
Lead with encouragement and listen with sympathetic ears. Allowing their voices to have a space where they are heard “you’re just a child” Once we have empathy. If I hurt you, I know how it feels because I’ve been there.
Wanting to help their children and making peace, they must accept the child’s decision to have, do and say. The choices of understanding happen at an early age. If you take their choices as an insult, and respond with hostility, you break their heart and you are the one left to look in the mirror. When a child doesn’t understand consequences, too much freedom will lead to issues. Too much screen or phone time is unhealthy living and will damage growth.
Soraya & I also spoke about infant male circumcision. This is something inherent to American countries, and something that is not common in other countries. There are so many misconceptions among society, and the medical community who profits from its continuation, about culture, cleanliness/disease prevention,
This is the most thorough resource I have found for understanding how absolutely unnecessary & damaging Circumcision is for boys. My conclusion: Just don’t! Here is what a male experiencing this goes through.
Here is some information about male infant circumcision:
- Performing a totally unnecessary procedure on an infant who is not at the age of consent is a human rights issue.
- As the vaginal hood over the clitoris aids in sexual pleasure, so does the foreskin of the penis. This means that circumcised men & women tend to experience less pleasure than uncircumcised people.
- Amputation of this body part is aesthetic in American society (“it’s what everyone does”, they say. “It’s cleaner”, they say) and it is extremely lucrative to the remainder of medical community which still supports it.
- The reports of injury, disfigurement, infection and even death have been reported, and many more which have been kept under the radar.
- It there is no threat to a child’s health, this – again – is medically unnecessary.
- The idea that the uncircumcised child will be made fun of is a dated excuse for amputation and mutilation. There is a large population of uncircumcised males in the U.S. To think otherwise is a dated way of thinking.
- As fewer parents request it, the culture is changing from the bottom, up.
- This is a trauma, chosen and imposed upon a newborn by a parent.
- Internationally adopted children are being circumcised far beyond the age of infancy in order to “match” their American family members and peers.
Soraya Miré works tirelessly to keep this conversation alive and open, and to continue the progress of the laws against this. Her ability to educate the world about this important issue will continue as she is developing a screenplay of “The Girl with Three Legs: A Memoir”. With the brutal honesty of that which exists in real life, and the Truth of her story, this story must be told!
“I can’t say this is in the past”, she says. “What about the next one, and the next one? All of us are born into raising our voices to advance humanity, to make the world a better place for all of us. When I’m feeling good, I can bless others and pay it forward. I stand in acceptance.”
To read more about Soraya’s story, visit http://www.sorayamire.org/
To donate fund to further Soraya’s work, and the making of her film, email: firstname.lastname@example.org