A woman from the West Midlands is the first person in the UK to be given a joint court order to protect her from both forced marriage and female genital mutilation. She tells her story.
“I was 17 when my father’s family in South Asia first started telling him that I should be thinking about getting married,” explains Zara – we have changed her name to hide her identity.
“An arranged wedding proposal came up that same year. I agreed the man would be a suitable match and we had talked online.
“We were fixing a date for the wedding when all of a sudden it was called off.”
She later discovered the reason was that she had not undergone female circumcision – more commonly referred to in the UK as female genital mutilation (FGM).
Among the “traditional voices” within her father’s community, she explains, FGM is often viewed as an expectation, and she was being labelled as “not respectable, not Muslim” for not having undergone it.
Her father had also begun to receive threats – including from family members – saying he was “not doing his job as a father” for allowing her not to have it.
This pressure grew over time, with other potential marriages falling through for the same reason. The fear of having to undergo FGM led Zara to develop mental health problems.
“It got to a point where I stopped eating. [I had] no hopes for my future. I fainted quite a few times,” she says.
“My anxiety was at a peak. I wasn’t able to stand still – I would shake, stumble.”
By this time, the continued talk of FGM within the family had led Zara to view circumcision as “normal”, and she thought she had little option but to go through with it if she wanted to marry.