Tower Hamlets councillor speaks out about being an FGM survivor
- Credit: Mike Brooke
A councillor hoping to become a Labour MP has spoken for the first time about being a survivor of FGM and how men can use government legislation against the women it is there to protect.
Amina Ali, the cabinet member for adults and health in Tower Hamlets, is one of eight women in the running to be Labour's candidate for MP Jim Fitzpatrick's Poplar and Limehouse seat when he retires before the next election.
British Somali Cllr Ali said that recent government legislation against FGM, which is mainly practised in African countries, was "really working".
But she had seen an increasing number of cases where woman are scared to leave their husbands out of fear that their partner will falsely tell authorities that their children are in danger.
She told the Local Democracy Service: "People are not doing [FGM] here as much. They have realised it is anti-Islamic. And they are terrified now. The legislation is really working, which is good. People are scared to do it.
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"However sometimes men are using it to get their children from their wives. It has become a power struggle now.
"If there is a problem with the family and they know their wife wants to leave them they will go to the authority and say 'I fear for my daughters that she is going to do FGM'. There have been a few cases I have dealt with where women have had social services threaten to take their children because the husband has said he fears that FGM might happen. That is something the government needs to look at."
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Cllr Ali said she was taken aged eight to Somalia by a family member and had the procedure done. She is the first elected councillor to come out as a victim.
She said: "My mother was completely against it and did not know. But in the family it was that thing of 'whose going to marry her unless she has it done'.
"The reason I didn't want to talk about it is, going back to the community, that idea that you're airing your dirty laundry in public.
"It's one of those things where I was a bit worried people would just think I was jumping on the bandwagon.
"A lot of girls had it done in the eighties. We had our own little support group. Then you don't feel like you're the only weirdo in the bunch. For a long time you think something is wrong with you."
Earlier this year a mother living in east London who inflicted FGM on her three-year-old daughter was jailed for 13 years after the first ever successful UK prosecution of the crime.
Ms Ali said although the prosecutions are positive, the Somali community feels like the "spotlight" is only on them.
She said: "A lot of the parents I speak to have this real fear factor about FGM. They worry if they want to take their children away for summer to visit family. They worry they will get red flags. The checks are good. But the community feel a bit confused about the policy and a bit underseige."
Ms Ali said that wants to run for Parliament because there are not enough MPs "who look like her".
She said: "There aren't enough people who sound like me and look like me in Parliament. I'm not someone who is just going to say 'oh we need more affordable housing'.
"I live in an overcrowded house. I was born on a council estate, I still live on a council estate. I have been on benefits I know what it is like. I know what it's like to be a single parent and struggle. I know what it's like to go to a food bank. I have lived that life.
"I got into politics because I didn't want to be invisible anymore and I wanted to give people like me a voice. I think that parliament doesn't recognise our underrepresented communities, be that BAME, working class, LGBT. We are invisible. Policy is done to us. I'm tired of people speaking for us."
Ms Ali said she also believed politics in Tower Hamlets has become "too divided" and she would be able to bring communities together.
"I'm cross communities," she said. "I have lived in Poplar and Limehouse all my life. I grew up watching Canary Wharf go up.
"I was really excited when Corbyn came along. I might not be a card bashing Momentum activist. [But] Corbyn came and spoke to people like me.
"[But] do we still need to fix some things? Hell yes we do."