Spending time with Khadija Gbla is an uplifting experience – she is as passionate and as vocal one-on-one as she is speaking to a gathering of 1,000 people. Khadija has squeezed a lot of life into her 27 years, and she feels compelled by God to share her life experiences, both the ups and the downs, to instill hope in others.
At the age of nine, Khadija underwent female genital mutilation (FGM), an unnecessary and cruel act of violence. At the time Khadija had no idea what was happening to her, but she is now able to name it for what it is – human rights abuse, child abuse and sexual abuse. It is an experience she wants no other girl or woman to go through.
FGM, also known as female circumcision, has no known health benefits and is largely practiced in countries within Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Common reasons given for performing FGM include social acceptance, hygiene, ideas relating to female sexuality, purity and modesty, religion, and cultural identity. While it has been restricted or outlawed in many of the locations where it is practiced, FGM procedures continue to be performed. The dangerous act can lead to ongoing health problems, inability to conceive a child and complications during childbirth.
In her widely watched TED Talk, Khadija explains that FGM is very much an issue in Australia, as new arrivals bring their culture with them when they settle. Many who seek the procedure believe they are doing what is best for their daughter, but Khadija’s goal is to spread the word that FGM is abuse, and to change the cultural practice for good.
No FGM Australia estimates that three girls each day are at risk in Australia.
“This is an Australian problem. It’s not an African problem, it’s not a Middle Eastern problem, it’s not white, it’s not black, it has no colour. It’s everybody’s problem,” Khadija said.
“FGM is child abuse. It’s violence against women. It’s saying that women don’t have a right to sexual pleasure. It’s saying that women don’t have a right to their bodies.
“Well I say ‘no’ to that.”
As an adult, Khadija was told that FGM may prevent her from falling pregnant. But she held tight to Jesus’ teachings and never let go of hope.
“When we hope we are waiting for God to act; without hope there is nothing. After all, isn’t faith hope?”
After marrying her partner, Khadija and her husband yearned for a baby. She recalls her husband reaching for her hand and saying: “In God’s kingdom anything is possible, we need to believe, pray and hope that God will act.” Prayers were answered with the news that Khadija was pregnant. She and her husband are now the parents of a one-year-old son Samuel, meaning “heard by God.”
Khadija will share her experiences of God responding to hope and prayer in all facets of her life when she speaks at the UnitingWomen conference.
“Women need to be uplifted in life, to keep in faith and remain strong. God just needs a mustard seed to be able to act. Women all have a point of need – what hope looks like for one woman looks differently for another,” she says.
“We have all started somewhere and sometimes we need to hear from others how we have journeyed in life. Testimonies give us hope.”
UnitingWomen will be held from Thursday 28 April–Sunday 1 May at Wesley Kent Town Uniting Church, Adelaide.
Hear Khadija’s emotional and humorous TED talk, as she shares her experience with female genital mutilation at https://www.ted.com/talks/khadija_gbla_my_mother_s_strange_definition_of_empowerment.
Find out more about female genital mutilation at http://www.nofgmoz.com.
This article originally appeared in the publication of the Uniting Church in SA, New Times.