Real Housewives of Dubai star Chanel Ayan has spoken candidly about being forced to undergo female genital mutilation as a young child, in the hopes of raising awareness about the dangerous circumcisions.
Ayan recounted the traumatic experience, which took place when she was five years old, while attending a hypnotherapy session during the newest episode of RHODubai. While speaking to the therapist, the Kenyan-born reality star revealed that she and her older sister had been picked up by their grandmother and aunt one day and driven to another town, where the procedure was performed.
“At five-years-old, my aunt and my grandma came to pick us up to take us to another town,” Ayan recalled. “And then the next morning at 6am, I didn’t know where I was going whatsoever and then they took us to this man’s house and they just tied us on the bed and we were circumcised.”
The model also spoke of the aftermath of the harmful practise, which saw her and her sister unable to “pee” or “move”.
“We were tied in the legs. Couldn’t pee. Couldn’t move. When we needed to pee, they would carry us and put us on the grass,” she revealed. “I just didn’t understand what the hell was going on whatsoever and my mom didn’t know that that was happening to us.”
Female genital mutilation involves the “partial or total removal of external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons,” according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), which notes that the practise, which has no health benefits, can cause” severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later cysts, infections, as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths”.
While the organisation clearly states that FGM is a “violation of the human rights of girls and women,” it reports that the practise is still widely carried out today, in “30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia where FGM is practiced,” and where “more than 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone FGM”.
According to Ayan, who is of Somali and Ethiopian descent, she and her sister were subjected to the procedure so that they would remain virgins until marriage. While speaking to the therapist, the model noted that the surgery meant she could not be physically intimate with her husband until she had another surgery to reverse the damage.
During the episode, Ayan revealed that she’d decided to share her experience because she wants to raise awareness about the dangerous practise. “The reason that I’m talking about it is to bring awareness to it and I want people to understand this happens every single day, and if that’s my mission, maybe that’s what I should be doing,” she said.
The Bravo star has since spoken to E! News about her traumatic past and feeling “betrayed” by her culture and her family, with Ayan acknowledging that she is a “survivor”.
“I’m a survivor,” she said. “I felt that I was utterly betrayed by my culture and my family. This is just a barbaric practice and it shouldn’t be happening to young girls. It happened to me 35 years ago and I’ve never gotten over it.
“This is practiced in over 28 African countries, the Middle East, Syria, Yemen. Even in America, I have cousins and family that still find ways to do it to the young girls behind the scenes, because you don’t need a doctor. You just need someone who knows how to do it.”
According to Ayan, who said that she suffered emotional scars in addition to the physical trauma, she believes that the harmful impacts of the FGM will stay with her forever. However, she told the outlet that her scars are what encourage her to speak out against the practise.
“I think the trauma is something that I will live with for the rest of my life,” she said. “This is why I want to talk about it, because I honestly don’t want this to happen to anyone because I know exactly how it feels and it’s not good. A lot of girls get depressed, hormones are imbalanced, a lot of young girls die.”
Ayan also said that, by speaking out about the experience, she hopes to take back some of the power from those who hurt her.
Although Ayan said that her mother was not aware that she and her sister had been subjected to the female genital mutilation, she told the therapist during the 17 August episode that her childhood wasn’t without additional traumas, as she recalled “the crying, the sadness, the beatings” while growing up with her parents and siblings.
However, during the episode, Ayan also revealed that she felt “lighter” after sharing her childhood struggles with the therapist.
“I feel lighter,” she said. “It’s like the mountain is off my shoulder. I’m starting to heal. I’m starting to understand that I trusted people that hurt me, and they don’t have power over me anymore.”
Following the episode, fans and viewers have praised Ayan for opening up about her experience, and for advocating against FGM.
“Wow… FGM may be vague to American watchers yet I am so glad Chanel is shining a light on female genitalia mutilation. She’s incredibly brave for telling her story/showing her hypnotherapy/healing process. Thank you Ayan,” one person wrote, while another viewer said: “I’m so proud of Ayan, for opening about female genital mutilation (FGM) and for wanting to advocate for other young girls/women. Women are losing the rights to their body and … we must never be silent. Trauma stays with you and @chanelayan you deserve to heal#RHODubai.”