Jasmine Abdulcadir, the gynecologist in charge of the Obstetrics and Gynaecology Emergency Services Unit of Geneva’s University Hospital is 36 years old. On December 6th she gave a talk as part of TEDxPlaceDesNationsWomen illustrating her fight against female genital mutilation (FGM). The daughter of mixed parents, she has written her story for us. Her remarkable achievements have grabbed our attention.
I am Italian because I was born in Florence and my mother is Italian. I am Somali because that’s where my and my father’s roots are. I am not fluent in Somali, I only speak a few words and I’ve only visited one of my two countries of origin once, for about a month, when I was two years old. Yet, I have always been in touch with both cultures as I was growing up. My parents always told me I was Italian and Somali and that I should consider that a great gift. On 9 November 2018 I was awarded a Knighthood by the Italian Republic. The award was given to me by the President of the Republic Sergio Mattarella and delivered at a ceremony in the presence of Ambassador Gian Lorenzo Cornado, Permanent Representative of Italy at the United Nations in Geneva. This is a very important recognition for me at my age, and I am very touched as a woman, as an Italian, as a Somali and as a doctor working with women who have suffered genital mutilation. I’ve been doing this for many years, and since 2013 I have also worked as a consultant for the World Health Organisation.
Both my parents are gynecologists. My mother is from Calabria. My father is Somali, and he took Italian citizenship. He is a pioneer of de-infibulation surgery for women who have been infibulated. Some may think it was inevitable that me and my brother – who is two years younger than me – would become doctors like them. But my parents never pushed us. On the contrary, they always told us it would be very hard.
After I graduated, I won the competition for continuing my specialization in Florence but then I was given the opportunity to come to Geneva, where I’d also applied. It was not an easy decision to make. I had a five-year contract in Italy, whereas in Geneva I only had one for six months. But I made the right choice and I’m still here. I chose Geneva because of the opportunities the University Hospital gave me. Also, I am fluent in French as I’d studied it at school and I did my Erasmus in France. I’ve always liked learning new languages and I speak English and Spanish too.
I’d never been to Geneva before but my first impression was good. It’s a colourful city where 40% of the people are foreigners who come from all around the world. Due to my surname perhaps, I’ve been subjected to greater controls at the airport and I had to wait a little longer for my residence permit, but otherwise I’ve had no problems. The Hospital is very receptive and meritocratic. There are no barriers and they instead aim to support you as best they can. I’ve never really experienced instances of racism either here or in Italy. Just once, when I was in primary school someone told me: “you ugly nigger!” As a child I used to do ice skating, they could never pronounce my surname and some people were curious about me. At the hospital in Geneva, some have failed to recognise me as a doctor, but not because of my skin colour. They see me as a young woman and some patients thought I was a nurse. Of course, reading from here about instances of xenophobia and racism in Italy saddens me. Italy was never like this. This is the result of ignorance and a lack of respect for diversity.
Since 2010, I’ve opened a clinic at the hospital where we undertake procedures for de-infibulation and clitoral reconstructive surgery. But above all, we offer treatment, information and psychosexual therapy to women who’ve suffered genital mutilation with a view to preventing this from happening to future generations. Many of our patients have also suffered other traumatic experiences either during the war or as they were fleeing.
In Switzerland, there are fifteen thousand women, mostly Eritreans and Somalis, who have suffered FGM. Many think it is a religious practice but this is not the case, it is a traditional practice. For example, 40% of our patients are of Christian-Coptic faith and the rest are Muslim.
I don’t just work as a doctor but also as a cultural mediator. De-infibulation and clitoral reconstructive surgery only take thirty and sixty minutes. The greatest job is to listen, inform and talk about topics that are often taboo or the subject of myths and prejudices regarding female sexual and reproductive health. These taboos also exist amongst health professionals and doctors. This is why we also work to train doctors, health professionals and students not just in my hospital but across Switzerland and abroad.