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'RHODubai' star Chanel Ayan says she survived female genital mutilation at 5

Speaking to TODAY, Ayan explained why she decided to open up about the experience on the show. "It’s my power now to help other people,” Ayan said. 
The Real Housewives of Dubai - Season 1
Chanel Ayan in "The Real Housewives of Dubai."Chris Haston / Bravo

On last night's episode of "The Real Housewives of Dubai," star Chanel Ayan opened up about a painful chapter in her past.

Part of the show’s inaugural cast, Ayan has spoken about her childhood in a small village on the border of Kenya and Uganda and how she came to build a life of success and significance in Dubai — against all the odds.

In Episode 11, which aired Wednesday, Ayan revealed she was a survivor of female genital mutilation, detailing a traumatic experience that few people in her life had known about until then, let alone the world.

TODAY chatted with Ayan about why it was important to share her story and what’s to come for the rest of the season.

What Ayan said about her experiences with female genital mulation

In Episode 11, Ayan and cast member Al Madani visit a hypnotherapist to work through her past. Ayan said she "blocked out" much of her childhood, but said “I remember a lot of pain."

Ayan went on to describe her experience surviving female genital mutilation. 

“At 5 years old, my aunt and my grandma came to pick us up to take us to another town,” Ayan recalled through tears. “And then the next morning at 6 a.m., I didn’t know where I was going whatsoever. Then they took us to this man’s house and they just tied us on the bed and we were circumcised.”

She continued, “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. I just didn’t understand what was going on whatsoever and my mom didn’t know that that was happening to us.”

Ayan said that her mother didn’t know her daughters had been taken to be circumcised.

When Ayan got married, she said she had to return to the doctor. “I couldn’t have sex,” she said. “And then I had to wait until I healed.”

She later learned the procedure was forcibly done to ensure she was a virgin when she got married.

Later on in the episode, Ayan said that when she was 14, her father tried to sell her into marriage. “It didn’t happen because my sister protected me,” she said.

Speaking to TODAY, Ayan said sharing her story has allowed her to 'take her power back'

Ayan said she shared her experience on-camera for two reasons. First, to bring awareness to this form of abuse.

“I don’t think our girls should be going through this,” she said in the episode. “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. If I could stop it and if that’s my mission, maybe that’s what I should be doing.”

According to the World Health Organization, it is estimated that more than 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in the countries where the practice is concentrated. In addition, every year, an estimated 3 million girls are at risk of undergoing female genital mutilation. WHO says the procedure is most often done before girls are 15, as in the case of Ayan and her sister.

And by sharing her story, Ayan told TODAY she also feels she is “taking (her) power back.” 

Prior to sharing her story while filming, Ayan told TODAY she didn’t share with many people around her, as she was “embarrassed” by the “barbaric practice,” and felt “very betrayed by (her) culture.” Ayan had Al Madani by her side when she shared her story, something she said she “appreciated.”

As Ayan looks back on where she came from, she finds motivation in advocating for change for women that are in the same place she was in 35 years ago. 

“The most important thing I ever did was leave my village, a single girl, travel around the world and do things. It’s my power now to help other people,” Ayan said. 

The process has brought Ayan to a place of forgiveness, offering her the chance to “release” the trauma and betrayal she experienced, as well as make more time for self-care.

What Ayan’s found helpful? Manifestation, choosing a mindset in which she’s reborn every day and exploring hobbies that make her happy. “Lately, I’m all about using supermarket products on my face to see if it works, and some of them actually really work,” Ayan said. 

Ayan shared what she hopes for season two of ‘RHODubai’

With a possible second season on the horizon, Ayan hopes that viewers will get the chance to see more of her — even though she’s already shared a lot of personal story with the cameras.

Ayan said, “People have only known one percent of me. The encyclopedia has nothing on me.”

A venture that Ayan will explore if Season Two? The launch of her beauty brand, Ayan Beauty by Toni Malt, which will use a portion of its proceeds to support ending female genital mutilation. 

“I’m using my platform to change things. I’ll use [the funds] to bring awareness. It is going to be helping a lot,” Ayan said.