Fighting Female Genital Mutilation With Our Keyboards: The Feminist Statement On FGM Is Launched Today
Today a small group of women, me included, launched our Feminist Statement On Female Genital Mutilation. We hope many people around the world will choose to support us by putting their names also to this Statement.
The basic premise of our Statement is this:
Patriarchal oppression is the bedrock of female genital mutilation (FGM) and related harmful traditional practices….. Female genital mutilation (FGM) in all its forms is cruelty and abuse.
Please add your support:
And our aim in publishing the Statement is
… to gather support, from concerned citizens and from people directly working to abolish FGM, for research, dialogue and activism which derives from such an understanding. To that end we insist, for instance, that FGM be correctly named – as specifically ‘mutilation’ and not, in formal discourse, by any evasive or softening euphemism.
Our core team of authors and signatories is small: Tomi Adeaga, Paula Ferrari, Tobe Levin, Lucy Mashua Sharp, Linda Weil-Curiel and myself. Coming respectively (by home or origin) from Germany, Nigeria, Australia, the USA, Kenya, France and the UK, mostly we have never met in person; but in some cases we have ‘met’ almost daily over many months by email, as we discovered through the power of the internet our mutual horror at the deadly cruelty that is the female genital mutilation of girls and even babies.
Millions still suffer
The number of women and girls forced to undergo this barbaric torture annually hovers steadily around thirty-plus million a year, increasing annually in ‘developed’ countries of Europe, and in the USA and Australia.
Yes, there are reports of decreased incidence, but still there are nations where almost all the female population remains, to use the euphemism we resolutely refuse to accept, ‘circumcised’., where almost no woman or girl is ‘intact’. Indeed, the World Health Organisation(WHO) is alarmed that, e.g. in Egypt, traditional so-called ‘practices’ are being replaced by ‘treatment’, lucratively delivered in make-shift clinics by professionally trained medics.
And now a recently published UNFPA report suggests that the currently favoured approach to erasing FGM, replacing it with other non-harmful rites of passage and seeking to ‘respect’ FGM as a traditional practice, does not on its own work.
It’s good to respect people of all cultures, but absolutely not good to respect things they do – because everyone else has for millennia – which kill and maim their children.
The basic human rights of children must always over-ride the ‘cultural’ sensitivities of adults.
Each person in the FGM Statement core group explains the issues in her own way, but our general analysis of the dire failure to protect girls from practices which will damage them forever, is, bluntly put, something like this:
Until the paradigm changes, and FGM perceived not as a custom but rather as an epidemic which must be addressed by governments as well as community workers, it will continue to blight the lives of millions. Whole communities over generations suffer because of it.
Yes, explanations, education and support to do things another way are crucial, as is the engagement of faith leaders to reinforce the message that FGM has no religious validity (rather, the converse) .
But in the end the state must reinforce the message with zero tolerance of FGM as a crime – which almost all nations now declare in statute (and they all declare in the UN Resolution of 2012) that it is.
So law enforcement, across the globe, is as important as education, and much more important in this age of universally shared knowledge than ‘respect’ for the grievous bodily harm of FGM.
Powerful invisible interests
It is however equally important to recognise also that behind this grim tradition is the iron grip of many, many generations of self-interest, of powerful people who benefit financially and in terms of influence and power from the enforced mutilation of female children.
Some of those who benefit are the grandes dames of the mutilating communities – the secret Sande Society women who control or perpetrate the torture. But always behind them stand the shadowy men who pull the real strings: the men who prefer child brides, the men who sell their barely teenage daughters, freshly mutilated, into marital slavery, the men who decree, perhaps via their womenfolk, that ‘unclean’ (uncircumcised) women are unfit to be members of the community.
Consider the latest evidence for our position that FGM is patriarchy incarnate: The Maasai are a tribe has down the ages practised FGM; but it is also one of the few where women own land. Now, those women are beginning to think they should stop mutilating their daughters. If they do, however, it’s said the men insist women will have to give up their land.
Each of us in the core group who produced the FGM Statement, as we acknowledge, has our own reasons for choosing to fight FGM with our keyboards and our words across the world-wide-web, wherever we are. We are very proud that people who also support our position with their words include Elfriede Jelinek, Nobel Laureate in Literature, 2004, and Dr Morissanda Kouyaté, Executive Director of the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (IAC).
Enough of the respectful musings on ‘cutting’. FGM is Mutilation, sometimes Murder.
And it’s also about massive control and power. How can girls still tortured become the beacons of hope for the future which their nations, and all of us across the global community, need them to be?
Will you – wherever and whoever you are – use your keyboard, like us, to demand that FGM be labelled for what it is, a cruelly oppressive crime, a matter of zero tolerance, right now?
This article was originally posted in the Huffington Post, 28 August 2013
This is the Statement in full:
FEMINIST STATEMENT ON THE NAMING AND ABOLITION OF FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION
Patriarchal oppression is the bedrock of female genital mutilation (FGM) and related harmful traditional practices.
The aim of this Statement is to gather support, from concerned citizens and from people directly working to abolish FGM, for research, dialogue and activism which derives from such an understanding. To that end we insist, for instance, that FGM be correctly named – as specifically ‘mutilation’ and not, in formal discourse, by any evasive or softening euphemism.
1. Female genital mutilation (FGM) in all its forms is cruelty and abuse. The United Nations has decreed it a fundamental violation of human rights [a].
2. FGM is practised in many parts of the world. The World Health Organisation estimates that some 140 million girls and women now alive have undergone this mutilation, with around 3 million more experiencing it every year [b].
140 million is however a very conservative figure and the total including e.g. Indonesia [c], the Middle East and diaspora destinations is likely to be much higher.
3. FGM, like other traditional practices which harm women and girls [d], is done from fear in many guises, at the instigation behind the scenes of powerful people who stand to benefit from it, for themselves [e].
4. The proper, and necessary, response to FGM is to treat it, wherever it occurs, as a very serious, sometimes deadly, crime. There is substantive evidence to suggest this approach, allied with appropriate education and support, is the most effective way of stopping FGM [f].
5. It is essential to acknowledge that African women leaders themselves, in joint statements [g], have decreed that FGM should in all formal discussion be called ‘mutilation’, and not by any other euphemistic term. It is deeply disrespectful of those brave women – and also extremely unhelpful – to ignore their judgement and advice.
6. We are concerned simply and solely with the essential protection from FGM, everywhere, of defenceless children, irrespective of whether the intended FGM operators are traditional practitioners or, in the modern contemporary sense, medically trained [h] .
(NB Necessarily, our concern further extends, in some communities, to the protection of women subject to involuntary FGM, e.g. when their marriages are arranged, after childbirth or after criminal abduction.)
7. We believe that all women and girls who have experienced FGM are entitled, as and if or when they wish, to skilled reconstructive or other surgery and /or additional medical and personal support, free of charge, as part of reparation for this crime.
8. There are many people with different skills and insights who can and should contribute to the work of abolishing / eliminating / eradicating FGM; each of us has a part to play.
It is however fundamentally important to recognise unreservedly, and to hear, the centrally critical contribution of women with direct experience of this traditional harmful practice who are seeking to eliminate FGM.
28 August 2013
[a] United Nations (2012): Intensifying global efforts for the elimination of female genital mutilations (24 September) & United Nations bans female genital mutilation (20 December)
[b] World Health Organisation (2013): Factsheet 241: Female Genital Mutilation
[c] See for example this Research Report: Female Circumcision in Indonesia – Extent, Implications and Possible Interventions to Uphold Women’s Health Rights (Jakarta, 2003)
[d] Which must also be abolished, see e.g. World Health Organisation website page:Female genital mutilation (FGM) and harmful practices
[e] Feminist Europa. Review of Books. Vol. 9, No 1, 2009 / Vol. 10, No 1, 2010 (Tobe Levin, p.69)
[f] Thomson Reuters Foundation (22 July 2013), Thirty million girls at risk of FGM despite decline in support – UN
[g] Regional Conference on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children in Africa organised by the Inter-African Committee (IAC) on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children, 19-24 November 1990, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and later reaffirmed in Mali in 2005 .
[h] World Health Organisation (2010): Global strategy to stop health-care providers from performing female genital mutilation
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FURTHER INFORMATION AND ACTION
Readers are invited to support these two FGM e-petitions:
[See also HM Government e-petition, No. 35313, to STOP Female Genital Mutilation (FGM / ‘cutting’) in Britain (for UK citizens and residents – now closed).]
There is a free FGM hotline for anyone in the UK:
0800 028 3550,
or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The #NoFGM Daily News carries reports of all items shared on Twitter that day about FGM – brings many organisations and developments into focus.
What Is Female Genital Mutilation? Why Does It Occur? What Are Its Health And Well-being Impacts? Please see here.
Facebook page: #NoFGM – a crime against humanity
More info on FGM in the UK here.
Email contact: NoFGM email
** Hilary Burrage is currently writing a book, Eradicating Female Genital Mutilation: A UK Perspective