Human Rights Day, 10 December, was the final date of the United Nations 16 Days of Action Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign – and also the effective start of the horrifying ‘cutting season‘, when in some traditional communities girls undergo female genital mutilation (FGM).
To stop violence against women requires active engagement by men worldwide who have not yet acknowledged harmful practices (HTPs) in their own communities, alongside the many men who wouldn’t ever permit violence to their wives, daughters, or other women and girls.
In contemporary manifestations this harm includes everything from cruel words which destroy female confidence and autonomy, to crass intrusion into matters physiological and sexual: the denial for instance of access to family planning and abortion.
In traditional communities abuse may be even more overt. Male control are often exercised via the idea that women, even young girls, are simply ‘baby machines’, fed and nurtured only until sold by fathers to other men as ‘pure’ – read: ‘virgin’ – commodities ready to produce the next generation of sons or (‘regrettably’) daughters.
That autocratic way lies everything from flat refusal to ‘waste’ money on girls’ education, through to the barbarities of bride price, so-called ‘honour’ killings (every month in Britain) and my own specific focus, female genital mutilation / FGM (perhaps 140+ thousand affected women and girls in the UK alone; 200 million world-wide).
Researching for my book, Female Mutilation, I learnt how men engage in promoting gender equality and preventing harm to women and girls.
Via Twitter, in Kenya I discovered Evanson Njeru, Gerald Lepariyo, Samuel Leadismo and Tony Mwebia, all determined that their sisters, daughters and neighbours should get an education and never, ever undergo FGM. In Uganda there was Ahabwe Mugerwa Michael, organising the wonderful ‘barefoot grannies’ to take health and EndFGM messages into the bush. In Minneapolis, USA Ahmed Hassan works hard to stop FGM in Somalian communities.
Likewise, we have Kameel Ahmady on whose book In the Name of Tradition on FGM in Iran I was lucky to collaborate, and the surgeon Pierre Foldes in Paris, who undertakes pro bono reconstruction of damaged genitalia for women who seek it. Plus, amongst others, Dexter Dias QC and Karl Turner MP in the UK, emphasising that FGM is a gross abuse of human rights….
But what can the rest of us do to challenge the damage to women, girls and also thereby to our wider societies? How can men tackle these issues without appearing either less ‘manly’ or indeed over-bearing?
Here are a few ideas:
* Open your eyes. Much of the behaviour which hurts women and girls arises from accepted routines and customs. Do you even know it’s there? Will you respond well if you see a woman or girl being compromised or threatened? How can you best challenge embedded ideas and traditions?
* This is personal. It’s about you as a man, and as a human being. How will you cope if others dismiss your belief that all of us deserve equal care and respect? How can you support ending violence against women, to prevent grave harm and to demonstrate these beliefs?
* These are not challenges only for men. Nonetheless, we know that child sexual abuse, usually by men, remains a vile scourge. Men perpetrate around 90% of domestic violence in Britain (half in the presence of children). Still FGM and so-called ‘honour’ violence are found in the UK as well as in many other parts of the world.
Already some men (wherever they are across the globe) demand an end to gendered, and indeed other, violence.
The year-end ‘cutting season’ adds grim emphasis to this imperative. If men everywhere are vigilant and determined and speak out unflinchingly, FGM could become history right now.
Male chauvinism is a cocoon from which men must emerge. Everyone is happier when girls and boys, men and women, coexist in peace.
This article discusses some of the men who narrated their ‘story’ about combatting FGM in my book, Female Mutilation (as below). Many other men of course have likewise shown the way in efforts to eradicate FGM.
Amongst those one person who stands out is Dr Morissanda Kouyate, the long-time Executive Director of the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices (IAC), who kindly provided a Foreword to the book Female Mutilation.
It would be good also to note in responses to (comments on) this post the names of other men who have shown leadership in making FGM and related harmful practices history.
One global organisation which focuses on the eradication of violence against women and girls is the White Ribbon Campaign. Men sharing this objective are invited to become involved via their national group (UK group here).
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[A note on terminology: The Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children, which has a primary focus on FGM, is clear that in formal discourse any term other than ‘mutilation’ concedes damagingly to the cultural relativists – though the terms employed may of necessity vary in informal discussion with those who by tradition use alternative vocabulary. See the Feminist Statement on the Naming and Abolition of Female Genital Mutilation, The Bamako Declaration: Female Genital Mutilation Terminology and the debate about Anthr/Apologists on this website.]
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Books by Hilary Burrage on female genital mutilation
For more detail and discussion of female genital mutilation please see my textbook, which considers in some detail the situation globally, but also explores the issues relating specifically to Western nations: Eradicating Female Genital Mutilation: A UK Perspective (Ashgate/Routledge, 2015). My second book, Female Mutilation: The truth behind the horrifying global practice of female genital mutilation (New Holland Publishers, 2016), contains narrative ‘stories’ (case studies) from about seventy people across five continents who have experienced FGM, either as survivors and/or as campaigners and activists against this harmful traditional practice.
FURTHER INFORMATION AND ACTION
There is a free FGM hotline for anyone in the UK: 0800 028 3550, or email:email@example.com
The (free) #NoFGM Daily News carries reports of all items shared on Twitter that day about FGM – brings many organisations and developments into focus.
Also available to follow at no cost or obligation is the #NoFGM_USA Daily News.
Facebook page: #NoFGM – a crime against humanity
This article concerns approaches to the eradication specifically of FGM. I am also categorically opposed to MGM, but that is not the focus of this particular piece.
Anyone wishing to offer additional comment on more general considerations around infant and juvenile genital mutilation is asked please to do so on the relevant dedicated thread, originally developed in June 2012:
Pending further notice, discussion of the general issues re M/FGM will not be published unless they are posted on this dedicated page. Thanks.