fighting fgm, fighting inequality, fighting for freedom?
During i-D Girl Week, girl power has ruled. Feminism (even anti-feminism), self-expression, choices by females - all have been celebrated. Girl power is loud and proud and yes, finally! The very fact that we are able to explore and tackle such a...
Fighting for equality's existence within the global community has been a precocious task that organisations and individuals world-over have undertaken and are still fighting for. One of the most eye-opening fights has been that of the recent Girl Summit this July, co-hosted by the UK Government and UNICEF to declare the UK and UN'S evolving fight against female genital mutilation (FGM). After 30 years of tabooism surrounding FGM, it's time to stand up, raise awareness and fight for the freedom that FGM brutalises and destroys. It's not just a question of feminism, it's about educating with a sense of realism. Female genital mutilation is the removal of a girls' genitals; the operation can be a part or complete removal. The practice is usually carried out before girls mature into puberty, between the ages of four and eight, carried out without any anesthetic and undertaken by a 'cutter' - mostly women who are beheld at a high stature within their communities. Knives, razor blades and scissors are used as instruments and hygiene is often at incredibly high risk in the under-developed countries that practice it.
FGM, through decades of practice, has become a hard-wired socio-cultural norm seen as upholding feminine morality and virtue, it is a vicious cycle to break as it holds the strictures of social expectations and thus pressures from communities.
A recent UNICEF report showed shocking figures of those who suffer this violation across the world. FGM is practiced in around 28 countries in Africa, the Middle East, the UK and America, with a total of 130 million FGMvictims worldwide. In Europe alone, there are 500,000 women who have undergone FGM, with migrant and diaspora communities carrying on the tradition.
FGM, through decades of practice, has become a hard-wired socio-cultural norm, unchallenged by many of the practicing communities. This is where the challenge lies, for a social norm cannot be erased within a heartbeat. It must be infiltrated from within, tackled with education and raising awareness. FGM is regarded within practicing communities as necessary in order for girls to marry well. Seen as upholding feminine morality and virtue, it is a vicious cycle to break as it holds the strictures of social expectations and thus pressures from communities.
Today, there are various charities combating FGM, including Womankind Worldwide, an organisation that works closely within practicing countries such as Ethiopia, to educate against it. "One of the most important things people need to know about FGM is that it is a violation of women and girls' human rights and can never be justified by interpretations of culture or religion. We work to empower women and girls through self-help groups/partnering with Ethiopian women's rights organisation KMG to empower communities to abandon the practice - results showed positive reactions. Nearly 97% of villagers said they would have circumcised their daughters as per tradition. After the intervention, less than 5% of villagers said they would circumcise their daughters, indicating that attitudes have changed significantly. Up to 85% of villagers believed that uncircumcised girls were no longer despised in their villages," Womankind Worldwide explains.
Orchid Project is another charity that works internationally, within countries where FGM is prevalent, to encourage abandonment of the custom. "It takes time to develop a partnership, to understand what is really making a difference. We support work that is already happening and believe that people from their own communities will understand how best to deal with the issue of FGC (female genital cutting). We show our support through a 'social mobilisation' project, with teams of volunteers from communities who have abandoned the practice, travelling along their social networks to discuss why they have made this choice," says David Adam of Orchid.
The fight against FGM isn't about breaking down communities or criticising cultures, but instead is part of a bigger fight against female violation and the creation of female equality.
Though technically illegal for the last 30 years, the first UK-based case against FGM took place this year in the UK. Not only was the Girl Summit a loud shout throwing awareness to the masses, but it also honoured 17 and 18 year old Bristol school-girls Fahma Mohamed and Muna Hassan, who in February of this year began a petition to then Education Secretary Michael Gove. Campaigning loudly for UK schools and teachers to be educated about FGM in order to fight its prevalence, the girls started a campaign backed by the Guardian, which is now starting to take shape throughout British education. Muna says, "People need to get over the fact that girls have vaginas. They have the right to bodily integrity. Just as we all learn about rape, we should all know about FGM and we should all know where to go for help if we think somebody is at risk. And we must all play our part in breaking cycles of abuse."
Yesterday it was announced that the UK's first FGM unit will open in University College Hospital. What the work of each charity and individual and their successes show, is that the fight against FGM isn't about breaking down communities or criticising cultures, but instead is part of a bigger fight against female violation and the creation of female equality. "FGM is a sensitive and taboo issue, associated with suffering and pain. Now it is recognised as a human rights violation worthy of the attention of global readers and politicians," argue END FGM, a campaign led by Amnesty International Ireland, working to put FGM high on the EU agenda. Muna adds "I already knew about FGM, but I hadn't realised so many of my friends had been cut. I was shocked and angry and I felt frustrated that we weren't allowed to talk about it. So many people wanted to silence us, it was unbelievable how emotive the whole issue was back then. FGM is just so wrong and so unjust and controlling. I was nervous, all four of us who started this work were, but the more people tried to silence us, the more I knew we had to speak out. There was nothing about FGM in education - there still isn't! So how could you stop this hideous form of abuse if you don't talk about it?"
How can we raise awareness if we don't talk about it? Thanks to the amazing organisations and campaigners, all involved with the Girl Summit, we now have a bigger picture of the inequalities, dangers and pain that young girls and women face, and by continuing to educate, we too can help the move towards equality. One success leads to another, and culminates in an international support system. We'll end with a declaration of freedom from END FGM; "What is freedom? Freedom is reaching adulthood with full and in tact physical, emotional and psychological integrity. Freedom is surviving human rights violations and having the ability and strength to speak out, so that others will not suffer as you did. Freedom is for every woman and girl, the right to health and education."
Text Bojana Kozarevic
Image from Girl Summit 2014