FGM in Germany: Kiminta, Maasai, and a traumatic rite

In Kiminta, a Maasai’s Fight against Female Genital Mutilation, co-authored by Maria Kiminta and Tobe Levin, you will meet an expert partisan of genital integrity, bold in speaking out for excised girls. A Maasai subjected to female genital mutilation, Kiminta tells her personal story to encourage abandonment of the harmful tradition. Now resident in Germany, she espouses a human rights position, arguing for government accountability and application of international conventions to stop the disability and pain in her homeland, Kenya. Her memoir is amplified by source material, making the book suitable for classroom use.

An EXCERPT from the book

From the start, Kiminta makes her opposition clear but also addresses readers whose limited familiarity with her culture challenges their understanding of the issue’s complexity. Yes, Kiminta is the first to agree, amputation of girls’ genitalia is “horrible …

no one seemed to care about our feelings.” But then, why the seemingly widespread complicity? Why, in other words, is the harmful tradition so tenacious? These questions and others are addressed in the following passage.

You can purchase Kiminta from Amazon.

I am a Maasai, and I was subjected to female genital mutilation.

Although commonly called “circumcision” by people not (yet) ready to abandon the practice, the rite involves slicing off parts of the visible female genitalia or otherwise injuring sexual organs for reasons other than malignancy, malformation or illness.  Not medically prescribed, the ‘surgery’ answers cultural, religious or other non-therapeutic mandates. Recent reports observe a shift – minor among the Maasai — towards medicalization of the process, now increasingly offered by trained personnel ostensibly to limit side effects and pain. But in case you are tempted to smile, this is not a positive development and is, in fact, strongly opposed by, among others, the Inter-African Committee.1

A long-standing cultural practice, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is not limited to my community but prevails equally in other pastoral ethnic groups. Although girls between four and ten are its most frequent victims, it takes place at any age from infancy through adolescence. Although thirteen to sixteen years had been preferred where I grew up, now, to avoid detection by authorities, clitoridectomy is often performed on babies.

As children, we were meant to believe that FGM is a ‘good tradition’. This would be elaborated to us by the old women and grandparents during evening story-telling where values and morals were imparted. Then we also learned that the smooth flow of a girl’s whole life depended entirely upon her undergoing FGM so that refusing became as unthinkable as the dire future predicted for the child left unshorn. Indeed, no one ever talked about what could go wrong – and certainly not the extreme pain that segues into torture. Instead everything was meant to encourage us to accept the knife, abandoning resistance or fear. And so we, too, celebrated these amputations, viewing them as bestowing on initiates increased respect and enhanced status. Showered with numerous gifts, the graduate, no longer a child, would have become a woman and an asset to the group.

Festivities for kids

During the ceremonies, we young children would be allowed to eat, feast and dance to the traditional jig whose text lauded and praised the courageous who have just been cut. Ironically, beforehand, we were never permitted anywhere near the ‘circumcision’ rooms where screams would surely have frightened us away. Nor were we allowed to visit the victims. Only after they had healed would we see them again. Otherwise, we would have known how inhumanely they had been treated. In fact, the older girls would be isolated on a different homestead far from uncircumcised children, to remain there until their bodies had mended and resumed normal function. To limit our interactions, the elders warned us that because these girls had now been turned into ‘adults’, they had become off limits to us kids. We were forbidden to mingle or play with them.

For you see, the ‘circumcised’ now belonged to a different, advanced ‘age set’. Only after we too had confronted the razor would we be permitted to fool around, hang out, or take care of chores together. Our elders told us that girls who have been ‘circumcised’ now had a special ‘status’ and deserved to be treated differently — better than the way we were treated. During recovery, they were prepared special meals, treats also promised to us once we had become candidates ourselves. Of course, this made us jealous. The favor showered on that season’s ‘chosen’ made every child long for the blade.

All these efforts that shielded us from the harsh realities of the procedure pushed us to admire and even desire it. After all, who wouldn’t want to enjoy the elevated social status that came with it? 

To understand the psychology here, you must be aware that, as kids, we were systematically humiliated in ways I now know to have gone against children’s rights. We were deceived by all means possible, tricked into loving a so-called ‘good practice’ because of its artificial ‘positive’ change.  No one ever mentioned long-term negative effects. Only afterward did reality dawn on me, and I realized that, for the girl child, adverse consequences far outweigh anything good. 

Whilst an adult is free to submit herself to the ritual, a child without formed judgment never ‘consents’. She simply undergoes the mutilation (which in this case is irrevocable) while she is totally vulnerable.

TABLE OF CONTENTS ° Preface by Maria Kiminta ° Kiminta, a Maasai’s Fight against Female Genital Mutilation. ° “Defining Womanhood as Pain: On FGM” (guest poem) by Airyn Lentija-Sloan ° The Sourcebook ° “Myths of the Maasai: FGM Engagement, Postcolonial Lens” by Noel Ciqi Duan ° “FGM amongst the Maasai in Kenya” by Equality Now Nairobi via IRIN News ° “The Female Genital Mutilation Act 2011 of Kenya: Challenges Facing its Implementation in Kajiado Central Sub-County, Kenya”* by Geofrey Towett, Peter Gutwa Oino, and Audrey Matere  ° “Reflections on Kiminta’s Tale” by Valentine Nkoyo ° “Critique of Anthr/apologists observing a Maasai rite” by Tobe Levin ° “Afterword” by Maria Kiminta ° Notes on Contributors

*With gratitude to the International Journal of Innovation and Scientific Research. This chapter is an excerpted adaptation, condensed and edited for style, used here under provisions applying to an “open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.” Proper citation accompanies the chapter.


For International Women’s Day: Honor to Authors Confronting FGM

Lawrelynd welcomes her little brother.

The latest in the UnCUT/VOICES family of scholars and novelists is Lawrelynd Bowin.

Her memoir Swimming in a Red Sea tells the story of 39-year-old Lawra Linda Bawman, an African Canadian who grew up in Port Kamsar, Guinea; studied politics in Moscow; married a Dutchman; moved to Vancouver, resided in Brussels, and has now returned to North America. Multiple migrations are merely part of the search for identity of a young woman whose youth was marred by gendered ordeals. Jailed as a girl by her uncle for flirting with a boy, she is raped, subjected to FGM, and, at age twelve, compelled to witness her mother’s fatal experience in childbirth. Facing eternity, the grand multigravida – defined as a woman who gives birth six times or more-, extracts a promise from her daughter to assume responsibility for the new-born.

Life chronicles penned by immigrant women are rare; Bawman’s narrative adds significantly to the genre. Captive to her African past, the protagonist seeks escape and solace in the West only to discover that trauma follows. She mistakenly assumes that rejecting Africa will enable her to thrive. On the contrary. Her origins insistently intrude. Suppressed memories erupt and disrupt daily life, returning the heroine to Guinea, both physically and psychologically, by somatic mimicking of her mother who bled to death. Whenever upset – by the Brussels terrorist attack, for instance–, Lawra Linda suffers spontaneous bleeding, a reminder of loss never overcome but at least assuaged by devotion to the health of her sons, husband, and self. She continues questioning the justice of existence while subduing fear of dying and confronting, for her children’s sake, a troubled world.

Smiles greeted publication of the book.

The multilingual author and actor offers scenes of brutality tempered by resistance flowing into love. A Preface by Dr. Fabienne Richard, Executive Director of GAMS Belgium and midwife at the FGM Clinics, CeMAViE, University Hospital St. Pierre, Brussels; and an Afterword by Dr. Tobe Levin von Gleichen, associate of the Hutchins Center for African and African American research at Harvard, locate Bowin’s achievement in the context of creative writing in which migration, women’s identity, benevolent action and trauma associated with FGM are major themes.

You can order Swimming in a Red Sea at amazon.com

Alice Walker, Soraya Miré, Khady Koita — and Zora Neale Hurston: Zero Tolerance for FGM

At the London premiere of Pratibha Parmar’s film “Beauty in Truth” about Alice, March 2013

From 30 January through 2 February, 2019, the ZORA! Festival in Eatonville joined with the University of Central Florida and CAAR (Collegium for African American Research) to host a nourishing and memorable gathering, attracting an international cohort of scholars to honor a famous but undeservedly neglected writer, Zora Neale Hurston. My contribution consisted of drawing Zora into the same orbit with Alice Walker, Soraya Miré and Khady Koita, the latter three having wielded their pens against FGM as fierce, unrelenting campaigners for the genital integrity of girls. Privileged to present in session 14, “Zora Neale Hurston in Conversation with Other Writers,” chaired by Claire Oberon Garcia, I was joined by panelists John Gruesser (Sam Houston State University, USA) who has a chapter in my book on Alice Walker; Arlette Frund (l’Université de Tours, France), with whom I attended the first CAAR conference in Tenerife more than two decades ago; and Anne Adams (Cornell University), who published my first essay on FGM novels in her anthology, edited with Carole Boyce Davies, Ngambika. Studies of Women in African Literature (1986). Conversely, Anne Adams critiqued a Ghanaian youth novel against excision in my book Empathy and Rage.

So the sister (and brother-) hood I conjured among our authors was in evidence among presenters, too. Even if, as Henry Louis Gates, Jr. describes it, Zora’s “is a rhetoric of division, rather than a fiction of psychological or cultural unity.”

He is characterizing the complexity of Zora’s multiple selves – anthropologist, autobiographer, short-story writer, novelist and entertainer – negotiated under patriarchal white supremacy but guided in research by the father of cultural relativism, Franz Boas.

Renowned for “sharpening her oyster knife,” expressing astonishment that anyone would wish to deny themselves the pleasure of “her company,” Zora throws the gauntlet down to racism, flamboyant in defiance of its aim to shame.

The spirit and confidence exhibited by the “genius of the South” are inflected throughout Walker’s novel Possessing the Secret of Joy, and, I will argue, in two representative memoirs by Miré and Khady whose protagonists, like Tashi, have endured genital wounds, protested publicly, and published excruciating yet poetic tales condemning FGM.

Khady was literally the poster child in Rome for a major colloquium on FGM sponsored by No Peace without Justice and Emma Bonino, former Foreign Minister of Italy.

That Zora grew up in Eatonville, the first registered all-black town, likely contributed to her “unshakeable sense of identity” (Valerie Boyd). This in turn lay the foundation for absorbing her mother’s encouragement. “Jump at the Sun,” the matriarch advised, a metaphor for successful agency in a broader world. An undogmatic “folklorist who insisted on black pride,” Zora inspired reverence in Alice Walker who helped ensure the older artist’s legacy.

These four authors – Hurston, Walker, Miré, and Khady (Koita)– adhere to one another by virtue of their courage. Despite infibulation, excision and clitoridectomy designed to produce somatic and psychological inferiority, — in Simone de Beauvoir’s sense that “women are made, not born”  and here subject to assaults literally cutting them down to size –, Khady Koita in Mutilée (2005)* and Soraya Miré in Girl with Three Legs (2011) reclaim and perform, like Zora, an integrity of character that permits them to take enormous risks in ‘coming out’ as cut in the Diaspora.

Thus, far from withered, they jump from the page as larger than life.

Today, the sexism that insists on genital wounding harvests increased opprobrium, often with defaming xenophobic intent in Western cultures that are, by the way, not without their own clitoridectomy outbreaks. History notwithstanding, currently right-wing rhetoric coopts and distorts both the meaning of ‘female circumcision’ to indigenous practitioners and the internal opposition.  Indeed, although December 2016 witnessed the very first, long overdue ‘Summit’ of activists in the US, many of them first generation immigrants who had been subjected to the blade, that gathering came twenty years after other host nations had begun acting with and on behalf of girls. Zora’s confidence and Alice Walker’s advocacy can be detected in this US response.

A chronicle of Walker’s influence and reception, my book presents the fraught history of a US movement to end FGM. And Alice approved.

Thus, despite the present nadir of racist discourse condoned outrageously by governments, concern for girls’ and women’s health and rights appears defiant with increasing numbers of self-confident, outspoken advocates for genital integrity. As Walker notes, “Zora is a great inspirer. She gives people permission to be themselves,” a clear rejection of definitions that would limit the humanity of others.

* [Blood Stains. A Child of Africa Reclaims Her Human Rights. Trans. Tobe Levin. Orig. 2005]

MEN needed, and open minds, to understand FGM: contribution to 16 Days against gender violence.

Cover pastel for FGM in Iran
“To avoid a curse from her deceased grandfather,” Florence Muthoni had her thirteen-year-old twins undergo FGM. [1] The patriarch had ordered the blade for all the family’s girls. Agid, a mother fervently hoping to prevent infibulation for her four-year-old, caved to neighbors’ harassment but even more so to fear of an ancestor’s curse. In Sharifa’s Three Wishes. With the Kunama in Eritrea, [2] the deceased matriarch, like Muthoni’s relative, also decreed the little girl’s excision. Should her last will be denied, devastation would blight the village, not solely the wrong-doer – or so it is firmly believed. And in Nick Hadikwa Mwaluko’s WAAFRIKA 123, “first wife Mama Mugabe … advocates fiercely for traditional values and customs.” [3] Confronted by an “unnatural” lesbian relationship between the royal Awino [4] and Bobby, she’s convinced that drought and hunger are the cosmic answer to the lovers’ transgression. She understands the women’s passion for each other as “the mark of their ancestor’s anger at Awino’s great offense to them,” the fact that the princess “has not been circumcised.” [5] And finally, in Jeanie Kortum’s Stones, ‘things fall apart’ precisely because the Great Mother’s thirst must be slaked. Neglected, she has withdrawn from nature, leaving it to wither and refuse its fruits. Famine looms, and, of a piece with  Kenya’s dread or Eritrean angst, people do not doubt that a girl’s spilled genital blood is the deity’s beverage of choice.
Waafrika 123 coverThus, one principle governing the longevity of FGM is fear. As the magnificent (late) Dr. Barbara Harrell-Bond insisted, her research on FGM in Sierra Leone revealed a tie between fertility and cutting – as Jeanie Kortum captures in her novel –, and this in turn explains resistance to relinquishing the knife. If giving birth is the sine qua non of fulfilment, and babies require carved genitalia in order to emerge, then it stands to reason that most women will choose maternity despite its painful caveat, excision, so as not to risk sterility. That science can easily disprove such beliefs doesn’t help. Angst is by nature not amenable to reason even if the two – the scientific and affective — often co-exist. Therapy is possible, but it’s not for nothing that Western definitions of mental illness challenge many African epistemologies.
Thus, if emotion maintains FGM, what persuasive strategies stand a chance of working?
I propose that it’s respect accorded male authority in patriarchal cultures – esteemed by men as well as women – that can be leveraged. This deference bypasses fear by appealing to something else instead: a wish to please. Thus, male advocates of ending cutting can succeed.
Undoing FGM coverWho are these men? UnCUT/VOICES Press celebrates several.  First, Hubert Prolongeau wrote Undoing FGM. Pierre Foldes, the Surgeon Who Restores the Clitoris (2011). In chapter 6, asking “Why?” we learn that “starting from a widespread insistence on truncating women’s sexual expression, it’s a short step to the most likely motive for FGM, rarely so explicitly stated: to reduce the exaggerated role female sexuality plays in men’s lives.” [6] Indeed, Dr. Foldes sees excision as “’the most violent expression of male domination’.” [7]
As women liberate themselves from patriarchal bodily inscriptions, many men have joined them in tempering (if not relinquishing) their privilege. Pierre Foldes, for instance, reached out to colleagues in medicine, law, and politics at the highest level, placing excision on the French national agenda. In this he was not unlike a second UnCUT/VOICES author, Kameel Ahmady, whose ten-year project to uncover and attempt to dissuade genital trimming in Iran addressed men as well – including male interviewees who offered their assessments of the practice; men in Teheran whose indifference or, worse, denial of support remains a challenge; and religious leaders who expressed both opposition and approval (in a decentralized system where each imam rules his own sphere of influence and power). Ahmady is emphatic about the role of men: he returns again and again to the regime as indispensable for abolition.
And he has recently been recognized with an honor well-deserved, first prize from the Global Woman P.E.A.C.E. Foundation in Washington, DC, for his book, In the Name of Tradition. Female Genital Mutilation in Iran (2017). As Stéphanie Florquin notes in her review: “According to the author, [in Iran] FGM is a taboo subject … [whose existence the] Iranian government denies, … hid[ing] it from the [public]. [Ahmady] highlights that the lack of funding and … support concerns both research and awareness-raising actions on FGM in the regions concerned.” [8]
Stones cover as jpeg (2)
Compared to 40 years ago, when I first learned about FGM, the subject has emerged from under the radar. Yet exposure remains crucial, and playwright Nick Hadikwa Mwaluko is a third man with the UnCUT/VOICES imprint whose voice swells the baritone chorus denouncing the practice. As we have seen, his play “takes a hard look at FGM,” in the words of drama critic Michael V. Rodriguez assessing a performance at Berkeley’s Theatrefirst where “’WAAFRIKA 123’ transfixes with fire,”[9] literally. In response to famine, vigilantes excise Awino by force.
Whether as a gesture to appease a cosmogony of demons or as ‘merely’ conforming to tradition, FGM is challenged by a queer sensibility, one that allows for diversity beyond the prison of men’s and women’s customary roles.



With thanks to Godfrey Williams-Okorodus for the cover pastel (above), used for the cover of In the Name of Tradition. Female Genital Mutilation in Iran.
  • [1] Nita Bhalla. “Kenyan woman jailed for six years for circumcising twin daughters.” Thomas Reuters Foundation. 23 November 2018. [http://www.iol.co.za/news/Africa/Kenyan-woman-jaiiled-for-six-years-for-circumcising-twin-daughters-18241152 Accessed 26 November 2018].
  • [2] Uschi Madeisky and Klaus Werner, dir. Die Drei Wünsche der Sharifa. Bei den Kunama in Eritrea. Frankfurt am Main: Colorama Films, 2000.
  • [3] Arthur Dorman. „Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul. WAAFRIKA 123.” Talkin’ Broadway E-blast List. https://www.talknbroadway.com/page/regional/minn/minn790.html?fbclid=IwAR1dVtuABi1d_3ofn7ip9dCdfMHGcHK11ySrJKG5t1fZPgpHVovKzXXbLg
  • [4] As Ginni Stern writes in the Foreword: “While most girls want to be princesses, this is the story of Awino, a princess who didn’t want to be girl.” (I’m reminded of the magnificent cover of the January 2017 National Geographic: “The best thing about being a girl is that now I don’t have to pretend to be a boy.”) https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2017/01/ Accessed 26 November 2018.
  • [5] It should be noted, however, that in reality the Luo tribe generally do not perform FGM. Mwaluko has taken an author’s liberty in his fiction.


Reflections on the Armistice, the Holocaust, UNESCO’s World Science Day … And FGM?

Many of you reading this will already have seen – and rejoiced, if with reserve – at the news of ‘dramatic’ plunges in prevalence of FGM.[1] At last, statistics are leaning our way, and thousands of girls who, only a decade ago, might have been dealt life-changing assaults will remain intact. Able to pursue education, they will contribute to development, peace, and prosperity. After all, a comfortable standard of living makes conflict less likely and maintenance of social harmony (relatively) trouble-free.[2]

The relationship between genital torture and peace, an enabling sister to prosperity, has not often been explored, but on November 9th, 10th, and 11th, three commemorations blend, and placing them in dialogue can be fruitful in understanding and thus promoting an end to FGM.

Macron MerkelFirst, in Compiègne, on 11 November 1918, an armistice was signed in the train compartment toward which Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron and Chancellor Angela Merkel are walking in the image on my Frankfurt living room TV. I agree with the announcers for whom the magnitude of the current French-German friendship, given European history, has a legitimate claim on our emotions. I’m tempted to use an old German adjective, rührselig with, according to Duden, 349 synonyms, suggesting conflicting nuances an event so-described can evoke. Among English translations are maudlin, mawkish and lachrymose, but touching is another option I prefer. I am moved knowing that both leaders in these troubled times stand for a certain resolve summed up in the hopeful ring of “never again.”

Elise Kaufman stumbling block

ELISE KAUFMAN lived here. Born 1902 [she was] arrested 1942, deported [to] Ravensbruck [concentration camp and from there] deported to Auschwitz [and] murdered, 1. February 1943. ‘Stumbling blocks’ like these are embedded in the sidewalk in front of victims’ homes.

What should be avoided at all costs is commemorated here in Germany on November 9, Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass. Tens of thousands of Jewish men[3] were arrested – not for any wrong-doing but simply because they were Jewish – and many were sent to Dachau, the first of the concentration camps that opened on 22 March 1933, less than two months after Hitler’s ascent to power. The dictator moved quickly to cement Nazi authority, a fact that implies our present need for swift refusal of fascist views together with prolonged remembrance.

Fast forward to today. As Observer journalist Robin Lustig notes, shortly after 11 worshippers were gunned down while praying in Pittsburgh, an acquaintance sent a letter. “She wrote from Magdeburg, an ancient university town where some of my father’s family had lived, and from where three of his cousins were deported to Theresienstadt and Auschwitz. This is what she said: ‘It is 80 years since the synagogues were attacked here, and we all know that it was the prelude to millions of murders. Since 1945, and every year since then, when we remember what happened, we realise how important it is to fight back from the beginning’.”[4]

The beginning was in the Armistice, in the toxic mix of resentment (of obligations imposed by the victors and considered unfair by the vanquished), followed in the next two decades by inflation, political instability, the Weimar Republic, the stock market crash, massive unemployment, the depression … developmental skeins hard to unwind yet taken together, leading to dictatorship, nationalism, and war in Europe. And had there been no war, it’s less likely we’d be mourning genocide.[5]

What has genocide to do with FGM? And equally important, how are UnCUT/VOICES’ books working for peace?

As a Holocaust scholar, I’ve been long aware that racism is related to misogyny, defined as (unconscious, sub rosa) hatred or fear of women. Not acted upon or even present in the minds of most individual men who have been schooled in kindness, misogyny is the clearest explanation for certain sadistic historical phenomena – witch trials, for instance, which executed millions of European females, and present practices harmful to ‘the sex’, as women have been blithely called.[6] And how else to interpret the chastity belts, a homegrown northern substitute for infibulation found in continental Museums of Torture? How else to account for the fact that one in three women globally has suffered domestic violence?[7]

Anti-Semitism, a form of racism, has one foot stuck in the mud of misogyny. What was so wrong with Jewish men that they were among the first imprisoned on Kristallnacht? Yes, they were thought to be ‘rich’ – an ancient stereotype – so greed was part of it, and homes ransacked that evening were also looted. But scholar Sander Gilman has another idea. He suggests it was circumcision that caused bleeding which resembles women who … as the White House Orange has pointed out in an effort to disparage, “… Fox’s Megyn Kelly had ‘blood coming out of her wherever’.”[8]  Despite widespread taboos, menstruation should not be a problem, but when projected as emasculating on Jewish men, it becomes one. In the anti-Semitic imagination, Jews (meaning male) are feminized while the feminine itself is excoriated. Were it – the feminine — not a ‘bad thing’, the female would not be mistreated as it is.

No blog can do justice to the intricacies of this subject, but connecting the dots, I see reason to fear. Acts of anti-Semitism, expressions of Islamophobia and racism against people with ample melanin have been increasing exponentially since the fall of 2016.

Fascism is anti-female, and whatever is against women inherently favors FGM. Our cause – ending excision and infibulation — has been hijacked, it’s true, by Islamophobic forces intent on maligning populations who cut as worse than others, as, I’ll dare say, ‘lesser humans’. Now that we know what happens to “unworthy life”[9] – Beware!

Opposing violence in the form of FGM, all UnCUT/VOICES books promote health, prosperity and peace. Khady, in Blood Stains (2010), urges the UN to act, which it does on 20 December 2012 when, with unanimous support from the African group, the General Assembly passed the “Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilations” resolution. In Undoing FGM. Pierre Foldes, the Surgeon Who Restores the Clitoris, we see the battlefield surgeon at work to repair the wounds of the ‘war against women’ – as widespread systematic infliction of pain on females has been described.[10] In Nick Mwaluko’s WAAFRIKA 123, drought induces fear which in turn demands blood sacrifice – and the clitoris is the mystical/logical object of choice. Resentful men excise the Chief’s lesbian daughter. Books that quest to stop such acts of ritual onslaught — Waging Empathy, Taboo, Kiminta, Swimming in a Red Sea, and In the Name of Tradition. Female Genital Mutilation in Iran[11] –, enhance prosperity and social harmony.

UNESCO commemorates Peace and Development in marking a Day for World Science. Germans remember in order to preclude (another) Kristallnacht that now appears, in hindsight, as a prelude to war. Europe celebrates the armistice because mortal enemies’ reconciliation shows progress. And elevating women’s status, dignity and independence by ending FGM hastens world peace.[12]

[1] See https://gh.bmj.com/content/2/4/e000467 and https://3news.com/study-finds-huge-fall-in-fgm-rates-among-african-girls/

[2] Poverty doesn’t cause FGM, just as membership in a leisure class doesn’t prevent it. But tradition can dig in its heels when confronting chaos, as change can be perceived.

[3] As in society at large, men (and homosexuals) and women (and lesbians) were targeted differently by the Nazis. See Tobe Levin. “The Holocaust and Women’s Studies: An uneasy rapprochement.” Book Review. European Journal of Women’s Studies. Vol. 7, 2000: 245-255. https://doi.org/10.1177/135050680000700206.  See also « Pouvons-nous appliquer les principes de la critique littéraire féministe aux écrits de femmes sur l’Holocauste? » [Can we apply principles of feminist literary criticism to women’s Holocaust writing?] Féminismes et nazisme. En Hommage à Rita Thalmann. Ed. Liliane Kandel. Paris: Publications de l’Université Paris 7, Denis Diderot (CEDREF), 1997. 250-259; rpt. In Féminismes et nazisme. Ed. Liliane Kandel. Paris: Odile Jacob, 2004. 250-259.

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/nov/10/eighty-years-after-kristallnacht-family-german-robin-lustig

Accessed 11 November 2018.

[5] It may sound as though I support the notion that the Jewish Holocaust is singular in history. I don’t, aware of the preceding mass murder of Armenians at the close of the Ottoman Empire as well as decimation of Native American tribes in the past, of large-scale killing in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, or ‘genocide’ applied today to the expulsion of Rohingya from Myanmar. The point is not a “competition of tears,” but to draw close parallels to developments today and those that led up to the scourges of World War II.

[6] The adverb is defined as “in a way that shows a casual and cheerful indifference considered to be callous or improper,” exactly the way I mean it. https://www.google.com/search?q=blithely+definition+in+english&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&client=firefox-b-1-ab Accessed 13 November 2018.

[7] “Global estimates published by WHO indicate that about 1 in 3 (35%) of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.” http://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/violence-against-women Accessed 13 November 2018.

[8] “Trump says Fox’s Megyn Kelly had ‘blood coming out of her wherever’.”

Accessed 11 November 2018.

[9] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1484488/

Accessed 11 November 2018.

[10] By Marilyn French in her novel of that name, among others.

[11] For the full titles and authors of UnCUT/VOICES books, visit www.uncutvoices.com. All books can be order through Amazon.

[12] As Emma Batha writes, “No Women, No Progress, Development Experts Warn.” http://hdr.undp.org/sites/default/files/2018_human_development_statistical_update.pdf

Accessed 13 November 2018.





Bullet Hole, a three-woman play about FGM at Park Theatre, London

UnCUT/VOICES Press is proud to support a production sure to change hearts and minds, welcome at a historical moment when success in the fight to end FGM seems on the cusp of a breakthrough. I’m honored to accept an invitation from director Lara Genovese to join a panel for Q & A following the performance on 18 October of Gloria Williams’ Bullet Hole, short-listed for the Alfred Fagon Audience Award 2017. If you are in London, don’t miss it! Address:

TICKETS: https://www.parktheatre.co.uk/whats-on/bullet-hole

BH_park image-sq_low res (002)

And in case you’re still in the UK the following day, on Friday, 19 October 2018, UnCUT/VOICES Press is co-sponsoring a workshop on FGM, Youth and Media at the University of Oxford, Kellogg College, together with the International Gender Studies Centre (Lady Margaret Hall), Oxford against Cutting and 28 Too Many, colleagues with whom it is truly a pleasure to work, as our coalition combines scholarship, art and activism in an optimistic spirit convinced that we can end FGM and ensure the empowerment and pleasure of the coming generations of all genders. Invitation FGM workshop 19 Oct Kellogg Oxford final

You are more than welcome to join us in Oxford. To ensure sufficient catering, however, please email Tobe Levin ASAP: tlevin@fas.harvard.edu

Barbara's Billboard

The Programme

VENUE: Mawby Room, Kellogg College, University of Oxford In Honour of Dr Barbara Harrell-Bond OBE

ça fait mal https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a5w_RU2-q7A

9:30 – 9:50 Meet and Greet. Dr Tobe Levin von Gleichen, Dr Maria Jaschok. Thanks to assistant Kelly Benguigui.  

9:45 – 10:00  Soraya Mire, author of Girl with Three Legs and filmmaker, Fire Eyes. Testimony https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sTG1MQdlNRY

10:00 – 11:00 #MyClitoris https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fq6v-kIcG_Y

FGM Animations https://www.wovenink.co.uk/endfgm-animations/

FORWARD UK Needlecraft https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bgbvZzCZU_4

Warrior Marks  https://vimeo.com/30232330. ANIMATED VIDEOS TO PREVENT CHILD Sexual ABUSE.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h3nhM9UlJjc  Consent for Kids https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zNTUMNKSNwk


11:00 – 11:45  Dr Tobe Levin von Gleichen: “The exemplary Guardian Global Campaign” plus introduction to “A Pinch of Skin” (Priya Goswami) and Jaha’s Promise. The Girl Who Said NO to FGM  https://www.theguardian.com/society/video/2017/mar/17/jaha-dukureh-promise-fgm-video

11:45 – 1:00 Kate Agha, Kaddy Touray and associates in Oxford Against Cutting: youth dance workshop.* See also

*Lila Greene [lg@eeg-cowlesfoudation.org] Dancer Fatoumata Bagayoko [fbagayoko86@yahoo.fr] … Dance about FGM in Mali

Working 1:00 – 1:20 LUNCH “I abandon” [Sini Sanuman/ Susan McLucas] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sjv_w_cO6T4

1:20 – 1:30 Janet Chapman. Mapathon.

1:30 – 1:50 Silent Scream (Integrate Bristol) https://vimeo.com/63697900 Discussion 


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h3nhM9UlJjc  Consent for Kids https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zNTUMNKSNwk

Round-Table. “Breaking Taboo: Youth Talk about Sex.” Dr Charles Dotou. Dr Michal Moskow. Dr Brenda Kelly

2:30 – 3:15: Caroline Pinder, 28 Too Many, Home Office PowerPoint/ Tool kit

3:15 -3:30 Coffee/tea break

3:30 – 3:45 Hilary Burrage: “Brexit and Youth: Bad for the movement?” 

3:45 – 4:00 Hannah https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=95OXTu4gTZE Discussion plus media suggestions from participants. 

4:00 – 5:00 IAC Beliefs and Misbeliefs  [Warning: graphic] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZIyAwOBvtg8 Discussion

5:15 -5:45 Dr Anna Reading (Keynote)

5:45 – 6:00 Summary and conclusion

£15 requested for lunch and coffee break. Contact tobe.levin@uncutvoices.com

For the International Day of the Girl Child, 11 October: Homage to Khady

Khady UN

Khady as a small girl graces the cover of her memoir _Blood Stains_. Sixty-five copies were distributed to UN GA delegates who voted on December 20, 2012, to Ban FGM Worldwide.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that, in 2012, Plan International urged the UN to declare 11 October the International Day of the Girl Child. Only 2 months later, on 20 December, the General Assembly strengthened that organization’s position vis-à-vis the International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM, first designated by the Inter-African Committee in 2004 to take place every February 6. The IAC’s intention was up-front. Voices within some UN agencies disagreed with African leadership whose Bamako Declaration (2005) cautioned against euphemism when urging abolition of female genital mutilation. The IAC, at its sixth General Assembly in Mali, accused the West of hijacking the topic.

… An issue of concern at the 6th General Assembly … has been attempts to dilute the terminology Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and replace it with the following: “Female Circumcision,” “Female Genital Alteration,” “Female Genital Excision,” “Female Genital Surgery,” and more recently “Female Genital Cutting” (FGC). … Female Genital Cutting (FGC) does not reflect the accurate extent of harm and mutilation caused by all types of FGM. This terminology has been adopted by some UN specialized agencies and bi-lateral donors … influenced by specific lobby groups largely based in western countries.

…These changes trivialize the nature of female genital mutilation and the suffering of African women and girls …[and] … made without consultation, [they] override the consensus reached by African women in the front line of the campaign as well as the … millions of African girls and women who suffer in silence.

Khady Geneva UN Book Day 24 April (3)

Celebrating action to end abuse. At the Human Rights Council in Geneva, 11 May 2016.

Khady was one of the earliest survivors to brave the danger in ‘outing’ herself, thereby providing a voice for the unheard millions. She tells how it feels – and how it all works together: FGM, forced and early marriage, marital rape and other bad habits …

That African kid with a sand belly has come remarkably far: from Thiès in Senegal to the United Nations via Beijing and innumerable African and European capitals.  A dynamic public speaker living in the Parisian Diaspora , she founded a European Network in Brussels in 2002 to prevent and eradicate ‘harmful traditional practices’, especially excision. She dares the world to look at what it chooses to ignore — FGM.

Khady at Harvard announcement

Her tireless motivation arises from an experience of hurt poignantly told in Blood Stains. A Child of Africa Reclaims Her Human Rights (Frankfurt am Main: UnCUT/VOICS Press, 2010). I’m Khady’s publisher and translator. In fact, UnCUT/VOICES Press was launched because you could have read Khady’s memoir in a dozen languages — Chinese, Russian, Japanese — as soon as it came out as Mutilée in 2005, but you’d have had to wait five years for it in English. One of many quality foreign-language texts that call FGM by its right name, torture, and sees it unequivocally as an abuse of human rights, the manuscript must have seemed risky to established publishers. After all, hadn’t the American Academy of Pediatrics in April 2010 revealed U.S. attitudes? The Academy supported changing the current law banning all forms of FGM in the USA. Wouldn’t it be better, the AAP urged, if physicians were enabled to “reach out” to practicing communities by offering a clitoral “nick”? Global outrage compelled the Academy’s return to an earlier uncompromised position, but a tendency in the US to condone, not condemn, had appeared. [When the Economist published “An Agonizing Choice” on 18 June 2016, arguing in support of a ‘nick’, Integrate UK came up with a smashing rebuttal that went viral on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fq6v-kIcG_Y

FGM remains a violent indignity – even when medicalized–, and Khady provides little space for ethical uncertainties. Among an intimidated troop of children, she witnesses how “three or four grown-ups snatch up a little girl” whose “blood-curdling shrieks” draw tears from her eyes. Longing but unable to escape she waits, rigid with fear. Then, two women drag her in. One seizes her head and, “with all the strength in her knees, crushes her shoulders to the ground” while the second forces the thighs apart. The clitoris now between the operator’s fingers, the elder “whacks it off like a piece of zebu meat.” Or, if unable to “hack it off in one go … she’s obliged to saw.” Do you hear Khady “howling”? (11) She says that in her mind, it has never stopped.

Can lack of empathy for targets of this widespread, systemic violation derive in part from the impotence of words? For “the pain had no name. It resembled no other. It was like they were yanking out your guts. Like a hammer in your skull, [your body] now home to a famished rat or an army of ants. I was swallowed whole by horror … from my head through my belly to my feet” (12).

First person accounts of the torture are rare. In 1978, Awa Thiam presented testimony by P.K. who described her ordeal. It took nearly a decade, however, for translation of the victim’s words. Waris Dirie was among the first in the 1990s; Ayaan Hirsi Ali reveals her trial as well. But both were prominent before their ‘coming out’. Khady’s going public as an ‘ordinary’ woman took enormous courage. Interviewed by Florence Deguen, she admits to being “prudish” and finding it “really difficult to tell the world such intimate things” (33). In early speeches as an activist, she was often overwhelmed by invasive questions about her private life that felt like “verbal rape” (203). Yet she “did it for the sake of others” (203). Among those others was Khady’s fourth daughter who was spared; for the older three, awareness and militancy came too late. “I just let it happen to my first two,” Khady tells Deguen, “but asked for it myself for the third. I was young, ignorant, lost. [She weeps.] And I’ve never forgiven myself” (33).

Khady Banner RomeTormented by what she had failed to prevent, Khady works ceaselessly to stave off future casualties. She both denounces and explains how mutilation, embedded in a web of woes, requires “constant vigilance” if it is to end. For excision is ‘merely’ the first step. The second is early marriage, the coupling of children from ten to fifteen with grown men, a violation experienced by Khady herself as a girl of thirteen. Penetrated, she blacks out, the “excruciating” act robbing her “of sight and understanding,” and resulting in self-hatred. “There’s something in me that absolutely refuses to envision what happened in that room. … I blotted out that intimate wound forever powerless to heal” (60). Her book both re-enacts and cancels multiple acts of violence for which she makes a radical and disturbing claim: excision; early ‘marriage’; repeated marital rape; domestic battery and the abuses of polygamy – all told in detail – are not her individual fate, though this is what she goes through, but violations endured by a significant number of Soninke women in Diaspora. They are encouraged by a patriarchal system designed by and for men. These architects are not only African; without French complicity, it would not pay to marry a couple of teens and bring them North. Were the French welfare system to deposit entitlements in mothers’, not fathers’, accounts, birth control would be easier to practice. Khady blows the whistle on Gallic funding of African women’s abuse.

But she also credits the French liberal democracy with facilitating escape. She succeeds in having childcare benefits diverted into her own account; she takes advantage of the professional training government offers to the unemployed and has worked as a nurse and translator. But her passion remains focused because “activism is less a duty than a calling,” (209) and Khady has been called to “keep the blades of tradition … far away from little girls” (212).

Won’t you join her?

With thanks to Hilary Burrage for disseminating the Bamako Declaration text.

A version of this article appeared in On the Issues Magazine. The Café. Fall 2011.


Works Cited

Deguen, Florence. “‘It’s up to us women to eradicate this practice’. Interview with Khady Koita.” Trans. Tobe Levin. In Feminist Europa. Review of Books. 5/1, ’05; 6/1, ’06. 32-33. Published with permission from Le Parisien. October 16, 2005.


Dirie, Waris. Desert Flower. NY: William Morrow, 1998.

Hirsi Ali, Ayaan. The Caged Virgin. NY: The Free Press, 2006.

Thiam, Awa. La Parole au Négresses. Paris : Denoel, 1978 ; —–. Black Sisters, Speak Out. Feminism and Oppression in Black Africa. Trans. Anna V. Adams. London: Pluto, 1986.