Female Genital Mutilation: An Educational Challenge


On March 10, 2017, in the Mary O’Brien room at Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford, scholars and activists focused intently on Four specific Challenges to Ending FGM: Medicalization, Female Genital (Cosmetic) Surgery, Asylum, and (Lack of) Education (about FGM) … Co-sponsored by the International Gender Studies Centre  and the Clitoris Restoration and Fistula Repair Fund (UK charity commission # 1169186), the workshop enhanced knowledge that can improve quality of life, especially for girls under threat of FGM.

Body art protest against FGM

Body art protest against FGM

16 June 2017, which is commemorated as the INTERNATIONAL DAY OF THE AFRICAN CHILD, called on civil society to reconsider African girls’ well-being. Why June 16? In 1991, in response to the Soweto Uprising of 1976 in which the government attacked South African youth demonstrating peacefully against apartheid education, the Organization of African Unity reserved that date for global reflection on action to better children’s lifetime opportunities. Specifically, a non-violent protest against the additional requirement of Afrikaans together with English as the language of instruction was brutally disrupted. Behind student discontent was surely the Bantu Education Act of 1953, conceived by its author H. F. Verwoerd as an exclusionary, separate and UNequal measure: ‘There is no place for [the African] in the European community above the level of certain forms of labour. It is of no avail for him to receive a training which has as its aim absorption in the European community’.” [See http://www.sahistory.org.za/topic/june-16-soweto-youth-uprising] [Retrieved 16 june 2017]

It is a truth universally acknowledged, to borrow from a brilliant English novelist, that moral education is central to development, and even more so to disarm racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and misogyny behind the wide-spread abuse of genital mutilation.

At the Oxford workshop session on education chaired by Tobe Levin von Gleichen, Professor Hazel Barrett of Coventry University presented the EU-sponsored REPLACE 2 project that evaluated interventions to change behavior, — that is, to end FGM –, in Diaspora communities in Europe. By educating change agents, i.e. ethnic insiders, and enabling them to coordinate educational activities with community members, REPLACE 2 followed up the pilot REPLACE 1 that looked at FGM intervention in the European Diaspora  in the UK, the Netherlands, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Belgium. Pedagogy was pivotal. Kate Agha of Oxford Against Cutting and Kameel Ahmady, author of In the Name of Tradition. Female Genital Mutilation in Iran (UnCUT/VOICES, 2016) also spoke to education, Kate outlining an art and film-making project with middle-schoolers, and Kameel revealing how epidemiological interviews correlated with a decreasing number of FGM victims. Raising the issue in a critical way serves both activism and research.

Kameel Tobe

Kameel Ahmady and Tobe Levin von Gleichen in Rome

Kate Agha
Kate Agha Oxford Against Cutting
10 March 2017
Hazel March 10
Professor Hazel Barrett at the Oxford FGM Workshop 10 March 2017

UnCUT/VOICES author Maria Kiminta agrees. In our book, Kiminta. A Maasai’s Fight against Female Genital Mutilation, education takes pride of place. We offer here the Preface and Chapter 1.

 

 

 

Kimiinta Cover (2)PREFACE by Maria Kiminta

Joy sat down with me when I first conceived of writing this book. Motivated by my own need for answers, I knew that others, too, wanted broader knowledge. Like me, they would welcome the chance to move beyond the static information of the past. And even if immediate success eluded me (would I find a publisher? would my writing hit the mark?), communicating what I had learned, I was bold enough to think, could alter African culture, both in the Diaspora, –including where I live, in Germany–, and in Africa. For traditions responsible for FGM and the risk it poses to girls’ health are cultural, and therefore stubborn, but culture and destiny can change. Written and spoken words, sincerity and conscientious action can realize African people’s aspirations for their children.

If coming generations are to become innovative, resourceful leaders, they need role models. I dared to use my education to become such a leader, at least insofar as memoir reaches out, explaining in this text which fixed beliefs permit the use of razors against girls and why my desire to see those girls escape the shadow of those blades can be realized after all.

When I was growing up in Kenya, I had a single option, to become someone’s wife. It was drilled into me that we are Maasai (or, speaking for my friends, Kikuyu) and … we were still a people apart. The past remained present and the present – its encroachments – were resisted. At times, these constant comparisons to the ways of life now slowly invading our domain made us feel that we were better than, although often enough less than, those practicing another culture.

Kiminta smiling 2

Maria Kiminta. Photo by Britta Radike

But the other culture’s benefits –computers, cures for diseases, kidney transplants –have made me thankful, as an African woman, for the new technology, and gratitude trusts in change.

It is the source of my yearning to liberate children, above all, from the emotional and cultural bondage that molded us and affected our whole lives. I would say to my people, please focus on today and let go of the past. Choose to alter – culture and yourselves.

Rooted as it is in the past, FGM must end.

Chapter 1

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.

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. The child’s rights are violated since children are not consulted nor given a choice about facing the knife. Instead, for years, their minds have been manipulated by the old women who want girls to think ‘circumcision’ is what they need most in their lives.

As Maria Kiminta writes in the Afterword:

Fortunate to attend university in Nairobi, I pursued my interest in advancing women’s human rights in various villages but then traded my dream of advocating human betterment for a more pragmatic career in sales. My first job in a women’s clothing store led to engagement to the owner’s son followed by marriage and moving to Germany.  Europe has enabled me to return to my passion for helping women discover the irrelevance and detriment to health of the ritual passage so many of us had been through. I aim to promote confidence and education among Maasai girls.

 

For Africa Day at the University of Oxford. Poetry and Petals.

Diane discusses performance

D-Empress Dianne Regisford, performing artist, at Q & A with Erica Lombard.

 

The scent of crushed roses welcomed all into the hallowed space of D-Empress Dianne Regisford’s performance. To the pulse of Rev J’s drum, an imposing woman, entering the aromatic ring of strewn petals, enabled us, the audience, to “step into [our] rhythm, wear [our] crown.”

The circle nested seven sculptures. Intricate spheres, the (not quite) jack-o’-lanterns, active in stasis, hatched or housed, sheltered or evicted curling creatures. Snakes? Umbilicals? Threads that might tangle, rupture or unite? From one of the cavern-eggs, the undulating Empress gently retrieved a dried rose. What did it mean?

Diane Rev J

Musician Rev J aka Reverend Joseph Abraham. To his right above is the director of TORCH, Professor Elleke Boehmer. In the photo left, l to r, Methlyn Regisford, Dianne Regisford, Rev J.

 

Diane with family

The tribute by TORCH at the University of Oxford to UNESCO’s Africa Day – 25 May — had begun by evoking the sacred and profane. A series called “Great Writers Inspire at Home” showcased conversations between writers and readers.  Regisford, a local poet [1] first performed her spoken lyrics while winding among the twined, gouache globes to celebrate fecundity and conjure potent womanhood. Described in the announcement as an installation inviting “critical explorations … of ‘la femme libre’ (the liberated woman) from an African feminist perspective,” the event was inspired by “the teachings and practice of the ancient West African Mandika badjenne tradition.”

The Mandinka practice FGM [2] but in St. Luke’s Chapel, pain fled. “SSSHHH” the seer shushed, a hush soon fell and the poetry began with a “call … Not to censor/ Just to sense her.” Of “Caribbean parentage, African heritage,” the bard embodied matriarchal pride. In “Hersto-Rhetoric? Na So Today!!!” she planted awareness of the female in full flower. …

I first met Dianne at an event on FGM at Lady Margaret Hall. We were showing Nigerian artists’ oils and scupture that pictured concern for people whose metaphoric roses had been sheared. Victims, yes, but survivors above all.Taboo front cover

You meet these girls and women when Dianne performs; you encounter them again in a book from East Africa, poems and stories about FGM, edited by Violet Barungi and Hilda Twongyeirwe of the FEMRITE Women Writer’s Association in Kampala, Taboo. Voices of Women in Uganda on Female Genital Mutilation (Frankfurt am Main: UnCUT/VOICES Press, 2015). [3] The cover by Godfrey Williams-Okorodus also shows the rose. A young woman in “Defiance” – the title of the painting – turns her back to the village, arms folded, digging in. She hopes to escape tradition, to preserve her luscious flower, but  her path is blocked by the patriarchs, ethereal figures not merely in front but also behind her, boxing her in …

By performing female strength, artists like Dianne, Violet and Hilda challenge the social arrangements under male hegemony that disempower women and girls. And so do other poets in Taboo.

In “Plucking a Rosebud,” Dorah Musiimire writes I have seen a rose bud/Ruthlessly extracted from her stalk/Forlorn with pain and shame/How villainous! …

I have also witnessed/A crest fallen stalk/Decrying the fall of her bud/ … the pride of a rose …

Yet as poet Grace Atuhaire declares I rose / Surrounded by clansmen/ With spears and knives/ ‘Make her a woman!’

I froze/ At the sound of the knives assembled/Smeared in white sand/ ‘Make her a woman!’

I shuddered /At mum’s consent/At the indifferent strangers/‘Make her a woman!’

I fled! /And stood for what was right/Ignorance makes no woman

I

am

already

a woman!

Grace Atuhaire. “I am already a woman!” In Taboo. Voices of Women in Uganda on Female Genital Mutilation. Eds. Violet Barungi and Hilda Twongyeirwe. Foreword Rebecca Salonen. Frankfurt am Main: UnCUT/VOICES Press, 2015.

To purchase Taboo at a 40% discount, email the publisher tobe.levin@uncutvoices.com

1 “Was I a British writer?” Dianne mused in the Q & A when invited to comment by Erica Lombard. “Until I received your invitation, I’d thought not,” she said. “Now, I think so.”

2 Mandinka practice FGM. “Overall, the main reason for coming to the hospital or health center was delivery. With regard to ethnicity, it was found that FGM/C prevalence rates were 17.5% among Wolof and 46.2% among Serer, whereas Mandinka, Fula, Sarahole and Djola ethnic groups practice FGM/C extensively, with prevalences in the range of 94.3%–96.7%.” Adriana Kaplan et al. Female genital mutilation/cutting in The Gambia: long-term health consequences and complications during delivery and for the newborn. In the International Journal of Women’s Health. 2013; 5:323-331. Published online 2013 June 17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3702244/ Retrieved 27 May 2017.

3 In the Preface to Taboo, Rebecca Salonen writes: “Even if you are involved in international female genital mutilation activism, you probably have not heard much about FGM in Uganda. Among the 28 African countries where female ‘circumcision’ is performed, Uganda stands near the bottom of the FGM-prevalence list, around 5% or less. This does not mean that female genital mutilation in Uganda is not a problem, but only that the Pokot, Tepeth, and Sabiny (Sebei), out of Uganda’s 50-plus indigenous ethnic groups, practice FGM. These three groups live in remote and seasonally inaccessible regions on the eastern border with Kenya, where there are few casual visitors. Until recently, FGM was the lot of every girl in these societies, however, and the type of excision was very severe. Depending on the inspiration, ability, or eyesight of the circumciser, all of the external genitals are traditionally cut away. Most other Ugandans are horrified by the practice, and Parliament enacted the Prohibition of FGM act in 2010 …”

On the “International Day to End Obstetric Fistula” — 23 May – UnCUT/VOICES calls out failure to mention one preventable cause: FGM

The United Nations writes: “Obstetric fistula is one of the most serious and tragic injuries that can occur during childbirth. It is a hole between the birth canal and the bladder or rectum caused by prolonged, obstructed labour without treatment.”[1] What the U.N. does not write is that female genital mutilation (FGM) increases the risk of VVF (vesico-vaginal fistula), especially in younger mothers whose pelvis is not yet mature. “The condition typically leaves women incontinent,” the UN goes on to point out, “and as a result they are often shunned by their communities … endur[ing] depression, social isolation and deepening poverty. Many … live with the condition for years – or even decades – because they cannot afford to obtain treatment.”

FRFRF Trustees
Trustees of the Clitoris Restoration and Fistula Repair Fund l to r Hilary Burrage, Nolan Victory, Dr Tobe Levin von Gleichen, Dr Phoebe Abe with Dianna Martin, patients’ host in France, at Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford

“An estimated 2 million women in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, the Arab region, and Latin America and the Caribbean are living with this injury, and some 50,000 to 100,000 new cases develop each year.”

Granted, not all of these females have also suffered FGM. Fistula, for instance, had been a nineteenth century problem in the USA and Europe.[2] Nonetheless, the UN falls short of its own mission, not merely to repair but also to PREVENT this dismal outcome. Comforting readers by assuring us that “fistula is almost entirely preventable,” the UN offers a wholly inadequate explanation. “Its persistence is a sign that health systems are failing to meet women’s essential needs.” They are indeed remiss by not financing operations that sufferers desperately need. But burying FGM, a human-authored scourge, behind impersonal ‘systems’ does a disservice to the aim of abolition.

Admittedly, of course, the international body intends to prevent: “In its resolution A/RES/67/147, the General Assembly calls on the international community to use the International Day to significantly raise awareness and intensify actions towards ending obstetric fistula.”

UnCUT/Voices is answering this call with an excerpt from prize-winning novelist Hubert Prolongeau’s ground-breaking biography, Undoing FGM. Pierre Foldes the Surgeon Who Restores the Clitoris. Foreword Bernard Kouchner. Trans. and Afterword Tobe Levin. Frankfurt am Main: UnCUT/VOICES Press, 2011. The following passages from Chapter 3, “His first patient,” provide a prologue to the discovery of clitoral restoration.

“Mission fistula”

[Jean-Antoine ] Robein [a pioneering physician] convinces his friend to join him in the battle to prevent and cure this curse. Looking for teams of African physicians able to deal with fistula, they find only two: one led by Dr. Hamelin in Addis Ababa, the other by Dr. Ben Chekroun in Rabat, and that won’t do! So they separate to pay both men a visit. Robein leaves for Addis, Foldes for Rabat, to learn to repair such harsh trauma. They bring videos with them. Later, the head of Foch Hospital will invest the first days of retirement in editing a handbook on fistula. Undoing cover

Pierre lands in Rabat, suave Moroccan capital, discrete and charming little sister to the booming Casablanca. He finds Dr. Ben Chekroun, a specialist in urology who studied at Pierre’s alma mater and did his residency at Necker Hospital. The man is not without enemies. In the public eye, he has been subject to more than a little jealousy. Surgeon to the king, the royal family’s urologist, lifetime member of the French Association of Urology, he lives in a house in Rabat that shares a wall with the sister of Hassan II – all this to say he’s beyond reach. And he knows it. He’s a mandarin but very open to other elites, and this includes Foldes who, in spite of himself, feels close to Chekroun because Chekroun isn’t one of the privileged who just sits on a pension. He’s inventive, trying to import urological techniques from Europe. Faced with various kinds of urinary cancer, a type of pathology frequent in Africa, he adapted the art of the stoma or artificial opening to local conditions. To overcome the absence of disposable pouches he pioneered a subcutaneous technique without a pouch using catheters that could be reused after sterilization by immersion in alcohol, a thoroughly empirical procedure. “We modified modern processes to serve African realities instead of buying expensive materials that proved useless. The approach really impressed me. How often had I seen the opposite result, instruments left untouched. What a monstrous waste.”

After fine-tuning the urological procedure, Ben Chekroun then turned to fistula; he invented an artificial urethra, constructed from the remaining tissue of the vagina or urethra to recreate a conduit. Together with Foldes, he would describe and inventory repair techniques that had not existed before and produced a manual with which to confront the damage. “It was a passionate inversion of the usual North-South dialogue. We went South not as scalpel musketeers carrying the good news of Northern medical advances. No. This time Africans knew what to do, and we descended upon them to learn, to imitate and witness our two kinds of knowledge embrace for the benefit of sufferers everywhere. It’s a magnificent way to work.” The two men would go on to make films about their mutual experience; these would be shown in Saint-Germain-en-Laye.

Robein later asked Pierre to join him in launching “fistula missions.” They decided to leave for Africa, Jean-Antoine for Ethiopia, Mali and Niger where he would focus on hospitals, and Pierre for Morocco and Burkina Faso. The WHO commissioned the project to evaluate treatments possible in rural maternity clinics, seek out midwives’ networks, and evaluate their training and mortality figures. Yet, as his plane was landing in Ouagadougou, Dr. Foldes remained unaware of how what he was soon to find would change his life.

The next section, The Ouaga Patient, records Foldes’ meeting with the woman who leads him to discover that clitoral function can be restored. This triumph, in turn, has benefited more than 5000 women and is the main subject of Hubert Prolongeau’s book.

Books, of course, address a reading public. Broader approaches imply personal outreach and for that, the Clitoris Restoration and Fistula Repair Fund (CRFRF) (UK charity # 1169186) was created.

For further information about the fund or to order the book at a 40% discount, email Tobe Levin von Gleichen

Tobe.levin@uncutvoices.com     or      tlevin@fas.harvard.edu

 

[1] http://www.un.org/en/events/endfistuladay/ Retrieved 23 May 2017.

[2] See for instance Ojanuga, D. The medical ethics of the ‘father of gynaecology’, Dr J Marion Sims. Abstract: “Vesico-vaginal fistula (VVF) was a common ailment among American women in the 19th century. Prior to that time, no successful surgery had been developed for the cure of this condition until Dr J Marion Sims perfected a successful surgical technique in 1849. Dr Sims used female slaves as research subjects over a four-year period of experimentation (1845-1849). This paper discusses the controversy surrounding his use of powerless women and whether his actions were acceptable during that historical period.”

http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/jme.19.1.28 Retrieved 23 May 2017.

 

International Day of the Midwife, and the cutter once imprisoned who now campaigns to end FGM

“I met many FGM survivors who ended up as sex workers to pay for their health care #obamacare was a life saver #shocked #disappointed.” Leyla Hussein, Tweet, 4 May 2017.

Image result for linda weil-curiel

Dr. Pierre Foldes with Linda Weil-Curiel, both associated with the Institut en Santé génésique in St. Germain-en-Laye near Paris

 

How ironic that “repeal and replace” – a bill in the US legislature that passed yesterday — should emerge on the doorstep of the “International Day of the Midwife,” today, May 5,  launched in 1992 by the International Confederation of Midwives. Similarly paradoxical is the Exciseuse coverassociation of midwifery with FGM. “Daya,” for instance, the Egyptian woman who amputates the clitoris, is translated as ‘midwife’ by Nawal el Saadawi,[1] and, in fact, benevolent and less benign duties concerning gynecological and obstetric health are her concern. Perhaps not coincidentally, an episode on FGM in the UK’s TV series Call the Midwife, whose screenplay benefited from Nimko Ali’s guidance, is airing this week in the USA.

But what has UnCUT/VOICES Press to do specifically with midwives?

The editorial project was inspired by three French volumes of highest quality neglected for years by anglophone publishers, thereby depriving English-speaking readers of their insights, and one is about a notorious and eventually laudatory midwife. These texts, translated by Tobe Levin, include Khady with Marie-Thérèse Cuny, Blood Stains. A Child of Africa Reclaims Her Human Rights. (Mutilée, 2005; English 2010); Hubert Prolongeau. Undoing FGM. Pierre Foldes, the Surgeon Who Restores the Clitoris (Victoire sur l’Excision, 2006; English 2011); and Natasha Henry, Linda Weil-Curiel with Hawa Gréou, “If only I had known!” Confessions of a Cutter (Exciseuse, 2006; English unpublished). Sadly, disagreement among the authors and CityEditions prevented this manuscript from appearing in English. But that’s no reason for the entire content to languish unseen, important as it is in efforts to end FGM.

Naana and Linda Rome

Naana Otoo-Oyortey, executive director of FORWARD (UK) and Linda Weil-Curiel in Rome, January 2017

 

Hence, below you will find excerpts from the Preface to Exciseuse. Entretiens avec Hawa Gréou translated by Tobe Levin:

November 16, 1984  … In Paris, a tenant on the rue de Montreuil wrote her landlord to inform him that in the Gréou’s flat, just on the other side of the wall, she could hear atrocious infant howls, truly horrifying cries.

Her letter read: “I had always noticed that whenever the first wife was around, they received a lot of African visitors who then left with crying babies all wrapped up.  Sometimes the line was so long it extended down the stairs. I always wondered what was making the children bawl like that as their parents carried them away. They were truly piercing shrieks.” So shrill that the writer added, “A heart condition made hearing those cries truly distressing so, to avoid falling ill, on those afternoons I felt obliged to leave the house.”

The police were called, but, at the Gréou’s, they found nothing amiss.

Several months later, in March 1985, the PMI of Yvelines also alerted the authorities: a baby had just been hospitalized for a botched excision. Her parents had emigrated from Mauritania. When interrogated by child protection, the father gave the exciser’s name: Hawa Gréou.

In 1994, Hawa Gréou received a one-year suspended sentence.

July 31, 1993

Paris. The very day she turned eighteen, young Mariatou left her parents’ home, took her things to a friend’s and then sought out the juvenile court judge. She was asking for justice in the form of some sort of protection for her younger sisters. She had left for fear of a forced marriage and worried about the smaller girls. At the same time, she revealed that both she and her other sisters had been excised. Later she would also give the exciser’s name: Hawa Gréou.

In 1999, as a result of the spectacular trial launched by Mariatou’s revelations, Hawa Gréou was sentenced to eight years in prison.   

The remarkable aspect of this tale is its dénouement. After serving, ‘Mama’ Gréou emerged from prison, appeared in the prosecutor’s office, took a seat and confessed to Linda Weil-Curiel that she had changed her mind. She understood that FGM was wrong and began to campaign against it.

The context of this historic, and to date unprecedented, story emerges from the Table of Contents which includes

It all began down there ° Female sexual mutilation: A social issue ° Hawa Gréou, ten years of excision in France ° A spectacular trial ° The attorney who prosecutes excision ° Dialogue between Linda Weil-Curiel and Hawa Gréou ° Marriage without love ° Excision in France ° Prison ° The Trial ° Excision today ° “Forced marriages” ° Girls and Teens in France Today ° Concerning female genitalia ° Zero Tolerance

Like Hawa Gréou, midwives can be a force for change in efforts to counteract  medicalization  (so-called ‘benign’ nicks) and prevent continued damage to girls’ genitalia.

I welcome further inquiries from anglophone readers unable to deal with the French text. tobe.levin@uncutvoices.com   or   tlevin@fas.harvard.edu

[1]http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/profiles/nawal-el-saadawi-i-am-going-to-carry-on-this-fight-for-ever-2371378.html. Retrieved 5 May 2017.

For UN World Book Day – emphasis on translation — publishing against FGM

Thanks to English department chair Judy Peterson, UnCUT/Voices was welcomed to introduce our books to the Honors class at Blue Ridge High School in Pinetop, AZ, USA, on April 21. On 24 April 2017, the  UN comemorated World Book Day with emphasis on Translation — tKhady coverhe perfect opportunity to present once again our first two books, translations from the French. Since UnCUT/VOICES was inspired to begin publishing by the importance of French contributions to academic knowledge and efforts to end FGM, we share the UN’s appreciation for translations. The French have pioneered several approaches, specifically by highlighting the biographies of dedicated activists – e.g. Khady, Mutilée (2005), put out by UnCUT/VOICES Press as Blood Stains (2010); and by celebrating innovative techniques of repair, e.g. Dr. Pierre Foldes who reforms damaged tissue as described by Hubert Prolongeau in Victoire sur l’Excision (2006), titled with UnCUT/VOICES Press Undoing FGM. Pierre Foldes, the Surgeon who Restores the Clitoris (2011). Both books were translated by Tobe Levin.

Undoing cover

A bestseller when it first appeared in France, Khady’s memoir by continental Europe’s leading activist against female genital mutilation breaks new ground. An immigrant from Senegal to Paris, Khady was founding president of the first European Network against FGM and blows the whistle on excision, forced and early marriage, and unequal gender relations in Diaspora.  Ultimately, Khady’s courageous battle against genital torture and for women’s human rights leads her to the U.N. to urge international support.

In Undoing FGM. Pierre Foldes, the Surgeon who Restores the Clitoris, prize-winning novelist Hubert Prolongeau provides an extraordinary, artistic introduction to the topic. He was commissioned by renowned French publisher Albin Michel to shadow Foldes, the already well-known urologist, battlefield surgeon and co-founder of Doctors without Borders. Unfamiliar with FGM before beginning his research, Prolongeau shares with readers the mixed emotions that accompany increasing knowledge of a complex and damaging custom, especially the conviction that the tradition must end. Prolongeau’s lively depiction draws on interviews with Foldes and his medical staff; showcases lengthy discussion with patients who reveal their motives for seeking surgery, feelings during healing, and assessment of results; and places the targeted biography of Foldes at the center. Here is a man determined to ‘reverse the effects of a crime’ against women perpetuated by other men.

Khady Geneva UN Book Day 24 April (3)

 Geneva, Switzerland, at the Human Rights Council, 11 May 2016, l to r, Kaillie Winston, Khady Koita, Tobe Levin von Gleichen, Hilary Burrage, and Isatou Touray

 

Following is an excerpt from Khady’s Blood Stains. She has addressed the UN and heard encouraging speeches by world leaders at least verbally committed to ending excision, not necessarily as feminists but because, among its other detritus, the damaging custom severely retards entry into modernity and economic development. But then the strain of years and years of effort threaten to overcome her.

In February and March 2005, I addressed the 49th session of the UN Committee on the Status of Women. There nearly 6000 NGOs greeted good news with exuberant applause: national governments, without reservation, had re-affirmed the Platform for Action on violence against women formulated ten years earlier at the Beijing plus 10 Conference. For my part, I was on a cloud, sure that now everything would change …

             But that evening, on re-reading the speech I would be giving the next day at a UNICEF conference in Zurich, I fell to earth and wept.

             My whole life unfolded before me like a film whose first installment had been a tale of horror.

             Since 1975, when the first United Nations women’s conference took place in Mexico and I arrived in France, thirty years had passed. How many women had suffered since then, and how many were suffering now? How many women had had to put up a fight like mine? In how many countries did men still not know what a phrase like “women’s rights” means? I had just lived through a magnificent moment listening to beautiful speeches by male politicians. I was tempted to cry out who I was and why I was there. To hurl at them my suffering and anger and tell them to stop talking but go see for themselves the lives of women in whose name they made decisions that wouldn’t be applied for half a century … if ever.

             Discouragement claimed me, exhaustion in this interminable combat, the same feeling I had experienced three years earlier in Italy when they awarded my activism a prize shared with a young Bangladeshi whose face had been destroyed by acid for refusing to marry. That day I also cried, seeing that woman, of rage and desire to just let it all drop, so vast did the journey seem, and male violence so oceanic.

             But my courage returned in New York, Geneva, Zurich and elsewhere. I began again to march and intend to go on, carrying the message of African women, victims of torture and humiliation.

             My mother no longer tells me I run around too much. I trust, — no, I believe–, she is proud of me. I dedicate this book to her in the hope of being able to translate for her, without shying away, every word.

Excerpt from Khady with Marie-Thérèse Cuny. Blood Stains. A Child of African Reclaims Her Human Rights. Trans. Tobe Levin. UnCUT/VOICES Press, 2010.

Tobe and Foldes

Tobe Levin and Pierre Foldes in his office, 2011. Foldes with Frédérique Martz now runs the Institut en Santé Génésique in St. Germain-en-Laye.

 

Pierre Foldes shares Khady’s concern for the word itself – creating public awareness of what had heretofore been a well-kept secret immune from critique – and for male responsibility in both perpetuating and ending FGM. Former Foreign Minister of France and founder of Doctors without Borders, Bernard Kouchner provides the preface to Prolongeau’s Undoing FGM. Here is an excerpt from Kouchner’s text, translated by Tobe Levin.

Opposition

Pierre Foldes worked in Mother Teresa’s hospice. Influenced by the devotion of Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, he, too, grew determined to shelter the dying no matter where they came from. And knowing the protective force of words, he would start to unsettle those indifferent to sexual mutilation, speaking out about the rights of man, the rights of woman, and for equality. He never fled from his responsibilities. Not in Burma as the military regime acceded to power and used forced labor while spreading AIDS by growing poppies for heroin production.  Not in Mali or in Sarajevo either, where he accepted constraints in order to serve the greatest number. But let’s stick to what we know.  Who forced him to volunteer? No one, and therein lies his power.

Action

Cut off the clitoris, mutilate the labia majora, stitch it up and knife it open for each pregnancy – this wreaks havoc on a woman’s whole being. Foldes has chosen to join the fight to stop it, to take on himself the sorrow of others, and this commitment leads to solitude, to a risky but fertile jurisdiction. He is threatened but continues on his way. Men visit him, armed with knives. His skin crawls but he doesn’t give an inch. Death is an inevitable part of the game, as he has learned from many war zone missions.

Reconstruction

Give pleasure back to women, emotions other than fear of violence, gratification beyond that available to a piece of merchandise or a baby machine.  He operates, and his medical research and surgical repair attract attention. People start to emulate him; the World Health Organization is interested. He publishes an impressive series of successes. In nearly 80% of cases, women no longer suffer after intervention. They regain elementary sensation. A great physician, he has innovated a common surgical procedure for magnificent humanitarian ends.

Excerpt from Prolongeau, Hubert. Undoing FGM. Pierre Foldes, the Surgeon who Restores the Clitoris. Foreword Bernard Kouchner. Trans. Tobe Levin. Frankfurt am Main: UnCUT/VOICES Press, 2011.

Both books are available from UnCUT/VOICES Press at the special price of $12.00 or €12,00 plus postage ($6.00/€6,00) or both for $20.00 or €20,00 plus postage ($7.00/€7,00). Payment accepted via PayPal, US$ personal check, or bank transfer. Please email tobe.levin@uncutvoices.com or rebecca.levin@uncutvoices.com.

Thanks to Kaye Beth for the cover design of Undoing FGM.

For International Poetry Day, introducing WAAFRIKA to Harvard

On the UN’s International Poetry Day, it seems appropriate to announce a lecture and discussion taking place tomorrow on what may be the world’s only LGBTQ play with FGM at the heart of the story.

NICK HADIKWA MWALUKO, author of WAAFRIKA 123. 1992. Kenya. Two Womyn Fall in Love, is an emerging dramatist with a courageous ethical vision. Born in Tanzania and raised in Kenya, Nick now resides in California and, in his drama, published by UnCUT/VOICES Press that has been performed in NY, Florida and California, he presents a moving portrayal of FGM tied up with a village’s response to crisis, lesbian and queer sexuality, and identity anchored in ancestry, soil, and personal anguish. If you are in the Boston/Cambridge, MA, area, you are welcome to join us.

IMG_5896 (2)

International Women’s Day, ending violence and FGM

Lorraine students Foldes

Lorraine Koonce Farahmand with her class attending the speech by Dr. PIerre Foldes, Frédérique Martz and Axelle Cormier at the University of Paris Cergy-Pontoise 2 March 2017

 

At the University of Paris Cergy-Pontoise on 2 March 2017, Dr. Pierre Foldes, Frédérique Martz and Axelle Cormier talked to dozens of interested students about violence against women, suggesting we may sooner find an answer to ending FGM if we see it in the complex context of a broader category, sexual violence in general. Representing the Institut en Santé Génésique, the three experts opened by soliciting audience participation.  Under the heading “Violences sexistes,” three questions appeared on the screen:  Qui es-tu? (Who are you?), Que fais-tu? (What do you do?), Que fait-on (What can you/ what can I do?) Allegorical figures soon populated the first list,  students offering such terms as Inequality, Abuse, Aggression,  Feminine Weakness, Silence, Denial. What violence DOES is produce trauma, isolation, humiliation, loss of self-confidence, guilt. … What you and I can do? Mobilize! Educate! Break the taboo!

Parallels to  experience of the genitally mutilated are inescapable.

Foldes screen 2 March (2)

Foldes 2 March

Dr. Pierre Foldes is the subject of UnCUT/VOICES Press book by Hubert Prolongeau. Undoing FGM. Pierre Foldes, the Surgeon Who Restores the Clitoris. (Foreword Bernard Kouchner. Trans. and Afterword Tobe Levin) 2011.

 

 

To broaden decades of effort to understand FGM, a gathering of experts at Lady Margaret Hall on March 10, 2017, will also place the ‘harmful traditional practice’ within the larger scope of contingent abuses. And you are invited!  See  http://www.lmh.ox.ac.uk/IGSC/Home/Activities/Workshops.aspx

Four specific Challenges to Ending FGM:

Medicalization, Female Genital (Cosmetic) Surgery, Asylum,

and (Lack of) Education (about FGM)

We meet in the Mary O’Brien room, Lady Margaret Hall, 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. on Friday, March 10, 2017, co-sponsored by the International Gender Studies Centre, Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford, and the Clitoris Restoration and Fistula Repair Fund (UK charity commission # 1169186).

10:00 a.m.– 10:15 p.m.

Welcome. Dr Maria Jaschok, Director, IGS, and Dr Tobe Levin von Gleichen

10:15 – 11:30 p.m. Education. Chair: Dr Tobe Levin von Gleichen.

Resource experts: Professor Hazel Barrett, Coventry University; Kate Agha, Oxford Against Cutting; Kameel Ahmady, researcher and author, FGM in Iran; Dr. Michal Moskow, Chair, Board of Directors, Education and Skill Development Institute and Somali Family Services, Minneapolis, MN, and Garowe, Puntland, Somalia (Statement); Surgeon Dr Pierre Foldes and Frédérique Martz, l’Institut en Santé génésique (Statement on medical education).

11:30 to 12:45 p.m.: Medicalization. Chair:  Lorraine Koonce Farahmand, Solicitor (UK) and Attorney (NY), Advisor CRFRF, formerly American Graduate School of Paris, presently l’Université de Paris (Cergy-Pontoise and Dauphine).

Resource experts: Caroline Pinder, representative of 28 Too Many, presenting their report on medicalization; Dr Phoebe Abe, MBChB MSc FRSA, General Practitioner UK, CEO Dr Abe Foundation; Dr Morissanda Kouyaté, executive director, Inter-African Committee, Addis Ababa (statement).

12:45 – 1:15: Bannir le Couteau de l’Excision, [Away with the knives!] a 20-minute film produced by Erica Pomerance with Fatoumata Siré Diakité and Tobe Levin. Documentary showcasing curricula on FGM at a school for midwifery and a medical university in Bamako. Dir. Erica Pomerance. Montréal and Bamako, 2014. http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/caravan-of-youth-against-excision-mali/

1:15 – 2:00 Sandwich lunch. Cost-share requested.

2:00 – 3:15 p.m.: Female Genital (Cosmetic or Restorative) Surgery. Chair: Hilary Burrage, sociologist, author of Eradicating Female Genital Mutilation: A UK Perspective (Ashgate/Routledge, 2015),  co-founder of CRFRF

Resource experts: Leyla Hussein, therapist and campaigner (statement); Hoda Ali, activist and nurse (NHS); Dr med. Dan mon O’Dey, plastic surgeon for genital reconstruction, University of Aachen (statement); Dr Mariame Racine Sow, educator (FORWARD – Germany) (Statement); Dr. Marci Bowers (SKYPE).

3:15 – 3:45 p.m.: Coffee and networking break

3:45 – 5:00 p.m.: Asylum. Chair: Dr Barbara Harrell-Bond OBE, Founder Refugee Studies Centre.

Resource experts: Dr Owolabi Bjalkander, Karolinska Institutet (SKYPE); Joy Keshi Walker, Arizona Summit Law School, Phoenix (statement); Dr Annagrazia Faraca, Perugia, Italy; Dr Pierrette Herzberger-Fofana, President, DaMIGRA Board and FORWARD – Germany; Dexter Dias QC, Barrister.

5:00 – 7:00 p.m.: Discussion 

Participants: The WORKSHOP addresses feminist and other scholars in medicine, law, social work, education, law enforcement, psychology, gender studies, international relations and social policy concerned with (stopping) FGM.