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.

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International Women’s Day, ending violence and FGM

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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.

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Introducing the Clitoris Restoration and Fistula Repair Fund

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World Philosophy Day: Time to Think Again about FGM

Did you know that today, 17 November 2016, is World Philosophy Day? At least the UN calls it that and, not coincidentally, 16 November 2016 commemorated the International Day for Tolerance. Both were intended to “inspire a public debate between intellectuals and civil society on the challenges confronting” our world [http://www.un.org/en/events/philosophyday/].

Nathan Oghale Okoro. The Truth Is, Both Men and Women Suffer. Oil on Canvas. 2009.Among these is surely the difficulty in ending female genital mutilation about which academics, activists, and the general public have debated for decades. In many people’s minds, excision is a custom so horrible that a first encounter with it can indeed provoke intolerance, especially in the absence of inquiry into its complexity. But to dismiss FGM as wrong – which of course it is – and not attempt to see its anchoring in fear, social pressure, conceptions of female beauty and gender identity won’t accelerate its disappearance.

To illuminate the power this gruesome tradition exerts on practicing communities, I’ve introduced a metaphor in my speeches. I ask all females in the audience to consider the case of Gregor Samsa, Kafka’s hero who awakens one morning to discover a dramatic change: he has become a bug. Now, if you’re a woman, suppose something similar happens, namely on opening your eyes, the mirror reveals you’ve grown a beard, an accessory  certain not to delight but to terrify you, and the first thing you’d do is shave. Why? Despite the elegance of Conchita Wurst’s delicate duvet, ‘real’ women don’t have beards.

In Kafka’s masterpiece, Samsa can do nothing to alter his novel condition, but, even if tragic for himself, accepting it gradually confers real benefits on his entourage. Because he is no longer able to serve them, they confront the challenge of his absence with their own initiative, and the new configuration holds out hope. With women’s hirsute chins, however, the status quo instantly resumes. The foliage is erased. In other words, to BE a woman you must APPEAR to be one, and where FGM prevails, clitoral ablation is the script. Although some few societies accept androgyny and transgender, in most places binaries remain, and if the line is crossed, transgressors face, in Orlando Patterson’s words, ‘social death’.

Thus  gender boundary policing is largely responsible for shearing, or as Simone de Beauvoir points out, women are  made, not born. A female’s facial fur, like the clitoris in a society that cuts, is extraneous; it  violates  norms and challenges aesthetic judgments. Can a bearded woman be a beauty? Can clitoris-carriers be good wives if, by definition, they are not ‘normal’ women?

On 7 March 2015, at the University of Oxford, a symposium about “Contestations around FGM” examined the role ‘normality’ plays in the tenacious hold ritual wounding of girls maintains on immigrant populations globally. Viewing FGM through the lens of various  disciplines,  our sessions included personal testimony (memoir),  law, medicine, the arts (painting, film, fiction) and activism itself.  After all, as Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director General notes, “Philosophy is more than an academic subject; it is a daily practice that helps people — [that is, also girls] –to live in a better, more humane way.” [http://www.un.org/en/events/philosophyday/].

To read the 56 page symposium report with color photos,  available for €6,00 plus postage from UnCUT/VOICES Press, please contact Dr. Tobe Levin, tobe.levin@uncutvoices.com.

Gratitude to artist Okoro Oghale Nathan for The Verge of Virility. Oil on Canvas. 2007.

 

Khady’s Visit to Brandeis Remembered

On 8 November 2010, during a symposium on polygamy, Khady and I presented at Brandeis University where, yesterday, I enjoyed a board meeting of the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute as it transitions to a new director in 2017.  The ‘old guard’ vividly remembered Khady’s presentation, offering an opportunity to share an excerpt from her (sadly) still relevant memoir.

In addition to a chapter titled ‘Polygamy,’ Khady addresses the abuse in her conclusion focused on campaigning — and success. Here’s the passage that brings bad news but also good …

Susan McLucas and Khady confer at Harvard

Susan McLucas of Sini Sunamen (Mali) and Khady Koita (La Palabre, Senegal) have a word in solidarity at Harvard, 10 November 2010, at a W.E.B. Du Bois Institute event.

From Khady with Marie-Thérèse Cuny. Blood Stains. A Child of Africa Reclaims Her Human Rights. Trans. Tobe Levin. Frankfurt am Main: UnCUT/VOICES Press, 2010.

… GAMS always works cooperatively with local African associations. If a family in France proves unreceptive to our arguments, our colleagues in Africa take over. Some parents continue to excise girls on holiday, and, with considerable nonchalance, bring them back, thereby evading French law. They check luggage at the border but not girls. How could we handle this?

When a baby is born in France and not (yet) excised, a few judges and prosecutors may, if they so desire, subpoena parents. It’s our job to alert the authorities to suspicious cases. I want so much to guarantee to girls born into immigrant families in Diaspora treatment exactly like French girls whose heritage goes way back. Both groups must benefit from the same protective legislation which punishes neither tradition nor culture but simply the crime of mutilation. “Tradition, culture!” These were our opponents’ only arguments when our campaigns began. Every time we would bring up the topic for TV debate or elsewhere, insulting phone calls were sure to follow. Today, things are different. I’m always gratified when people tell me, “I saw you on TV, sister. It’s a good thing you’re doing. Keep up the good fight. We’ve got to stop a tradition like that!”

I’ve been hearing these kinds of remarks, however, only in the last couple of years …

I believe our struggle will end excision, but polygamy is another matter. Not only is it broadly accepted but also considered the man’s due!

Back home, a husband would think twice before abandoning his wife who, if she were rejected, would probably be “recuperated” by the family that had given her in marriage. But without financial independence, in urban housing, with distance, isolation, and multiple births, the African woman in Diaspora has a hard time surviving. Even if many men assured us: “I don’t need welfare to feed my kids,” government subsidies remain substantial.

I remember a certain family: the man had two wives and fifteen children, ten of whom were pupils when the school asked me to intervene. Both mothers told me at the time – it was 2002–: “We can’t access the money because welfare payments go directly into his account. He’s also taken a good part of it to visit his third wife in Africa where he’s been for three months. But school is starting, and we’re broke. What he left is hardly enough for the three oldest ones.”

It’s easy enough to do the math. Multiply welfare by ten plus the additional sums given for school supplies at the start of the academic year, and you can be sure that back in the village, that husband is living well.

Surely something can be done to prevent such situations. If only those polygamous men drawing money from the system would invest it in their wives’ education or simply take proper care of their kids! But no. Too many use it for a second or third wife to humiliate the first one.

I believe the government is not doing its job on this front. Then again, to achieve women’s rights all over the world, there’s just too much to do.

In July 2003, African countries signed the Maputo Protocol, an addenda pertaining to women attached to the Charter for Human Rights. It’s a magnificent document and if really applied one day will improve the lives of African women. It affirms equality, condemns violence against women and censures traditional practices damaging to health of which genital mutilation and forced marriage are two.

Regrettably, some countries that signed the Protocol still haven’t ratified it. At present five signatures are needed before it can enter into force but those hesitant nations require cultural exemptions. … I could say “to each to his own,” but opposition flies in the face of a clear international will to end women’s submission. Emma Bonino has launched a campaign to lobby not only for ratification of the Protocol but also for its application by all signatories and especially the indecisive.

I am involved in these efforts. Since 2002, I have been president of the European Network for the Eradication and Prevention of Female Genital Mutilation (EuroNet – FGM). The organization grew from a 1997 networking meeting in Sweden co-sponsored by the International Center for Reproductive Health and GAMS. Consolidation followed in 1998, thanks to the University of Ghent in Belgium, the association ATD Fourth World, and the Somali women’s organization of Gothenburg together with the city’s immigration authority. EuroNet FGM facilitates cooperation among NGOs at European level to increase efficiency and improve immigrant women and children’s health by fighting harmful traditional practices, in particular genital mutilation and forced or early marriage.

Young women regularly join our ranks. As for the old guard, we’re impatient waiting for male politicians’ good will, not to mention the good will of men, period.

Sacrificial lambs obliged to expose our private lives, we have been the first immigrant wives to suffer domestic violence and community pressure. From my experience I can assure you, I was sometimes forced to quasi-extort a husband’s permission to enroll his wife in literacy classes. Most men were opposed, and if I always succeeded, I don’t know by what miracle. We created the network to build on this kind of success.

Now, these same women campaign for themselves against excision. And some do more: the absence that stalks us leads some to seek reconstructive surgery offered by a heroic urologist who has perfected the technique. “If the clitoris had not been removed what would I feel?” many ask. But to access a time before cutting you have to face the knife again, and for this, you must be psychologically prepared. You may forget the scar from time to time, but the blade always brings back that ancient haunting ache.

It must feel very strange when the vanished part returns.

I’ve talked to some young women who have been “restored.”

The first one who came to confide in us at GAMS really made us laugh. “I’ve got a clitoris!” she declared. “It works! It goes vvvrrrrr….”

At twenty, she has a boyfriend and her whole life ahead of her. Others have come to see us since and more will follow.

But let’s beware of suggesting that restorative surgery eliminates the problem.

Reconstruction is not the answer. The answer lies in total eradication of the practice.   Laws alone, however, won’t suffice even when they exist.

In the Sudan, for instance, infibulation has been outlawed since the 1940s but FGM continues today. Why? Many African heads of state fear what one called “emotional reactions from certain religious leaders or minority groups.” Such resistance must be broken. Imams and griots should join us, not oppose us.

For if God made us as we are, why destroy a perfect work?

 

FGM Must Be Termed Female Genital MUTILATION In Formal Contexts

Hilary couldn’t be more right. Yes, courtesy will govern private conversation, and good writing, to avoid repetition, will also deploy a variety of terms, but public speech and policy deliberations should avoid language that trivializes and understates the reality best described as mutilation and, often, torture. See Kiminta, for instance … Maria Kiminta and Tobe Levin. _Kiminta. A Maasai’s Fight against Female Genital Mutilation_. Frankfurt am Main: UnCUT/VOICES Press, 2015. Including Tobe Levin. “Critique of anthr/apologists observing a Maasai rite.” 116-126.

Hilary Burrage

16-10-15-end-fgm-walk-dc-img_2419-9The Global Woman P.E.A.C.E. Walk-A-Thon to End FGM, in Washington DC on 15 October 2016, brought together many activists from around the world – an exciting and truly inspiring experience, which I describe in more detail here.
I was privileged to attend the event as an Awardee (for my books) and I took the opportunity to deliver a very simple message: If we are serious about eradicating FGM we will call is as it is, Female Genital Mutilation. Here is the text of my brief address:

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The End FGM Walk-A-Thon, 15 October 2016, Washington DC

So proud of Hilary and all good friends who made this such a successful event. UnCUT/VOICES Press supported TEAM EFUA and will continue walking, speaking, painting, and raising awareness with images and words, digital and paper, until FGM globally has gone the way of the 19th century medical scoundrels in Europe and America whose practice of clitoridectomy lost them their licenses and their reputations. If FGM can be stopped anywhere, it can end everywhere.

Hilary Burrage

16-10-15-end-fgm-walk-dc-img_2419-75The third Global Woman P.E.A.C.E. Foundation Walk to End FGM, in Washington DC on 15 October 2016 – a beautifully sunny Saturday afternoon – brought together people from around the world, some of us already friends, others long-time connections meeting face-to-face for the first time, and others quickly to become new friends. For all this and much more we must thank Angela Peabody, the inspiration and mover behind the scenes of this globally significant and very special event.

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