“The Effects of a Crime” : FGM and the Law

Tobe Efua Hilary at Brown'sL. to r. Tobe Levin, Efua Dorkenoo O.B.E., and Hilary Burrage confer on best strategies for ending FGM. At Brown’s in London, May 2013.

“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 wept, seeing that woman, of rage and desire to … let it all drop, so vast did the journey seem, and male violence so oceanic.”

In Blood Stains. A Child of Africa Reclaims Her Human Rights, Khady boldly identifies her weariness – at talk without action, regimes without accountability, good will without funds.

Khady’s book, first published in 2005, has now passed its eighth birthday. Landmarks in the international movement against FGM, now more than three decades old, include testimony at the 1976 International Tribunal on Crimes against Women in Brussels; Awa Thiam’s 1978 whistle-blower La Parole aux Négresses; or Fran Hosken’s opening salvoes in the 1970s. And even earlier Rebeka Njau, first Kenyan female playwright, opposes FGM in “The Scar” – in 1963. The point is, as not only Khady but Lucy Mashua, Waris Dirie, Soraya Mire, Kiminta Maria Chris and many others authorized by their intimate experience will assure you, female genital mutilation is a crime and should be treated as one.

Meanwhile, the international community drags its feet. Two articles have attracted considerable attention recently, the first by Celia Dugger in the NYTimes with the misleading title „Report Finds Gradual Fall in Female Genital Cutting in Africa“  (July 22, 2013) – misleading in emphasis because the most explosive finding fails to warrant even the adjective ‚gradual‘ – 2%? — where the greatest investment of money and hype have fallen: in Senegal. IAC Executive Director and UnCUT/VOICE‘s board member Dr. Morissanda Kouyate notes the embarassment of major donors at the poor showing of TOSTAN’s  „non-judgmental“ approach to produce results measurable in 2010 despite activity since 1997. This NGO, run by an American and perhaps for that reason enjoying easier access to media and funds, refuses to regard FGM as legal wrongdoing.

The second influential article by Misha Hussein,  „Campaigners split over how to tackle female genital cutting“ (Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation – Tue, 30 Jul 2013. http://www.trust.org/item/20130730151448-lia12/) addresses precisely this issue.

To spare as many girls as possible, as quickly as possible, the indelible trauma of amputated genitals, what is the best approach? Is it to cloud an excruciating truth behind harmless-sounding phrases, to plead, seduce, cajole? Kouyate comments:FGM is a plague, a crime and a grave violation of the rights of women and girls, [and] as such … must be fought with … education, advocacy, legislation and strong law, conversion of former practitioners, psycho-medical care for victims, and this, at all levels: communities, national, regional and international. We can not continue to beg parents who, in full knowledge, ignoring all the information given to them about FGM, continue to submit their daughters to FGM. Such parents and relatives should [experience] the law in all its rigor ….“

my response to hussein was similar.

“I was stunned to read … that, as an anonymous U.N. official assures us,  donors ‘struggle to find other implementing partners dealing with this specific topic’ and for that reason channel funds through UNICEF [which in turn has been a major source of funding for the ineffective Senegalese NGO mentioned above]. This ignorance, — is it racist?–, shows clear distrust of African-led associations and is all the more surprising given a huge number of NGOs deserving of support, some decades old, that involve the Diaspora, European host nations, Africa, Iraqi Kurdistan, and extend as far east as Japan, Australia and New Zealand. In Germany alone, we have more than 30 groups against female genital mutilation, 7 of them led by FGM survivors; France now has Excision Parlons-en uniting a dozen NGOs; the UK has a network; Dutch and Scandinavian associations cooperate with one another and most of them are linked to the Inter-African Committee and a myriad of independent NGOs in Africa such as La Palabre (Senegal), Sini Sanuman or the APDF (Mali). The EuroNet-FGM; No Peace Without Justice; GAMS; CAMS; Equality Now; ACCM, FORWARD and FORWARD-Germany, to name only a few, have worthy histories of intervention. Had donors wanted to support African-led efforts, they could easily have done so. But because the Bamako Declaration of 2005, the Maputo Protocol, and other African-authored texts address the issue head-on, donors balk. If activists are divided, Hussein’s and Dugger’s titles  signal why. Admirable African campaigners insist that amputating female genitals is not mere ‚cutting‘ but true medical mutilation and must be prosecuted. Where full government support has been given for years, as in Burkina Faso and France, and prosecutions have taken place, we find fewer victims. Efua Dorkenoo is right: „We have to stop walking around on eggshells“ and understand the amputation of girls‘ genitalia for what it is. As Dr. Pierre Foldes says, restoring the clitoris of victims is reversing the effects of a crime.”


12 responses to ““The Effects of a Crime” : FGM and the Law

  1. Tobe, thank you for this blog. You say it how it is, female genital mutilation IS mutilation and IS a crime, and must be dealt with as such. I cannot understand how this incredible debilitating violence against little girls and women has been allowed to continue in front of the eyes of so many, despite ongoing deaths and continual suffering, and despite years and years of ‘education’. Thank you for your fearlessness and highlighting that there ARE many people willing to tackle the problem for the heinous abuse it is. Latest evidence shows that the soft, ’empowerment’ and ‘abandonment’ approaches are not enough to stop parents subjecting their vulnerable, unwitting children to the knife, even knowing the girls may die.

  2. Rosa Gleichen

    Amen! It begins with the courage to call it what it is: the amputation of little girls’ genitals. That’s a fact, and one that is hard to beautify once it’s been articulated.

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  11. DILSHAD TAVAWALLA, Barrister, Solicitor, Notary Public - Toronto, Canada

    Toby, thank you for writing a blog that calls a spade a spade. FGM is a crime, and all actors who participate in the commission of this crime should be tried and punished to the fullest extent of the law of the land.


  12. Dilshad, Thank you for your comment. Of course, I agree.

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