Decisively not ennobled as „culture, religion, or tradition,“ FGM means „Torture and Crime.“ These are the words Waris Dirie employs to evoke what had happened to her when, a five-year-old in Somalia, she was forced under the knife. Her memoir also narrates a visit to Dr. Pierre Foldes whom she consulted nearly two decades ago, in the early years of perfecting his technique, to discuss restoration. In his office, he showed her a video of the procedure. The visual, sadly, caused flashbacks. This clued the good surgeon in to the need for pre- and post-operative counseling in addition to the surgery itself and monitored healing — in short, all-around care. He offers the service in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, outside Paris, France, and on 11 September 2013, the same holistic option became available in Germany. At the Waldfriede Hospital in Berlin-Zehlendorf, the Desert Flower Center opened its doors, with the first two patients scheduled for reconstruction the following day. Both Waris Dirie and Dr. Foldes were there. They hope to see facilities like the Center spring up wherever there is need. … And there IS need. To take just one example, the shattering results of a nationwide midwifery survey using a retrospective questionnaire to uncover prevalence of FGM in 2008 in The Netherlands (The International Journal of Public Health ): „On the basis of this study, we can conclude that FGM is a serious clinical problem in Europe for migrant women from risk countries for FGM. These women should receive extra attention from obstetricians and midwives during childbirth, since almost half are mutilated …” meaning increased risk for both neonate and mother.
Hilary Burrage estimates that 24,000 girls are at risk of FGM in the U.K. where 66,000 women are thought to have undergone genital assault already. And numbers are growing. Because to date, despite the law, not a single prosecution has taken place in Great Britain, the island is a magnet for immigrants from cutting cultures residing in other European nations. (As children in the Netherlands are increasingly well-protected, Holland has become a source of expanding excision ‚tourism‘.)
These facts become all the more troubling – shameful, really–, if you have followed efforts to stop FGM for decades, as I have. An article in the German feminist magazine EMMA in April 1977 spoke directly to my heart. Journalist Pauline Caravello ended with the plea from a young Sudanese woman: „Here no one talks about it. The press is silent. Our only hope lies in an outcry from abroad.“
Crying out, or, as Lucy Mashua calls it, being a „voice for the voiceless“ is not only NOT meddling in others‘ affairs; our support has been requested, again and again, for the past forty years – from torture victims like Waris Dirie.
But how to enlist those willing to assist?
In her contribution to the forthcoming Waging Empathy, „Resistance as the Secret of Joyful Global Feminist Alliance: Inner Work and Public Acts in Possessing the Secret of Joy,” Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez offers answers. She reads Alice Walker’s novel with three mentors, all concerned that we share the victims’ burden. First, because she dealt so poignantly with the mental and spiritual havoc wrought by FGM, “Alice Walker modeled for us the inner work of what clinical psychologist Kaethe Weingarten calls ‘compassionate witnessing’.’’ Described as an emotional “unity” or “flow,” this attitude allows the viewer “to feel at one with the person who is suffering.” “Our common humanity” (234) is thus illuminated by compassionate witnessing, which is, Browdy de Hernandez notes, “the bedrock of effective transnational solidarity.”
A second mentor is Gloria Anzaldua whose steps in a process called conocimiento provide a recursive, critical framework for understanding – and empathizing – with Walker‘s heroine, Tashi, who after all has chosen to be cut, and in this choice represents the wounded who largely espouse their ordeal. Tashi’s journey to awareness takes her through what Anzaldua calls a „’Coatlicue state’” characterized by “self-hatred, anger and depression.” This phase can cede, however, after long years of questing for self-knowledge, to “[a] final decisive ‘public action’ in the world.” Browdy de Hernandez finds a template of initiative in Tashi who emerges from deep injurious trauma to galvanize a protest movement willing to take risks for justice.
Audre Lorde, the third mentor, advises releasing “suppressed erotic power” which then facilitates what she calls “self-connection shared.” For as Lorde asserts, “‘I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own’.”
To learn more about Foldes, see Prolongeau, Hubert. Undoing FGM. Pierre Foldes, the Surgeon who Restores the Clitoris. Foreword Bernard Kouchner. Afterword and Trans. Tobe Levin. Frankfurt am Main: UnCUT/VOICES Press, 2011. And to order at a discount go to www.uncutvoices.com
Anzaldua, Gloria. “Now let us shift…the path of conocimiento…inner work, public acts.” This Bridge We Call Home: Radical Visions for Transformation. Eds. Gloria Anzaldua and AnaLouise Keating. NY: Routledge, 2002. 540-578. Print.
Browdy de Hernandez, Jennifer. „Resistance as the Secret of Joyful Global Feminist Alliance: Inner Work and Public Acts in Possessing the Secret of Joy.” Waging Empathy. Alice Walker, Possessing the Secret of Joy, and the Global Movement to Ban FGM. Frankfurt am Main: UnCUT/VOICES Press, 2013 (forthcoming). Print.
The International Journal of Public Health [2012 Apr; 57(2):413-20] [http://fgmreview.com/2012/10/16/the-lower-prevalence-of-female-genital-mutilation-in-the-netherlands-a-nationwide-study-in-dutch-midwifery-practices/ Accessed 14 September 2013].
Lorde, Audre. Sister Outsider. Freedom, CA: The Crossing Press, 1984. Print.
Weingarten, Kaethe. Common Shock: Witnessing Violence Every Day. NY: Dutton, 2003. Print.