In the early fall of 2004, as a visiting scholar in women’s studies at Mt. Holyoke College, I gave a talk on female genital mutilation that brought friendship from three Somali students who found the speech “awesome.” The young women approached me afterwards, inviting me to bring my presentation to the African and Caribbean Students Association (which, on November 3, 2004, I did) and asking to explore the issue further. I was delighted. We met once a week in my College Street office, planning to bring our growing awareness to high schools in ‘the Valley’ like Northfield Mount Hermon, where my daughter studied. All went well until after Thanksgiving. On their return from home, the three regretfully informed me that their mothers had forbidden them to become involved in campaigns against FGM. Why? “Members of our community are in touch with one another,” they told me. “Our moms don’t want to be embarrassed.” It was obviously not my place to override parental orders. We four mourned silently, and then went our separate ways. My path led me to fulfill by myself the first of what were to have been our foursome’s commitments, speaking at Northfield-Mount Hermon, sponsored by the high school’s Amnesty International section. I have since lost touch with the three Somali students but I doubt that they have remained silent in the intervening years. They had been avid to educate their peers.
2004 is now a decade ago. Thanks to the Guardian’s campaign, its talented and committed journalists, and adequate funding, the United States is finally emerging from its torpor regarding the systematic torture of immigrant girls from practicing communities. Readers of my blog don’t need reminding how gruesome FGM is. What must be stressed is how little others know.
Enter Jaha Dukureh, Representative Joseph Crowley, and committed Guardian journalists – Hilary Burrage, Mary Carson, Chavala Madlena, Alexandra Topping, and their chief, Maggie O’Kane. The campaigns in the UK and USA, Kenya and Australia, represent the first adequately financed effort to raise awareness on a broad scale of the tragedy of FGM. In a democracy, public opinion counts.
Posts to this blog have always been linked to the books we publish. In this case, the link is in the delivery. At the launch of the USA campaign on May 12, 2014, in the Guardian offices on Fifth Avenue in New York City, I offered copies of Undoing FGM, Blood Stains, and WAAFRIKA to the journalists and selected attendees who showed keen interest.
I stress: each of us has a role to play in ending FGM. Each of us can show solidarity by signing Jaha Dukureh’s petition at change.org. Each can support the many young women who long to have their bodily integrity restored via the Clitoris Restoration Fund: https://uncutvoices.wordpress.com/2014/01/10/announcing-the-clitoris-restoration-fund-reversing-the-effects-of-a-crime-foldes/
If you are reading this, chances are you agree that it’s good to help spare little girls and soothe the wounds of the already-injured. Please spread the word.
Photo Captions: above — Representative Joseph Crowley with Jaha Dukureh
Below — (l to r) Jaha Dukureh with journalists Chavala Madlena, Mary Carson, and publisher Tobe Levin