Celebrating Efua Dorkenoo, OBE, UnCUT/VOICES’ board member, author and friend

Human Rights Council 17 panelists and sponsors, 1 June 2011 in Geneva

Human Rights Council 17 panelists and sponsors, 1 June 2011 in Geneva

The sad news reached me last Sunday when the skies were already weeping in Oxford. It was unbelievable that she had died, my ally, colleague and mentor for more than thirty years. When you strolled into her office, most recently at 1 Birdcage Walk, her ample smile embraced you. A dynamic spirit, when Efua talked, her voice was strong, her gestures emphatic and her resolve unshakeable. … The photo on my desk reproaches me: I had intended to mail it to her, the informal shot that captures a beaming Efua on JanuaP1030023ry 13, 2006, in Kronberg outside Frankfurt at an event sponsored by FORWARD – Germany, the ‘little sister’ whose creation Efua had inspired. The founder of ‘big’ FORWARD had flown from London to join in welcoming our nation’s new Ambassador from Mali, Fatoumata Siré Diakité, a sister campaigner in the fight against excision. And as it was Friday the 13th, little mishaps seemed inevitable. Efua’s escort from the airport failed to find her, but she reached us on her own. That was Efua: resourceful, optimistic, confident in her power to manage what had to be done. And what had to be done was stopping FGM.

To do this she was indefatigable, midwifing The Girl Generation, an Africa-led youth group against FGM  officially launched on October 10, 2014. Efua outlived its birth by one week.

But she has left  a legacy, and Efua … we can assure you that your work goes on.

Honored to review Cutting the Rose for the European Journal of Women’s Studies [see http://ejw.sagepub.com/content/3/3.toc August 1996 3: 315-318, doi:10.1177/135050689600300311], I know that Dorkenoo’s poignant book, reissued in 2007, remains a useful resource. You can also watch Efua’s interview  in Alice Walker and Pratibha Parmar’s documentary Warrior Marks (1993) where, majestically attired, FORWARD’s founder reveals a decisive strength: her creativity. Aware that FGM must be tackled with finesse and objectivity, she is also convinced that its emotional roots want a passionate approach. This can be found in fiction, or  better yet, faction. She authored a children’s book called Tradition, Tradition, in which a tribe ritually relieves females of one leg. The allegory picks up on a development theme, for how can an economy grow while a nation injures half its people?

Efua’s talent, of course, had always been deployed. Shortly before the first-ever symposium on FGM was held by FORWARD in London in 1992, she had been counseling recently arrived Somali refugees who had found their way to Covent Garden’s Africa Centre where FORWARD then had a tiny office. The traumatized women wished to do something to stop infibulation. Together, they and Efua wrote a play in which an arranged marriage brings a new bride to British shores. She must be opened, Efua explains, before the groom’s unrelenting efforts to penetrate prove more excruciating than what the authors stage. The drama presents a domestic scene, a London apartment, where the TV is turned up full blast, the radio and stereo are on – to muffle the howls of the girl being opened by her Somali neighbors’ knife. She couldn’t simply go to a GP back then, Efua says. “He would just freak out. So they do it here in the UK – by themselves.”  The playwrights warned her, however, such a script could never be performed. Should the community get wind of it, they could be killed. When protesting FGM, Efua repeats, “Women can be killed!”

Herself undaunted despite threats, Efua has served the cause of abolition at least since we first met in London in 1980 and then again in the spring of 1981 in Paris where Efua joined me, Awa Thiam, and a small group of German activists. All claiming human rights for women, we would continue through the decades and, given the sadly ongoing need, up to the present day.

FGM Panel Flyer-UN HRC 17

L to r: Tobe Levin, Efua Dorkenoo, Hilary Burrage, London August 2013

L to r: Tobe Levin, Efua Dorkenoo, Hilary Burrage, London August 2013

I last saw Efua informally with Hilary Burrage at Brown’s in London to discuss our Feminist Statement.

We last met formally in Geneva where Efua had kindly agreed to participate in my high level panel at the Human Rights Council.

I can’t believe she’s really gone.

I will miss her very much.

So will the world.

One response to “Celebrating Efua Dorkenoo, OBE, UnCUT/VOICES’ board member, author and friend

  1. Pingback: Appreciation: Efua Dorkenoo OBE | Hilary Burrage

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