Why should you care? What can we do? “Sing and Shout against FGM”

As soon as her sister shrieked, Uba dashed to a door with no lock but found it shut tight. They must be leaning against it, she thought, anxiety on full. Her turn would come soon. And when it DID, she still heard screams. Assaulted by sound, she wanted to know, where was it coming from? Bouncing off walls, reverberating through the room, what was the source? It took time to grasp: the second gang of howls had been hers. …

Such loss of self in FGM victims isn’t rare. [1]

On October 29, 2014, in London’s Garden Court Chambers, our host Dexter Dias, QC, opened his “Sing and Shout against FGM” with this story, the gift of a survivor. Not yet ready to witness under her own name, she wanted the Queen’s Counsel [2] to disseminate the tale. “We met in the Dunkin’ Donuts at South Boston Station,” he explained, highlighting how, in the mundane world of brand-names and pastry, horror lies just below the surface, and cognitive paralysis, in both victim and witness, prevents us from grasping its scope. The litany of integers – 140 million– doesn’t make sense. Only one by one, each individual’s narrative does, and the anguish becomes our own. It is indeed ours, Dexter Dias asserts, by virtue of emotional investment in children, our “emissaries,” –so Neil Postman –, to ‘the future’.

So, every 11 seconds, what happens? Dexter asks. Someone mutilates a child, and, viewed through a human rights lens, the crime is clear.

BAREtruth readers  present Isley Lynn's "Sleight of Hand."

BAREtruth presents Isley Lynn’s “Sleight of Hand.”

Less clear is the complexity of FGM, staged in Isley Lynn’s “Sleight of Hand,” a dramatized reading by the BAREtruth Theatre Company including a flight attendant, teacher, ice cream van driver, street cleaner and postal worker. Like Chaucer and Boccaccio, the author tells stories that, taken together, remind me of the “blind men and the elephant” who, in grasping with their hands only parts of the whole, affirm the giant mammal resembles a snake, a tree trunk, or a wall. … Here FGM manifests for the flight attendant in the girl who slipped a spoon into her panties in order to set off the security alarm so she could appeal to the personnel for help. A victim of child marriage, she was being taken back to be cut in Africa. The instructor in turn teaches art, describing ‘normal’ children’s drawings until she spots one betraying excessive agitation. (Back in the early 80s, Pia Grassivaro Gallo of the University of Padua asked Somali pupils to sketch human beings; with depressing regularity, the girls produced stick figures that had NO body.)

If professionals meet regularly with tell-tale signs of evil going on, how can they read  clues without background knowledge? On landing in Nigeria, why is that girl still crying? Why, all the way from London, has she been so grieved? As the street cleaner notes, people try mostly not to look. But even if they do, can they see?

Sarah Jane Morris and Tony Remy warm up

Sarah Jane Morris and Tony Remy warm up

Acclaimed recording artists, modern jazz soul singer Sarah Jane Morris and her guitarist Tony Remy try to open our eyes in their album Bloody Rain, devoted to social justice and violence against women. Their lyrics expose the shared motivation behind clitoral ablation and so-called ‘honor’ murders. “The whore you became when you brought Western shame on this good family name,” a father explains, means “We’ll crush your will, your blood we’ll spill, and we will kill.” A song against FGM affirms, “You were born perfect, my precious little … rosebud,” yet what “makes your body sing” is shorn.

Mona and Ifrah present at "Sing and Shout"

Muna & Ifrah present at “Sing and Shout”

A monstrous violation, excision and infibulation drew two remarkable  twenty-somethings, Muna Hassan and Ifrah Hassan, to tell us how, when only thirteen and fourteen, they began writing poetry against FGM — and were ordered to stop. Who censured them? “Men told us we shouldn’t. We were embarrassing the whole community.” Their mothers supported them, however. “You must do this,” their moms agreed, “because we couldn’t.” Thus inspired, the girls and their group at Integrate Bristol – including Fahma Mohamed, whose petition to Education Minister Gove was signed by 200,000 people — produced Silent Scream, a drama-documentary that won first prize in Light Movies’ 2012 Young Voices competition. But “it’s porn,” their critics warned. A mentor from Zed Productions that helped bankroll the project, praising the “’courage and dignity of the teenagers involved’,” acknowledges the “fierce opposition” they faced. “Yet they were utterly determined to speak out, take action and resist … pressures“ [3] to hide FGM.

Hilary Burrage

Hilary Burrage

Mutilation of girls’ genitalia has been obscured as much by the actors themselves as by a laissez-faire academy that could have educated an indifferent public capable of being roused by information which, instead of serving to spare children torture, was horded in archives or even actively suppressed. “This is a sorry tale of what for years I didn’t know about FGM,” sociologist and Guardian journalist Hilary Burrage [4] confesses in her astute remarks. Among the facts not disseminated broadly, Hilary lists a Minority Rights Group report, Female Genital Mutilation: Proposals for Change, co-authored by our friend Efua Dorkenoo whose recent passing we still mourn. This came out more than a quarter century ago, yet the proposals themselves are largely the same today. They include strengthening the will to prosecute, as attorney Linda Weil-Curiel has done so effectively starting in the early 1980s in France. They also include publishing “stories of FGM survivors” as “Tobe Levin in Germany, here with us tonight” has been doing “for years.”

Thus, one by one by one, the truth behind razors and knives is coming to light. Presented dramatically in two more BAREtruth plays – Bahar Brunton’s Dancing Feet and Karis E. Halsall’s Mutant, the impression over-all is contained in Hilary’s summation: “Now at last there is no excuse for anyone to say, ‘I didn’t know’.”[5]

[1] Most memoirs on FGM report a disconnect, an out-of-bodiness divorcing mind and matter.

[2] QC, or Queen’s Counsel: an attorney (in the UK a barrister or solicitor) awarded this status, based on merit, by the Court. In the reign of a male, the title is KC.

[3] Oliver Zimmerman quoted in “Bristol Teenagers Win Top Film Award.” http://integratebristol.org.uk/2012/04/05/bristol-teenagers-win-top-film-award/ Retrieved 6 November 2014.

[4] Author of the forthcoming Eradicating Female Genital Mutilation. A UK Perspective.

[5] The program also included good news. Alice Greenlees described a local project managed by Chase Africa among the Maasai in Kenya whose ethnicity cut 70% to 90% of girls. (When a teacher from the local partner initiative EVE asked pupils how many had faced the blade, ALL hands went up.) Successful implementation of alternative rites of passage has reduced those numbers.

P.S. When UnCUT/VOICES asked Ifrah and Mona to submit a manuscript, they agreed.

Source: Marshall, Daisy. “The time is now to end FGM – Guest Blog by 28TooMany volunteer Daisy Marshall.” 2 April 2014. http://www.28toomany.org/blog/2014/apr/2/time-now-end-fgm-guest-blog-28-too-many-volunteer-/

Burrage photo Source: http://hilaryburrage.com/2014/10/30/sing-and-shout-against-fgm-where-the-arts-human-rights-the-old-days-and-a-big-un-announcement-all-came-together/

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One response to “Why should you care? What can we do? “Sing and Shout against FGM”

  1. Pingback: Sing And Shout Against FGM: Where The Arts, Human Rights, The ‘Old Days’ And A Big UN Announcement All Came Together | Hilary Burrage

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