“I’m 22 years old, living in Manchester, and I was cut when I was 6 years old.”
“I had my FGM done when I was about four.”
“I had FGM when I was seven …”
“I was only eleven …”
“I thought it was like baptism. …”
“The lady came, the cutter. She told me … to lie down in front of her.”
“They put a big table on the patio and there were a lot of people watching.”
“She took out the razor blade and I started to panic straight away. I started to scream. There was already blood … and little bits of skin…”
“The next thing I knew I was lying on the floor and there’s this HUGE woman, VERY big. She sat on my chest and spread my legs apart.”
“And I remember the first cut of the blade, you know, going through your skin, so sharp.”
“I didn’t stop crying and I did not stop bleeding.”
[Audible sigh] “It’s indescribable” …
“… the kind of pain that never leaves you. It doesn’t matter whether you’re having a good day or a bad day. You’ll always have the image popping into your head of you standing over your own pool of blood looking at your flesh…” 1
Leyla Hussein’s prize-winning film The Cruel Cut features this powerful symphony of voices, youthful survivors who decry an act from which they should have been immune. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, already in place when they were excised, failed to protect them. Yet, on 10 December 1948, the U.N. General Assembly had adopted this key document; 67 years later I made my second visit to WAAF (Women’s Action against FGM – Japan), the unfulfilled promise of human rights protection having brought us together.
Welcoming their visitors with sushi, green tea, and a shared concern to live up to safeguarding ideals, Nina Raj, Mitsue Ohi and Yoko Hayashi introduced WAAF’s recent projects in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, and Uganda. Ten years ago in Guinea, WAAF supported a nationwide caravan of parliamentarians who visited their constituencies to speak about FGM, an initiative of Cellule de Coordination sur les Pratiques Traditionnelles Affectant la Santé des Femmes et des Enfants (CPTAFE) in Conakry, Guinea, an IAC affiliate, as you can see on WAAF’s flyer (below left).
My task was to outline advances on the left-hand side of the Eurasian landmass. Inspired by the successful reception at our workshop on FGM at the University of Oxford, I carried part of our program to Tokyo. There we screened Maggie O’Kane’s excerpts from the Guardian’s global campaign and Leyla Hussein’s The Cruel Cut. In the UK, media has been significant in advancing awareness of FGM while also recording the movement to stop it.
Since its inception, WAAF has been backing grassroots initiatives in Africa. To raise funds, they educate the public. One tool is film, the other simple talk. “Twenty years ago, when we set up information booths, nobody knew what FGM was. At the end of the day we were exhausted, taking 15 – 20 minutes to describe excision and why we were against it. Today things are different. Five minutes are enough,” Nina explained. “Why?” I asked. “Well, for one thing, books, TV programs and movies. Waris Dirie’s memoirs were translated into Japanese as was Alice Walker’s novel Possessing the Secret of Joy, and the films associated with them – Desert Flower and Warrior Marks – played here. We saw Ousmane Sembène’s Moolaadé as well.”
Interestingly, the translator of Possessing the Secret of Joy, Yumiko Yanagisawa, was the founder of WAAF. Although in a telephone interview on 9 September 2013, Yanagisawa discouraged making any direct link between the African American novelist and WAAF’s birth shortly after the story of Tashi appeared, the book played a major role in awakening its translator’s understanding of the issue, and the group has continued privileging narrative as a teaching tool.
This accounts for keen interest when I shared another novelty. On 20 October 2015 FORWARD UK premiered the claymation films Needlecraft and My Body My Rules (two versions of the same short, the first for teens, the second for under 12’s) which we watched in Tokyo. The London venue – Porticullis House, the office building for Members of Parliament – underscores the serious concern that the British government now gives FGM.
WAAF admired Needlecraft and My Body My Rules, the first of which shows embroidery as an innocent creative process from which flowers spring and a garden of delight results until the scissors become a weapon that snips appendages off a happy child. Audiences gasp as, wholly unexpectedly, an ear and then a nose are sliced. This dramatic visualization is left out of the film for younger kids. In its place is the girl pleading “don’t hurt me” and insisting that her body, intact, should be left alone. That is, the cheeky child declares, “My body. My rules.”
Recently, especially with realization of Efua Dorkenoo’s dream of a government sponsored “Girl Generation” to end FGM, youth as a target audience is gaining in popularity among NGOs in the UK, Japan and African nations aiming to end FGM. WAAF for instance supports a long-term project in Liberia that in its first year addressed stakeholders, village elders and religious authorities but in the second generated workshops with young people (and FGM practitioners).
Although UnCUT/VOICES Press hasn’t yet produced materials for the youngest grades, several publications are appropriate for high school students: Khady’s Blood Stains. A Child of Africa Reclaims Her Human Rights (2010), a memoir that catalogs rights violations bracketed by its author’s heroic opposition; Violet Barungi and Hilda Twongyeirwe’s Taboo. Voices of Women in Uganda on Female Genital Mutilation (2015), short stories and poetry that capture the pain and injustice of the injury; and Maria Kiminta and Tobe Levin with photographs by Britta Radike, Kiminta. A Maasai’s Fight against Female Genital Mutilation (2015) which combines memoir and analysis. Designed for classroom use, Kiminta is both a personal narrative and a source book. Khady herself had been a guest of WAAF when she visited Japan to launch the Japanese edition of her book, but review copies of Taboo, Kiminta and Waging Empathy were offered to the group’s English-speaking members.
You can get in touch with WAAF at firstname.lastname@example.org
You can order books at 12€ each plus postage from me: email@example.com
Notes and Sources:
1 http://www.channel4.com/programmes/the-cruel-cut/videos/all/stop-fgm Accessed 10 December 2015