Thanks to English department chair Judy Peterson, UnCUT/Voices was welcomed to introduce our books to the Honors class at Blue Ridge High School in Pinetop, AZ, USA, on April 21. On 24 April 2017, the UN comemorated World Book Day with emphasis on Translation — the perfect opportunity to present once again our first two books, translations from the French. Since UnCUT/VOICES was inspired to begin publishing by the importance of French contributions to academic knowledge and efforts to end FGM, we share the UN’s appreciation for translations. The French have pioneered several approaches, specifically by highlighting the biographies of dedicated activists – e.g. Khady, Mutilée (2005), put out by UnCUT/VOICES Press as Blood Stains (2010); and by celebrating innovative techniques of repair, e.g. Dr. Pierre Foldes who reforms damaged tissue as described by Hubert Prolongeau in Victoire sur l’Excision (2006), titled with UnCUT/VOICES Press Undoing FGM. Pierre Foldes, the Surgeon who Restores the Clitoris (2011). Both books were translated by Tobe Levin.
A bestseller when it first appeared in France, Khady’s memoir by continental Europe’s leading activist against female genital mutilation breaks new ground. An immigrant from Senegal to Paris, Khady was founding president of the first European Network against FGM and blows the whistle on excision, forced and early marriage, and unequal gender relations in Diaspora. Ultimately, Khady’s courageous battle against genital torture and for women’s human rights leads her to the U.N. to urge international support.
In Undoing FGM. Pierre Foldes, the Surgeon who Restores the Clitoris, prize-winning novelist Hubert Prolongeau provides an extraordinary, artistic introduction to the topic. He was commissioned by renowned French publisher Albin Michel to shadow Foldes, the already well-known urologist, battlefield surgeon and co-founder of Doctors without Borders. Unfamiliar with FGM before beginning his research, Prolongeau shares with readers the mixed emotions that accompany increasing knowledge of a complex and damaging custom, especially the conviction that the tradition must end. Prolongeau’s lively depiction draws on interviews with Foldes and his medical staff; showcases lengthy discussion with patients who reveal their motives for seeking surgery, feelings during healing, and assessment of results; and places the targeted biography of Foldes at the center. Here is a man determined to ‘reverse the effects of a crime’ against women perpetuated by other men.
Following is an excerpt from Khady’s Blood Stains. She has addressed the UN and heard encouraging speeches by world leaders at least verbally committed to ending excision, not necessarily as feminists but because, among its other detritus, the damaging custom severely retards entry into modernity and economic development. But then the strain of years and years of effort threaten to overcome her.
In February and March 2005, I addressed the 49th session of the UN Committee on the Status of Women. There nearly 6000 NGOs greeted good news with exuberant applause: national governments, without reservation, had re-affirmed the Platform for Action on violence against women formulated ten years earlier at the Beijing plus 10 Conference. For my part, I was on a cloud, sure that now everything would change …
But that evening, on re-reading the speech I would be giving the next day at a UNICEF conference in Zurich, I fell to earth and wept.
My whole life unfolded before me like a film whose first installment had been a tale of horror.
Since 1975, when the first United Nations women’s conference took place in Mexico and I arrived in France, thirty years had passed. How many women had suffered since then, and how many were suffering now? How many women had had to put up a fight like mine? In how many countries did men still not know what a phrase like “women’s rights” means? I had just lived through a magnificent moment listening to beautiful speeches by male politicians. I was tempted to cry out who I was and why I was there. To hurl at them my suffering and anger and tell them to stop talking but go see for themselves the lives of women in whose name they made decisions that wouldn’t be applied for half a century … if ever.
Discouragement claimed me, exhaustion in this interminable combat, the same feeling I had experienced three years earlier in Italy when they awarded my activism a prize shared with a young Bangladeshi whose face had been destroyed by acid for refusing to marry. That day I also cried, seeing that woman, of rage and desire to just let it all drop, so vast did the journey seem, and male violence so oceanic.
But my courage returned in New York, Geneva, Zurich and elsewhere. I began again to march and intend to go on, carrying the message of African women, victims of torture and humiliation.
My mother no longer tells me I run around too much. I trust, — no, I believe–, she is proud of me. I dedicate this book to her in the hope of being able to translate for her, without shying away, every word.
Excerpt from Khady with Marie-Thérèse Cuny. Blood Stains. A Child of African Reclaims Her Human Rights. Trans. Tobe Levin. UnCUT/VOICES Press, 2010.
Pierre Foldes shares Khady’s concern for the word itself – creating public awareness of what had heretofore been a well-kept secret immune from critique – and for male responsibility in both perpetuating and ending FGM. Former Foreign Minister of France and founder of Doctors without Borders, Bernard Kouchner provides the preface to Prolongeau’s Undoing FGM. Here is an excerpt from Kouchner’s text, translated by Tobe Levin.
Pierre Foldes worked in Mother Teresa’s hospice. Influenced by the devotion of Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, he, too, grew determined to shelter the dying no matter where they came from. And knowing the protective force of words, he would start to unsettle those indifferent to sexual mutilation, speaking out about the rights of man, the rights of woman, and for equality. He never fled from his responsibilities. Not in Burma as the military regime acceded to power and used forced labor while spreading AIDS by growing poppies for heroin production. Not in Mali or in Sarajevo either, where he accepted constraints in order to serve the greatest number. But let’s stick to what we know. Who forced him to volunteer? No one, and therein lies his power.
Cut off the clitoris, mutilate the labia majora, stitch it up and knife it open for each pregnancy – this wreaks havoc on a woman’s whole being. Foldes has chosen to join the fight to stop it, to take on himself the sorrow of others, and this commitment leads to solitude, to a risky but fertile jurisdiction. He is threatened but continues on his way. Men visit him, armed with knives. His skin crawls but he doesn’t give an inch. Death is an inevitable part of the game, as he has learned from many war zone missions.
Give pleasure back to women, emotions other than fear of violence, gratification beyond that available to a piece of merchandise or a baby machine. He operates, and his medical research and surgical repair attract attention. People start to emulate him; the World Health Organization is interested. He publishes an impressive series of successes. In nearly 80% of cases, women no longer suffer after intervention. They regain elementary sensation. A great physician, he has innovated a common surgical procedure for magnificent humanitarian ends.
Excerpt from Prolongeau, Hubert. Undoing FGM. Pierre Foldes, the Surgeon who Restores the Clitoris. Foreword Bernard Kouchner. Trans. Tobe Levin. Frankfurt am Main: UnCUT/VOICES Press, 2011.
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