“I met many FGM survivors who ended up as sex workers to pay for their health care #obamacare was a life saver #shocked #disappointed.” Leyla Hussein, Tweet, 4 May 2017.
How ironic that “repeal and replace” – a bill in the US legislature that passed yesterday — should emerge on the doorstep of the “International Day of the Midwife,” today, May 5, launched in 1992 by the International Confederation of Midwives. Similarly paradoxical is the association of midwifery with FGM. “Daya,” for instance, the Egyptian woman who amputates the clitoris, is translated as ‘midwife’ by Nawal el Saadawi, and, in fact, benevolent and less benign duties concerning gynecological and obstetric health are her concern. Perhaps not coincidentally, an episode on FGM in the UK’s TV series Call the Midwife, whose screenplay benefited from Nimko Ali’s guidance, is airing this week in the USA.
But what has UnCUT/VOICES Press to do specifically with midwives?
The editorial project was inspired by three French volumes of highest quality neglected for years by anglophone publishers, thereby depriving English-speaking readers of their insights, and one is about a notorious and eventually laudatory midwife. These texts, translated by Tobe Levin, include Khady with Marie-Thérèse Cuny, Blood Stains. A Child of Africa Reclaims Her Human Rights. (Mutilée, 2005; English 2010); Hubert Prolongeau. Undoing FGM. Pierre Foldes, the Surgeon Who Restores the Clitoris (Victoire sur l’Excision, 2006; English 2011); and Natasha Henry, Linda Weil-Curiel with Hawa Gréou, “If only I had known!” Confessions of a Cutter (Exciseuse, 2006; English unpublished). Sadly, disagreement among the authors and CityEditions prevented this manuscript from appearing in English. But that’s no reason for the entire content to languish unseen, important as it is in efforts to end FGM.
Hence, below you will find excerpts from the Preface to Exciseuse. Entretiens avec Hawa Gréou translated by Tobe Levin:
November 16, 1984 … In Paris, a tenant on the rue de Montreuil wrote her landlord to inform him that in the Gréou’s flat, just on the other side of the wall, she could hear atrocious infant howls, truly horrifying cries.
Her letter read: “I had always noticed that whenever the first wife was around, they received a lot of African visitors who then left with crying babies all wrapped up. Sometimes the line was so long it extended down the stairs. I always wondered what was making the children bawl like that as their parents carried them away. They were truly piercing shrieks.” So shrill that the writer added, “A heart condition made hearing those cries truly distressing so, to avoid falling ill, on those afternoons I felt obliged to leave the house.”
The police were called, but, at the Gréou’s, they found nothing amiss.
Several months later, in March 1985, the PMI of Yvelines also alerted the authorities: a baby had just been hospitalized for a botched excision. Her parents had emigrated from Mauritania. When interrogated by child protection, the father gave the exciser’s name: Hawa Gréou.
In 1994, Hawa Gréou received a one-year suspended sentence.
July 31, 1993
Paris. The very day she turned eighteen, young Mariatou left her parents’ home, took her things to a friend’s and then sought out the juvenile court judge. She was asking for justice in the form of some sort of protection for her younger sisters. She had left for fear of a forced marriage and worried about the smaller girls. At the same time, she revealed that both she and her other sisters had been excised. Later she would also give the exciser’s name: Hawa Gréou.
In 1999, as a result of the spectacular trial launched by Mariatou’s revelations, Hawa Gréou was sentenced to eight years in prison.
The remarkable aspect of this tale is its dénouement. After serving, ‘Mama’ Gréou emerged from prison, appeared in the prosecutor’s office, took a seat and confessed to Linda Weil-Curiel that she had changed her mind. She understood that FGM was wrong and began to campaign against it.
The context of this historic, and to date unprecedented, story emerges from the Table of Contents which includes
It all began down there ° Female sexual mutilation: A social issue ° Hawa Gréou, ten years of excision in France ° A spectacular trial ° The attorney who prosecutes excision ° Dialogue between Linda Weil-Curiel and Hawa Gréou ° Marriage without love ° Excision in France ° Prison ° The Trial ° Excision today ° “Forced marriages” ° Girls and Teens in France Today ° Concerning female genitalia ° Zero Tolerance
Like Hawa Gréou, midwives can be a force for change in efforts to counteract medicalization (so-called ‘benign’ nicks) and prevent continued damage to girls’ genitalia.
I welcome further inquiries from anglophone readers unable to deal with the French text. firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com