Elephants in the Room:
Hurdles — and Hope —
for Ending FGM
Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford
17 November 2017
A workshop on current research sponsored by the International Gender Studies Centre and UnCUT/VOICES Press. Presentations and discussion 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Films from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. Keynote speech: author Hilary Burrage at noon.
Sandwich lunch included. No fee but voluntary contributions appreciated.
This event addresses academics, journalists, and activists interested in exploring concrete obstacles to ending FGM (female genital mutilation). Why ‘elephants in the room’? “Elephant in the room is an English-language metaphorical idiom for an obvious problem or risk no one wants to discuss, or a condition of groupthink no one wants to challenge.” 
Above, the subject of UnCUT/VOICES’ book Undoing FGM by best-selling novelist Hubert Prolongeau, Dr. Pierre Foldes and Frédérique Martz accept their awards from the Global Woman P.E.A.C.E. Foundation, 21 October 2017, at the 5 K Walk against FGM. Photo credit: Tobe Levin
Issues receiving too little attention in relation to FGM include …
Gender, ethnic identities, psycho-sexualities and masculinities
° Loyalty to ‘female circumcision’ in cultures that perform it; ° Motivation wrapped up with desires for beauty and acceptance; ° Fraught relationships between mothers and daughters; ° Role and redefinition of masculinities; ° Sex, especially female pleasure, as a taboo topic between women and men; ° Difficulties in but importance of engaging men as advocates, both within and outside the ethnicities concerned; ° Rejection of transgender / adherence to gender-stereotypes.
Politics, power and finance
° Bullying, deprivation, and humiliation of ‘positive deviants’ and activists; ° Economic power (of patriarchs) with financial interests who impose FGM for material gain; ° Right-wing ‘hijacking’ of the issue to promote racism and Islamophobia; ° Tensions between academic researchers and activists; ° Increased opposition to asylum for risk of FGM in an era of mass exodus and growing anti-immigrant sentiment; ° Underfunding of grassroots abolition efforts managed by cultural insiders; ° Modalities of cooperation between cultural insiders and outsiders.
Medicine and law
° Calls to differentiate between so-called clitoral ‘nicks’ and FGM in Germany, Italy, the USA and elsewhere; ° Distinctions between campaigns in Diaspora and at national (tribal, ethnic) points of origin; ° Controversial responses to the role of government in enforcing laws against FGM; ° Skepticism surrounding clitoral restoration.
Photo above, Hilary Burrage reading at the workshop and photo left, l to r, Hilary Burrage, Dr. Tobe Levin von Gleichen, Dr. Phoebe Abe, Sadia Adam, and Annagrazia Faraca, at Lady Margaret Hall, the 10 March 2017 Workshop sponsored by the International Gender Studies Centre.
Advertising, media, language and the arts
° Underfunded artistic approaches to abolition, i.e. imaginative literature, film, music, painting, dance, poetry, drama; ° Understudied but increasing role of survivor/victims’ autobiography, autobiographical novels and memoir; ° Appropriate visuals in advertising and other media campaigns; ° Benefit and pitfalls of social media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.
Open to a general audience, the workshop will stress discussion among participants and invited experts whose remarks, ideally limited to TEN minutes, will address these issues (among others). To illustrate, “fondness for the custom in most cultures that perform it” has produced concrete global counter-movements that claim the right to continue FGM: for instance, Bohra Muslim women and a Sierra Leonean’s ‘“Ain’t I a Woman” campaign [that wants] to raise seed money … to increase awareness about the negative impact of anti-fgm campaigns… [and] to celebrate and teach … unique traditions of female (and male) initiation – [that is, clitoridectomy] — in sub-Sahara Africa and other parts of the world’).
A second illustration, the difficulty in “determining appropriate visuals in advertising and other media” pits advocates for images that expose the full horror — see, for instance, “Now that you know, say NO to FGM — Young Men” at http://www.safehands.org — against others who hesitate to subject viewers to pictures as likely to generate disgust as to ensure engagement. The Inter-African Committee (IAC) advocates close-ups of the act for African viewers, showing what FGM really is – as in the 1991 IAC Nigeria film Beliefs and Misbeliefs under the direction of Dr. Irene Thomas. In contrast, in 1982, Belgian filmmaker Patrizia van Verhaegen screened Le Secret de leurs Corps (1981), including footage of an infibulation shot in the Sudan. At the 1982 University of Dakar colloquium on FGM organized by Awa Thiam, Senegalese academic female participants agreed that such a film should never appear in Europe. The risk of encouraging racism rather than gathering support to end FGM, they felt, was just too high.
Regarding hope in accelerating abolition, representatives of praiseworthy initiatives are invited to report. These include …
° Guardian Global Media Campaign, executive director Maggie O’Kane; ° The Royal College of Midwives (animations against FGM); ° The Girl Generation (continuing the legacy of Efua Dorkenoo); ° Oxford Against Cutting; ° Equality Now; ° 28 Too Many; ° The Oxford Rose Clinic in John Radcliffe Hospital; ° FORWARD (London), film Needlecraft; ° The Clitoris Restoration and Fistula Repair Fund (UK); ° Daughters of Eve and Hawa’s Haven; ° The Mojatu Foundation (Nottingham): ° FORWARD – Germany, AWAT immigrant women’s project; ° Dr. Abe Foundation; ° Global Woman P.E.A.C.E. Foundation (USA); ° Samburu Girls Foundation (Kenya); ° I.A.C. Norway; ° CAMS (France); ° L’Institut génésique (Dr. Pierre Foldes); ° Global Alliance against FGM (Geneva); ° Somali Family Services, Minneapolis, MN, USA & Garowe, Puntland, Somalia; ° Memoirists Khady Koita, Maria Kiminta, Hibo Wardere and dramatist Charlene James (Cuttin’ It); ° Integrate UK (Bristol); ° EU-DAPHNE Sponsored CHANGE projects (Hazel Barrett, Coventry University, and Terre des Femmes); Rights in Exile / Refugee Legal Aid Programme.
Photo right, at the March 10 IGS Oxford FGM Workshop, Dr. Barbara Harrell-Bond of the Rights in Exile / Refugee Legal Aid Programme in discussion with UnCUT/VOICES author Kameel Ahmady, In the Name of Tradition. FGM in Iran.
Films feature three 3 ½ minute animations launched on 12 September 2017 in the House of Commons, hosted by Janet Fyle MBE and sponsored by the Royal College of Midwives, and Jaha’s Promise, premiered at the Copenhagen film festival, March 2017, by the Guardian Global Media Campaign against FGM.
Finally, UnCUT/VOICES Press envisions an edited volume on Hurdles and Hope in Ending FGM: Research Reports from the Workshop (working title). Participants will be invited to contribute.
REGISTER (by 16.11. requested for catering): Dr. Tobe Levin von Gleichen
UnCUT/VOICES’ books featured:
 Wikipedia. https://www.google.de/search?q=Elephants+in+the+Room+defined&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&client=firefox-b&gfe_rd=cr&dcr=0&ei=9ZbcWeWTEM-F8QfPx6zwBw Retrieved 10/10/2017.S
 In fact, the film DID appear on primetime German TV with the excision scene EXCISED, encouraging precisely the opposite impression, making the custom seem benign. See Tobe Levin. 1983. ‘Solidarische Rassistinnen’. EMMA. http://www.emma.de/lesesaal/45205#pages/pageId-0047788cd53dbf523d044a5a6908636f0ff41bb