FGM: Tough Questions, No (‘sexy’) Answers. Call for papers on March 8, International Women’s Day

FGM in iran cover

Godfrey Williams-Okorodus, (2015) watercolor for the cover of FGM in Iran.

For an edited volume whose working title is Female Genital Mutilation: Tough Questions, No (‘sexy’) Answers (editor Tobe Levin von Gleichen) UnCUT/VOICES Press invites you to consider submitting a chapter.

About UnCUT/VOICES Press

Registered in 2009 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, UnCUT/VOICES Press, publishing in English, is part of the global movement to end female genital mutilation, and all our books focus on that issue.  Hoping to spare girls and women the pain of this ritual abuse, we produce autobiographies, novels, poetry, plays, and other creative work including translations and academic research. Concerned to blend scholarship and advocacy, we have co-sponsored a series of colloquia and workshops at the University of Oxford, Lady Margaret Hall, in cooperation with the International Gender Studies Centre. We also consider alliances important, for instance, with FORWARD-Germany, INTEGRA, The Clitoris Restoration and Fistula Repair Fund, La Palabre, the MOJATU Foundation, The Dahlia Project, Oxford against Cutting, the Oxford Rose Clinic, 28 Too Many, and l’Institut en Santé génésique, to name a few. The novel Stones by Jeanie Kortum is our first co-imprint with She Writes Press.

Stones cover as jpeg (2)

About the edited volume

“In the UK, the three topics people are afraid to talk about are race, gender, and sex, and FGM involves all three,” Leyla Hussein told The Lancet. Although FGM has attracted increasing attention, scholars and activists remain challenged by backlash and stumbling blocks. A considerable amount of action is needed in many arenas, including the pedagogical and political,  to ensure abolition. For instance, a recent headline in The Malay Mail complains about excessive concern for female genitalia as the UN Commission on the Status of Women (holding its annual meeting in NY) calls on the nation to spare girls from the blade. The headline reads: “Why focus on non-issues like FGM”? And the report goes on: “So much attention has been given to … female circumcision in terms of its medical harms and benefits, that we strongly feel more pressing issues are being marginalized.” As we bracket our scepticism regarding alleged ‘benefits’, the Malaysian Alliance of Civil Society Organisations (MACSA) involved in the UN’s consultative process claims that CEDAW “has been misled” into believing FGM is widely practiced in Malaysia. MACSA’s denial rests on making a sharp distinction between ‘mutilation’ of female genitalia and WHO’s definitions of types 1 and 4 – circumcision of the clitoral prepuce and pricking — that are, admittedly, present, but MACSA insists, no ‘mutilation’ takes place, [1] at least not according to certain influential imams.

Kimiinta Cover (2)

Can a human rights approach reasonably dialogue with such claims to religious hegemony that conflict with children’s rights? Other egregious examples of backlash and barriers include

°            interventions favouring medicalisation that have dogged anti-FGM movements for decades (key players include Dr Omar Abdulcadir in Florence, Italy; [2] Dr Arnold Groh at the Technical University in Berlin, Germany; [3] academics at the Universities of Washington and Chicago in the USA, and many more).

°            arguments around female genital cosmetic surgery, claiming a racist double standard in acceptance of alteration to the labia, clitoris and vulva of white women while criminalizing (so-called) similar manoeuvres applied to ethnic minority women in Diaspora.

°            insistence by the movement to end circumcision of the penile foreskin that FGM cannot be successfully opposed until male genital mutilation is abolished. [4]

°            hijacking of educational outreach on FGM by right wing ideologues (the so-called Alt Right, aka white supremacists or neo-Nazis) determined to demonize practitioners of FGM not out of concern for abused children but to score political points.

°            failure of government to supply sufficient funding to grassroots organizations in Africa, the Diaspora, and  other nations – the list grows almost daily – where FGM is found. Even if the present decade has witnessed a laudable increase in financial support when compared with earlier years, sums remain inadequate and too much reliance is placed on volunteerism.

°            the omerta that, like a bell jar, stifles frank if fraught discussion of female sexuality, the neural connections between brain and vulva, the positive physiological effects of jouissance, and the negative resonance far exceeding the erotic of post-traumatic stress disorder in some sufferers of FGM.

°            the difficulty in bringing perpetrators to justice with France alone showing a respectable scorecard that undergirds the correlation between prosecution and abolition.

°            the scarcity of ‘country of origin’ experts to support asylum applications.

°            controversy around clitoral restoration and resources best devoted to it, and

°            economic setbacks – concerning GDP, productivity, and reaching Sustainable Development Goals – while disabling significant numbers of a nation’s citizens.

These are among the many hurdles we’ve considered at our various colloquia and workshops.Taboo front cover

The concept notes for five workshop sessions on 9 March 2018, in the context of International Women’s Day (March 8th), embroider additional patterns of complexity that may attract contributions to the proposed interdisciplinary volume of essays.

Essays, using APA or MLA documentation style, should be no longer than 5000 words excluding title, abstract and references. First drafts due 30 June 2018.


Session 1: Myth and/or History

Concept note: It has often been acknowledged that the obscure origins of FGM impede our grasp of motives that could help to end it. Various hypotheses have been advanced, but none has been confirmed. Given that the Sudanese call it ‘pharaonic’, scholars tend to favour Egypt as the source. After all, Cleopatra and Nefertiti are said to have undergone clitoridectomy, [5] and Esther Hicks in Infibulation. Female Mutilation in Islamic Northeastern Africa (1993) offers strong evidence for the custom’s spread from East to West via a camel trail across the Sahara used to transport goods, slaves, and the custom of stitching vaginas. [6] In her fiction based on these assumptions, African-American author Gloria Naylor in Bailey’s Café (1993) gives us the itinerant Mariam, [7] infibulated as in many nomadic groups along the Blue Nile in present-day Sudan. The mythic quality envelopes the factual custom reaching back beyond the dawn of written history. And because most sufferers reside in Africa, that continent has long been thought of as the birthplace of the ‘rites’ – a hypothesis recently contested by the suggestion, ripe for a feminist analysis, of spontaneous generation on many continents. Now, although in 1984, Jutta Berninghausen and B. Kerstan revealed that FGM was also widely practiced in Indonesia (Die Töchter Kartinis. Berichte und Reportagen aus dem Leben Indonesischer Frauen. Berlin: Express edition, 1984), their report failed to impact on the English-speaking West, such that only in 2016 did UNICEF, in a Press Release, catapult the worldwide estimate of victims from ca. 140,000,000, primarily in Africa, to ‘at least 200 million girls and women alive today’. [8] A statistical report, Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: A Global Concern (2016) notes that ‘half of [them] live in three countries – Egypt, Ethiopia and Indonesia – and refers to … evidence [for] FGM [as] a global human rights issue … in every [populated] region’. [9] In the meantime, director Dr. John Chua, working for six years on the material, substantiates UNICEF’s findings in his full-length feature film Cut. Exposing FGM Worldwide (2017). In it he claims to ‘conclusively prove’ that ‘FGM can be found as a native practice on all inhabitable continents.’ [10]

This session focuses on ‘folk’ beliefs about origins of FGM together with the sayings threatening danger – and inducing fear – that failure to perform it presents. Borrowing from euhemerism, I see these myths as receptacles for psycho-social facts. [11] Respectfully reviewing foundational tales justifying genital ablation, we will interpret, for instance, the Somali semi-mythical, semi-historical account of Araweelo [12] (Somali: Caraweelo) in which a revered Queen’s subjugation of men leads to revenge in the form of infibulation. Moreover, the Dogon’s tale of Amma as recorded by French anthropologist Griaule and decisive in Alice Walker’s Possessing the Secret of Joy (1993) shows the earth’s clitoris configured as a termite hill. It impedes rape by the sun god Amma who in turn excises the offending organ, setting a perpetual precedent for the act that continues today. We will also consider “Beliefs and Misbeliefs” – the turn of phrase borrowed from a 1991 IAC Nigerian documentary directed by Dr Irene Thomas – to understand the angst generated by certain convictions of lethal peril should a clitoris remain intact. The Yoruba, for instance, believe that an uncircumcised mother’s baby could die if the infant’s head touches the maligned organ (as recorded in 2017 and shown on YouTube); or a man could lose his penis if a clitoris brushes against it. We will ask, can science disarm terror? And if not, what can? Finally, in Uschi Madeisky and Klaus Werner’s 2000 documentary Die Drei Wünsche der Sharifa. Bei den Kunama in Eritrea (Sharifa’s Three Wishes. With the Kunama in Eritrea) Agid, a young mother who tries to spare her two-year-old, delays cutting by challenging her neighbours’ beliefs but is helpless before the village’s dread that violation of the matriarch’s last will – that FGM continue – will bring catastrophe to all. This is not unlike another driver of FGM: its presumed link to fertility. The session will catalogue such beliefs, focusing on their tenacity, no matter how seemingly distant from facts, and discuss options for dissuasion.

March 10 workshop 2Session 2. Memoir and Testimony: Use and abuse

Concept note: One by one by one: Facing the Holocaust by Judith Miller (1990) reminds us that aggregates are cold but unique human fates are not. Dealing with millions of FGM victims, individuals who suffer are the faces of the movement. Yet, given certain backlash from the community’s sense of betrayal, going public has always demanded enormous courage. ‘I have known two kinds of pain’, author and filmmaker Soraya Miré notes. ‘The first, a stabbing between my legs, the second, reliving it to tell my story’. Mustering will to confront the public can take years, however, as Khady (Koita) in Blood Stains confesses, ‘For a long time I had simply “accepted” mutilation, including my own, to such an extent that my first three girls had been victims of it. I had even “forgotten” all about it’. [13] In 1982, that changed. The broadly publicized death of three-month-old Bobo Traoré in Paris ‘served as a wake-up call’. If ‘initially’, as Khady notes, ‘my mouth stayed shut’, she would gradually overcome the reticence she shares with many others, whether survivors of sexual violence or not. ‘No woman wants to display her sexuality’, she suggests. ‘No matter where she’s from. When the topic is so intimate, she feels squeamish when forced to open up’. Nor did early newspaper reports seem right. ‘Many women were embarrassed, even shocked, by media’s representation of excision and by what was now being said all around. Modesty made revelation truly distressing’.  If, as in Khady’s experience, ‘every time we raised the topic for TV debate or elsewhere, insulting phone calls followed’ [14], the chutzpah shown by an increasing number of women willing to ‘out’ themselves is laudable. Among them are filmmakers and authors whose work deserves scholarly attention, notably Leyla Hussein in her highly creative TV special The Cruel Cut (broadcast 6 November 2013); Hoda Ali who scripted the recently celebrated short animations premiered in the House of Commons (managed by Janet Fyle MBE on 12 September 2017) as well as Jaha Dukureh whose life story was filmed by the Guardian and Accidental Pictures in 2017, Jaha’s Promise (excerpted as The Girl Who Said No to FGM at https://www.theguardian.com/society/video/2017/mar/17/jaha-dukureh-promise-fgm-video). But these modern s/heroes stand on the shoulders of others. In the 1990s, filmmaker and memoirist Soraya Miré produced the film Fire Eyes (1994); her memoir The Girl With Three Legs (2011) would follow. ‘Miré also discovers that speaking against FGM results in violent anger, death threats, and estrangement from the family’.[15] Defying the backlash, Waris Dirie published perhaps the most influential memoir, Desert Flower (1995), followed by a widely disseminated interview with Barbara Walters (1997) who wept on TV learning about infibulation for the first time. Dirie inspired filmmaker Sherry Hormann’s well-received full-length feature film, Wüstenblume [Desert Flower] (2009). Germany also provided a platform for Fadumo Korn (Born in the Big Rains. Trans. Tobe Levin) and Kiminta. A Maasai’s Fight against Female Genital Mutilation (2015). [16] A selection of additional acclaimed first-person narratives includes Hibo Wardere’s The Cut (2016); Nawal el Saadaawi’s chapter in The Hidden Face of Eve. Women in the Arab World (1976) describing her own experience; testimony in Awa Thiam’s La Parole aux négresses (1978), the passage dramatized by Alice Walker and Pratibha Parmar in their documentary Warrior Marks (1993); and Hanny Lightfoot-Klein in Prisoners of Ritual. An Odyssey into Female Genital Circumcision in Africa (1989). While these last few were pioneers, today the topic has gained such traction that now the internet provides considerable survivor testimony, a welcome development. But it comes at a price, not only to the young women coming out, especially in Diaspora, but to policy discourse as well. Public exposure of the culture and the custom is essential, but those with intimate knowledge of both are not necessarily most effective at policy-making. A built-in conflict of interest arises when community loyalties appear in the cross-hairs of government measures. Although debate has been resolved in favour of legal solutions, I have sat through many a passionate discussion of best means for raising the issue with communities, fingering potential violators, and bringing perpetrators to justice. EU support for training Change Agents is one present method that has earned good press, but in planning, modules were included to counter the stress possibly leading to PTSD that the community workers themselves would face. This session will consider both conflicts of interest and overlapping interests, asking how memoirs and testimony can best contribute to the common aim of ending FGM.

Session 3. Media: The Benefits of Disclosure vs Dangers of Enabling Islamophobia and Racism. Youth and Social Media – e.g. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc. to End FGM

Concept note:  By the start of the new millennium, from a deeply-guarded topic, FGM has been featured increasingly in the news. As Khady wrote, before 1982 when little Bobo bled to death in Paris, ‘the custom simply wasn’t talked about. The great majority of French were wholly ignorant of it. No well-known ethnographer or researcher had placed the issue before the public. And suddenly, on the 8 o’clock news, here were Africans applying razors to children’s genitalia!’ [17] From that point on, the pace of survivor and activist interviews noticeably increased. [18] Although daily newspapers in Dakar, especially Le Soleil, carried front-page news of a conference on excision hosted at the university by Awa Thiam in December 1982, the West remained largely silent. Fast forward to 1993 when the New York Times joined a few other major English-language papers thanks to A.M. Rosenthal’s editorials on female genital mutilation. In one striking column he noted having been immeasurably saddened by a 398-page Human Rights Watch report ‘for what is not in it’. When asking why no one mentioned FGM, he learned that ‘colleagues from countries where F.G.M.  [sic] [female genital mutilation] is widely practiced have advised us that they should be on the front line of efforts to combat F.G.M., and a more overt role by Human Rights Watch at this time could be counterproductive to local efforts’. [19] ‘There it was’, he interjected, ‘foreign nervousness about “local sensitivities,” one major reason that the most widespread abuse of human rights is ignored by most foreign governments, treated so gingerly and ineffectively by the U.N., and that only a relative handful of women’s organizations and human rights groups have the courage to confront it. The other reason is that so many African governments have betrayed their women by permitting mutilation instead of calling for world help against it’. [20]  Rosenthal, in sum, although revealing an impediment to abolition in local governments’ rejections of Western influence, assigns responsibility in part for the tenacity of FGM to media’s failure to cover it responsibly. I agree, with one proviso: reporting hasn’t always been free of bias, nor, in the early days, prepared for an unwanted side-effect: strengthening pre-existing prejudice. I’ll offer just one egregious example. For a 1996 feature in BRAVO! Mädchen, a magazine for 14 – 17-year-olds, Petra Göttinger interviewed me and gave my address to contact. The article, ‘Awa, 17: “Ich wurde Beschnitten”,’ [21] quoted a young woman allegedly ‘circumcised’ in Germany. Sensational presentation produced an ugly response. ‘Unbelievable!’ Göttinger wrote. ‘With knives and razors, tin can tops, blunt scissors or splinters of glass, 2 million girls between 7 and 14 are hideously mutilated every year’. Appalled at her tone, I became even more aghast as hundreds of schoolchildren’s letters poured in. The teenagers empathized with a suffering peer but called for jail, extradition, even murder of her parents. For instance, “Most of all we can’t understand Awa’s relatives. That they could do such a thing. … If it was us, we could never forgive them and would run away” (Anonymous from Karlsruhe. Letter to the author 1996). A more egregious letter is signed by a Swiss high school class. “Why don’t they just shoot the girls instead, the ass-holes”. (Eine Klasse der Oberstufe Suhr … Letter to the author 1996).  [Tobe Levin. “Female Genital Mutilation: Campaigns in Germany.” Engendering Human Rights: Cultural and Socio-economic Realities in Africa. Eds. Obioma Nnaemeka and Joy Ezeilo. NY: Palgrave Macmillan at St Martin’s Press, 2005. 285-301.]

I’m not sure there’s any way I could have reigned in the fury the journalist felt, triggered by her first encounter with a shocking event and conveyed to her readers, but I wasn’t alone with the challenge. On 14 December 2002 in the Women’s Building in Rome, the European Network, AIDoS and the EU-Daphne programme sponsored a media training for FGM activists. The aim: to mitigate discourteous and largely unhelpful responses from furious but unschooled journalists by guiding activists on talking to the press. Since then, increased context helps avoid dehumanizing societies that cut, although the intention to promote Islamophobia can at times be seen in, for instance, Breitbart’s opposition to FGM. In contrast, however, the Guardian, under the leadership of Maggie O’Kane, has gone farther than any other news outlet in not only reporting on but building an effective popular movement against the custom by putting the means to both create and transmit the news in youthful hands. Already in 2010, Marie-Hélène Mottin-Sylla and Joelle Palmieri, in Excisions. Les Jeunes changent Afrique par le TIC [Confronting Female Genital Mutilation. The Role of Youth and ICTs in Changing Africa] [22] had examined in the preceding decade the increasing access of youth to information technologies applied to defeating FGM. Mottin-Sylla and Palmieri asked ‘Why, how, by whom and for whom has the digital revolution been used over the past 10 years to achieve that end? If young people – both female and male – are the big winners in the digital revolution, how were they involved in this undertaking that concerns them intimately as victims, subjects, objects, actors, citizens, leaders and family and community stakeholders? What gender issues do excision and ICTs raise? Why and how would it be appropriate and even essential to incorporate them into a strategic vision of citizen, public, private and personal development?’ [23]

Tobe Levin Khady Koita

Tobe and Khady present at the UN CSW 2012

Session 4 Money: Inadequate funding. Vested Interests. MDGs. GDP.

Concept note: When in Lagos, Nigeria, in 1998, Joy Keshi Walker conceived of an art exhibition against FGM, she called it ‘The Suffering, The Sorrow, the Setback’ whereby ‘setback’ referred to the economics of wounding a substantial portion of the population, thereby reducing their productivity, limiting their contribution to GDP and elevating healthcare costs, not to mention the price in pain and anguish of the injured. Analysis at this macrolevel is rare, though business consultants can calculate the cost in a given economy, knowledge that is urgently needed. Similarly, analyses of vested interests are scarce. One exception is Diana Kuring’s detailed study of Eritrea’s nine ethnic groups including the expense of celebrations and fees charged by ‘FGM enthusiasts’, excisers and TBA’s whose personal and economic interest is central. ‘Society grants them respect and approves their activity’, the reason they believe that what they do ‘”is good for the girls”.’ Even after sensitivity training, few acknowledge health risks, an attitude ensuring their own social status and income. [24]

Prestige and living standard are similarly twinned in other practicing groups. Let’s cross the Sahara. In Sierra Leone Kadidiatu Suma, who had been taunted for being a ‘burka’ – uncut – is forced by her grandmother when in her mid-teens to suffer the cut. So great is her anguish that she makes fighting the “rite” her life’s work, but her approach is soft. As an initiate herself, she can hold candid talks with Sowies – ‘many see it as a business’ [25] — who are defiant in their conviction, like the TBAs and cutters in the Horn of Africa, that their elevated status derives from a beneficial social service only incidentally supplying ‘a good income’. [26] Only when Kadidiatu proposes an alternative source of cash does the Sowie whom she has drawn aside grow thoughtfully silent. “Would you then give up this work?’ Kadi asks. Although hesitant, she says, ‘yes’.

In addition to cutters’ earnings, ‘the idea that FGM has [broader] economic implications is not new’, as Hilary Burrage pointed out at our last workshop. Bride price is often tied to FGM, the cut girl considered of higher value so that her father receives more from a prospective groom. ‘Patriarchy as an institution supports these practices’ Burrage adds, with significant fiscal impact on communities, and she recommends increased attention to ‘the results of inflicting harm on women and girls whose health might otherwise be better’.

Session 5. Sex and sexuality: Crashing the omerta

Undoing FGM coverConcept note: ‘FGM aims to control the sexuality of women by subordinating it to the needs of men’, this from the founder of APDF [27] and former Ambassador from Mali to Germany, Fatoumata Siré Diakité in Erica Pomerance’s documentary Dabla! Excision (2003). Decades earlier, Awa Thiam, whose 1978 book La Parole aux Négresses launched the anti-excision movement in Francophone nations, takes a similar hard line against patriarchy as a source of FGM and strategically universalises women’s subordinate status as both cause and result of skewed power relations between females and males. Whether in Africa or Europe, Thiam writes, women – today we would say ciswomen — are subject to ‘exploitation and oppression by the same phallocratic system’. [28] She links ‘sex-mutilating practices’ [les pratiques mutilatrices sexuelles] to institutionalised polygamy, forced marriage, and betrothal of children, concluding that this ‘violence destroys … the human and it has a name: phallocratic fascism [le fascism phallocratique] and should be abolished in all societies, all social groups’. [29]

This sounds like blaming men for FGM, a strategy for abolition largely eschewed once the Inter-African Committee formed in 1984 and international governance – WHO, UNICEF, USAID – became involved. Despite most justifications for FGM circling around sexuality – ties to marriage, ‘purity’, chastity, etc. – and ample evidence that FGM is an irrational practice, early campaigns [30] took a rational approach. Once people are informed of the multiple harms to health, it was reasoned, reason would prevail. It clearly hasn’t.

The initial health approach failed not for want of rationality but for lack of a feminist vision further erased by the omerta against naming (male) sexuality and fear as a root cause. Not FGM itself but the pain of the procedure was deemed wrong. The answer: medicalisation, the solution of choice in Egypt, for instance, such that, although the proportion of cut women is falling – according to the 2014 Survey of Young People in Egypt (SYPE) we find genital wounding in ‘73.9% amongst females age 13-17 compared to 85.7% amongst those age 30-35’, [31] — an increasing number of medical personnel in comparison to traditional midwives are performing clitoridectomies, Egypt having the highest level of medicalisation among all FGM-practicing countries. [32] This is regrettable because ‘medicalization of a harmful practice such as FGM/C institutionalizes and normalizes it, making the process of complete abandonment more difficult (Askew et al., 2016)’. [33] The point remains: with a few exceptions (i.e. Kenya), most citizens who practice FGM don’t wish to stop and, in my view, one cause is the omerta that makes discussion of sexuality so difficult. ‘Who, among the hordes of tourists unfolding regularly on the Nile River to cruise between Luxor and Aswan, to run from the Museum of Cairo to the Pyramids amid the concert of horns and the dust of the capital, to plunge into the shadows of royal tombs, among all those people, who is informed?’ asks Hubert Prolongeau in Undoing FGM.  ‘In Upper Egypt, where vestiges of the past are most famous, prevalence explodes, far exceeding 90%’.[34]

As Jaha Dukureh points out, “In Washington, they don’t … talk about vaginas.” Nor about the clitoris – famously the only human organ whose only purpose is pleasure. And although Diderot in his eighteenth-century Encyclopédie wrote an entry for the appendage, both Pierre Foldes and Dr Nawal el Saadawi found little scientific knowledge. According to the latter in The Hidden Face of Eve: ‘The clitoris is an organ neglected by science’. [35] Benoîte Groult in Ainsi soit-elle (1975) claims it is ‘hatred’ that accounts for this – ‘la haine du clitoris’ – and the discourse that reduces women to their bodies. Woman is ‘sin, the source of all evil, [her vagina] a contemptible hole, a scabbard for the king of organs that alone confers her reason d’être. In a word, it’s woman. On her own she’s nothing. A hole is nothing. Concave, negative, the void.’ Hence, the world is silent. After all, what is there to say about ‘women’s genital organs’? They are ‘without importance – just as women are’. [36] In response to the not-insignificant kernel of social truth in this assertion [37] (and specifically in reaction against a notorious Economist article urging medicalisation) [38] the YouTube sensation produced by Integrate UK #My Clitoris [39] exposes the generational divide in our discussion. For sexual liberation and, perhaps more important, for expanding gender identity choices, Integrate UK has had a stunning impact, so much so that it provoked an online petition launched by The Orchid Project (ostensibly also against ritual genital abuse) condemning it.

Nonetheless, the next frontier, clitoral restoration, is sex-affirming even if orgasm isn’t the main reason for choosing it. ‘Restoring the capacity for sexual pleasure is not surgery’s principal aim but rather recapturing [a] sentiment of wholeness, of physical integrity, by taking back what had been snatched’, as Hubert Prolongeau learned from in-depth interviews with twenty of Foldes’ patients. Not that the decision to reverse the brutality is ever easy. Waris Dirie, for one, reports flashbacks in her initial medical interview. (Foldes now has protocols in place to avoid them.) Other patients must keep the change secret from their families, even lying about their whereabouts when spending 24 hours in the clinic. And they tend not to harbour overly-ambitious expectations. Recovery of sensitivity and pleasure after the clitoris has been repositioned takes months, sometimes years, and depends, of course, on finding amiable partners. 


[1] http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/why-focus-on-non-issues-like-fgm-group-asks-un-committee#ugSv3wPMKow1WhH4.97 Thanks to Zehra Patwa for bringing this to our attention. Retrieved 8 March 2018.
[2] “The proposal of a ‘harmless and symbolic’ alternative to female genital mutilation, to be practised on African women at a public hospital in Florence, has sparked strong reactions in Italy.
“The alternative ‘ritual’, consisting of a puncture of the clitoris under local anaesthesia that would let a few drops of blood out, has been proposed by Omar Abdulcadir, a Somali gynaecologist who graduated in Florence about 25 years ago and now heads the centre for the prevention and therapy of female genital mutilations at the Careggi Hospital, Florence.” Controversy surrounds proposed Italian alternative to female genital mutilation. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/8895495_Controversy_surrounds_proposed_Italian_alternative_to_female_genital_mutilation [accessed 08 March 2018].
[3] New Strategy Against Female Genital Mutilation Intervention, 1999. http://docplayer.org/51265476-Pd-dr-arnold-groh-associate-professor-privatdozent-at-technical-university-of-berlin.html Accessed 8 March 2018.
[4] I believe this position is correct, yet it sometimes homogenizes gender distinctions more usefully analyzed separately. For instance, symbolism and motivation of adult men and women responsible for subjecting offspring to these ‘rites’ differ significantly in social terms, women responding strategically to patriarchal disempowerment compared to accession of power and status that accrue to boys.
[5] “Apparently the mummies of both Cleopatra and Nefertiti show evidence of clitoridectomy.” RHD Abdalla. Sisters in affliction: circumcision and infibulation of women in Africa. London: Zed, 1982. https://www.google.de/search?ei=hkhnWsSIN8S0kwXw5bngBQ&q=cleopatra+and+clitoridectomy&oq=cleopatra+and+clitoridectomy&gs_l=psy-ab.3…1420767.1425337.0.1425688.….0…1c.1.64.psy-ab..0.22.1515…0j46j0i67k1j0i46k1j0i22i30k1j33i160k1.0.c96Zv_Xw_vg Accessed 23 January 2018.
[6] One explanation for infibulation in Mali.
[7] Mariam is Jewish, a contentious authorial choice I discuss in Levin, Tobe and Augustine H. Asaah, eds. Empathy and Rage. Female Genital Mutilation in African Literature. Banbury, Oxfordshire: Ayebia Publishers, 2009; “What’s Wrong with Mariam? Gloria Naylor’s Infibulated Jew” (112-125).
[8] Not primarily slow progress of interventions for abolition but population growth is more to blame for seeming stasis in global statistics.
[9] https://www.unicef.org/media/media_90033.html Accessed 20 January 2018.
[10] About the trailer: ‘From war zones in the Middle-East to bucolic Middle America, the film visits 14 countries and features key interviews with FGM survivors, activists, cutters, doctors and researchers to uncover an often-secret practice shrouded in centuries of traditions, mysticisms and irrationalities’. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt6096364/plotsummary?ref_=ttpl_ql_2 Accessed 20 January 2018
[11] ‘Euhemerism is an approach to the interpretation of mythology in which mythological accounts are presumed to have originated from real historical events or personages. Euhemerism supposes that historical accounts become myths as they are exaggerated in the retelling, accumulating elaborations and alterations that reflect cultural mores. It was named for the Greek mythographer Euhemerus, who lived in the late 4th century BC. In the more recent literature of myth, such as Bulfinch’s Mythology, euhemerism is termed the “historical theory” of mythology.’ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euhemerism  Accessed 20 January 2018
[12] ‘[Araweelo] was a powerful and fearsome ruler who antagonised her male subjects by castrating them right after birth to keep them from dethroning her. Dozens of versions of the tale have been recorded from Somali oral tradition, but the key elements are in sync, namely a formidable ruler and castrator despised generally by her male subjects. Legend dictates that she was ultimately killed by her grandson who escaped her campaign of emasculation after Caraweelo’s daughter interceded several times to delay the wicked process until he was of age. Somewhere in northern Somalia, a stone mound that represents her tomb became a place for both reverence and contempt. For centuries, Somali men that passed her resting place would shout obscenities and throw stones whilst Somali women, to show their respect for her memory, would tear off a small portion of their skirt or break a twig off the nearest bush and place it at her grave’. WARYA PostThe Legendary Somali Queen Caraweelo Was Actually An Ethiopian Jewish Queen’ [7 October 2014]. http://www.waryapost.com/legendary-somali-queen-caraweelo-actually-ethiopian-jewish-queen/ Accessed 20 January 2018.
[13] Khady with Marie-Thérèse Cuny. Blood Stains. A Child of Africa Reclaims Her Human Rights. Trans. Tobe Levin. Frankfurt am Main: UnCUT/VOICES Press 2010. P. 187.
[14] Khady. Ibid. 198.
[15] http://sorayamire.org/pdf/Girl_w_Three_Legs%5B1%5D.pdf
[16] Maria Kiminta and Tobe Levin. Kiminta. A Maasai’s Fight against Female Genital Mutilation. (UnCUT/VOICES P., 2015).
[17] Khady. Ibid. 188.
[18] In tracing the history of media attention to FGM, we could begin in 1975 when the first of the UN Women’s conferences was held in Mexico City. In response to the dearth of attention there to violence against women, in 1976 in Brussels the first Women’s Tribunal on Crimes against Women was held – with a single 5-minute presentation on female circumcision in Guinea. Only in 1980, at the mid-Decade for Women conference in Copenhagen, was FGM the subject of a workshop, and a highly contentious one at that. Fran Hosken, who had been writing about the topic since she came across it in 1973, was execrated by an audience of African women intellectuals, a not infrequent reaction to Western-based writers, as A.M. Rosenthal would note thirteen years later.
[19] In 1978, my group against FGM in Munich received a similar response from UNICEF. A facsimile of UNICEF’s letter appears in Braun, I., Levin, T., Schwarzbauer, A. Materialien zur Unterstützung von Aktionsgruppen gegen Klitorisbeschneidung. Munich: Frauenoffensive, 1979.
[20] A. M. Rosenthal, ‘On My Mind; Female Genital Mutilation’. Published: December 24, 1993.
Accessed 21 Jan 2018
[21] ‘Awa, 17: I was circumcised’. pp. 10-11.
[22] https://books.google.de/books?id=SzNv5QvAGMQC&pg=PR21&lpg=PR21&dq=Jo%C3%ABlle+Palmieri+curriculum+vitae&source=bl&ots=Pf9AO6UiRi&sig=kjGLS82Y_2jlG8oS9ttTV2z5nUY&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwij1o7JvebYAhXIyKQKHX6UAVkQ6AEIVDAJ#v=onepage&q&f=false
Accessed 22 January 2018.
[23] Ibid.
[24] Feminist Europa. Review of Books. Special Issue on FGM. 2010. http://www.ddv-verlag.de/issn_1570_0038_FE%2009_2010.pdf
[25] Nina DeVries. ‘Sierra Leone Group Determined to Raise Awareness of FGM Dangers’. VOA. 6 February 2016. https://www.voanews.com/a/sierra-leone-group-raise-awareness-female-genital-mutilation-dangers/3180303.html  Accessed 23 January 2018.
[26] Ibid.
[27] Association pour le Progrès et la Défense des Femmes maliennes.
[28] Quoted by Nguemo Ngueabou Joël et Douala Roméo in Religion et pratique de l’excision en Côte d’Ivoire’ ENSEA, Mai 2012. https://www.memoireonline.com/01/14/8475/m_Religion-et-pratique-de-l-excision-en-Cte-d-Ivoire10.html Accessed 23 January 2018.
[29] … «la violence engendre non pas l’humain mais plutôt sa destruction. Elle a pour nom : fascisme phallocratique. Elle est donc à abolir dans toute société, dans tout groupe social». Ibid. Trans. Tobe Levin.
[30] Diplomatic voices were also reacting against Fran Hosken’s anger and psychological hypotheses, for instance her assertion that a negative spiral emerged from specific challenges to sexual satisfaction for both men and women, especially with infibulation. Men in particular, she pointed out, had to become inured to the pain they were inflicting in sex, which hardened them – if you will pardon the pun — beyond the bedroom, enhancing their abilities as fighters. This is not that far from ‘official’ cultural justifications glorifying pain when slicing genital flesh in both women and men.
[31]  Sarah Ghattass, Nahla Abdel-Tawab, Salma Abou Hussein. ‘Ending the medicalization of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting in Egypt’. Population Council Policy Brief 2016.
https://www.popcouncil.org/uploads/pdfs/2016RH_EndMedFGM-Egypt.pdf Accessed 23 January 2018.
[32] Ismail, Abdel-Tawab & Sheira, 2015 qtd. Ibid.
[33] Ibid. See also https://www.taskforcefgm.de/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Egypt_FGC_profile_English.pdf Accessed 23 January 2018.
[34] Hubert Prolongeau. Undoing FGM. Pierre Foldes, the Surgeon Who Restores the Clitoris. Trans. And Afterword Tobe Levin. UnCUT/VOICES P., 2011. Pp. 210-211.
[35] https://books.google.de/books?id=u5n9zUZuVI8C&pg=PA50&source=gbs_toc_r&cad=3#v=onepage&q&f=false
[36]Quoted by Nguemo Ngueabou Joël et Douala Roméo in ‘Religion et pratique de l’excision en Côte d’Ivoire’ ENSEA, Mai 2012. https://www.memoireonline.com/01/14/8475/m_Religion-et-pratique-de-l-excision-en-Cte-d-Ivoire10.html Accessed 23 January 2018. Trans. Tobe Levin.
[37] In addition, without comment for lack of time but in the interests of fairness, I’d like to quote an opposing point of view. These are the opening paragraphs from Rogia Mustafa Abusharaf. ‘Virtuous Cuts: Female Genital Circumcision in an African Ontology’. differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 12.1 (2001) 112-140.
‘Much has been written on gender violence in Africa. In this burgeoning literature, African women are repeatedly painted as downtrodden, forlorn, helpless casualties of male dominance. Their confinement in antiquated customs and cultural practices is viewed as puissant testimony to their eternal vassalage to patriarchy and, consequently, of their subjugation within both the so-called “public” and “private” spheres. This view is exemplified in the following passage from the Hosken Report: Genital and Sexual Mutilation of Females:
[Africa] is a region where absolute patriarchy is the rule, where women are deprived of property and land rights, where polygamy and wife abuse are the rule and where male domination is absolute both in the village as well as in national governments. It is, therefore, clear that men are responsible for the worsening conditions in Africa: women and children are the abused and voiceless victims. The time to blame colonial powers is long since over–but the time for African men to take a look at [End Page 112] themselves as persons and human beings in our modern world is long overdue. (Hosken 69)
When the report discusses female circumcision, it treats it as the violent sexual mutilation of females and contends that the operation has been perpetuated by the male-dominated tribal societies of Africa to suppress women’s sexuality. To readers of Fran Hosken’s Report, Esther Hicks’s Infibulation: Female Mutilation in Islamic Northeastern Africa, or Alice Walker and Pratibha Parmar’s Warrior Marks: Female Genital Mutilation and the Sexual Blinding of Women, the tyranny of patriarchy and the oppressive nature of gender relations in African cultures are evidenced most dramatically in the cultural practice of female circumcision. These representations stress a notion of patriarchy in which the African woman is seen as wholly subservient, passive, “voiceless”: someone whose sexual and reproductive potential is controlled by men and whose genitals are mutilated in silence and without protest. However, as the narratives below make clear, African women, not men, insist on circumcising their daughters. Through ritual performance, these women ensure the transmission of cultural ethos within their lifetimes. As philosopher Diana Meyers argues, “many Euro-Americans might doubt that there is any basis for [End Page 113] ascribing autonomy to women whose cultures mandate [female genital mutilation]. Yet, the feminist literature on the [practice] provides ample evidence that many exercise effective agency with respect to this practice. One striking finding is that autonomy is to be found among accommodaters as well as resisters” (1). In this essay, I want to shift the emphasis from agency and autonomy to a discussion of the ideology that shapes women’s participation in the ritual.’ https://muse.jhu.edu/article/9613 Accessed 23 January 2018.
[38] ‘Female Genital Mutilation. An agonising choice’ https://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21700658-after-30-years-attempts-eradicate-barbaric-practice-it-continues-time-try-new Accessed 23 January 2018.
[39] https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/feb/06/bristol-anti-fgm-video-is-an-online-hit



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