YES. Hibo Wardere has. Author of CUT. One Woman’s Fight against FGM in Britain Today, she teaches in schools that kids young enough to face the blade are mature enough to refuse.1 Similarly, Kate Agha, Kaddy Touray and their team at Oxford Against Cutting address primary and mid-level pupils using narrative and art. They offer for instance a unit called “Who Can You Tell?”2 Also taking action in the UK is Norbury School head teacher Ms L. Browning whose class presented a moving poster series showing paragraphs on children’s rights. Their performance delighted the audience at the Local Government Association National FGM Centre Conference in partnership with Barnardo’s in London on 12 October 2016.
In Africa, too, educational approaches to FGM are making headway. Prime among these may be the “i-Cut” APP developed by Stacy Owino and teammates Cynthia Otieno, Purity Achieng, Mascrine Atieno, and Ivy Akinyi in 2017 and entered in the Technovation Challenge, sponsored by Google, Verizon, and the United Nations.3 Calling themselves “The Restorers,” Silicon Valley honored them with an invitation to California and although they didn’t win, they cleared a path for increased digital advocacy. Additional innovative educational initiatives in Africa include Sarah Penny’s work in Somaliland. Penny uses drama in her classes aiming to end the trauma of infibulation, while Naomi Rosen is currently drafting a handbook for UnCUT/VOICES Press on FGM, trauma and theater for use by therapists. And already published is the memoir and sourcebook by Maria Kiminta and Tobe Levin. Kiminta. A Maasai’s Fight against Female Genital Mutilation (Frankfurt: UnCUT/VOICES P., 2015 with photos by Britta Radike).
Thus, “World Teachers’ Day,” offers a fine occasion to reflect on pedagogy and FGM. On 5 October 1966, UNESCO and the ILO issued a “recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers” that, among other issues, addressed quality of instruction at all levels and continuing education for faculty. As Wikipedia notes, “World Teachers’ Day aims to focus on ‘appreciating, assessing and improving the educators of the world’ and to provide an opportunity to consider issues related to teachers and teaching.”4
Maria Kiminta, an FGM survivor who has suffered lasting physical and psychological sequelae, reawakens her painful experience only in order to teach others. As she has written in her preface, “Joy sat down with me when I first conceived of writing this book. Motivated by my own need for answers, I knew that others, too, wanted broader knowledge. Like me, they would welcome the chance to move beyond static information of the past.” And, she suggests, “communicating what I had learned … could alter African culture, both in the Diaspora, — including where I live, in Germany –, and in Africa.”5
Most important in the cultural change she envisions is transparency. Within cutting cultures, what girls actually undergo continues, ironically, to pass under the radar. Men, especially, now recruited as key figures in campaigns, are often ignorant of what transpires.6 Thus, Kiminta risks revealing what she endured and still suffers, namely “an anxiety state” and “reaction depression.”
“Originating from lack of sleep and hallucinations, my anxiety is not unlike PTSD since the trauma imposed easily compares to torture. When five adults overpower a slim ten-year-old, she reacts with panic and then, from unspeakable pain, with shock. The practice produces horror, and re-running the indelible script has led to white nights the moment the scenario flashes through my mind. Oh, how I wish I could forget that old woman lowering her knife on me, chopping something off, and inciting a torrent of blood. How I’d love to disremember! But … it hasn’t left me. Sleep leads to nightmares that wake me up to weep.” (p. 36-37).
Valentine Nkoyo, in her “Reflections on Kiminta’s Tale,” expresses gratitude. “Kiminta’s story has given me a friend, a sister, a true African warrior with whom I not only share the experience of FGM but also the passion to defend the vulnerable and speak out openly, affirming pride in our good traditions yet agreeing to abandon the harmful. …[For] I can be Maasai even if intact! And once assured of this, I can mute the throwback to my own ‘event’ that Kiminta vividly evokes. Her description of that day squeezes the heart. So well written, it makes her kin to other girls whose detailed memories echo hers. Absolutely typical [is] the inexorable pain, stubborn and greedy” (pp. 108-109).
As Valentine confirms, most survivors never forget “what they endure, the mutilation of their genitals. Unless they cut you as an infant, you cannot forget the brutal ripping off of flesh – while robust arms pin you down, ensuring you don’t fight back, and your captors belt out ear-splitting songs, guaranteeing that no one hears you scream” (109).7
Fortunately, the world’s ears have opened, as increasing political will to end FGM makes clear. It remains for educators to take the good fight for genital integrity to all the classrooms – physical and virtual – where women’s sexuality still has reason to cower before the knife.
1Emine Saner. “From FGM victim to teacher: ‘You are always running from it. But you get tired. You have to confront it’.” The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/apr/02/from-fgm-victim-to-teacher-you-are-always-running-from-it-but-you-get-tired-you-have-to-confront-it Accessed 6 October 2018.
2Lesson Plan for “Who Can You Tell?” targeted to primary school children at Key Stage 1. https://www.oxfordagainstcutting.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Lesson-plan-for-Who-Can-You-Tell-primary.pdf Accessed 6 October 2018.
3April Hautea. „These teen girls from Kenya invented an app to end female genital mutilation.” Mashable. https://mashable.com/2017/08/03/kenya-teen-girls-app-fgm-i-cut/?europe=true Accessed 6 October 2018.
4 “World Teachers’ Day.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Teachers%27_Day Accessed 6 October 2018.
5Maria Kiminta and Tobe Levin. Kiminta. A Maasai’s Fight against Female Genital Mutilation (Frankfurt: UnCUT/VOICES P., 2015 with photos by Britta Radike. P. 7.
6In this regard, Leyla Hussein in “The Cruel Cut” uses unforgettable props in two educational scenes. The first deploys clitoris cupcakes to lure into a tent replete with seats and a screen unsuspecting pedestrians strolling along the Thames to educate them on FGM, and later, she exposes young Somali men in a museum space to the wall of vaginas and large clay models of vulvas she mutilates with garden shears to the visible distress of the unknowing youth. http://leylahussein.com/the-cruel-cut/ Accessed 6 October 2018.
7A curious trope in FGM films is recruiting Beethoven or Bach to mute the cries. As the razor bites, the orchestra booms. And it’s true. The act is hard enough to watch but impossible to hear. I’m thinking especially of the 1992 Nigerian IAC production directed by Dr. Irene Thomas called “Beliefs and Misbeliefs.”