Chancellor Angela Merkel: FGM and hope

5 June 2019 in Frankfurt am Main, Chancellor Dr. Angela Merkel

A mere few hours had passed on June 5, 2019, when, fresh from her gracious appearance in the D-Day ceremonies at Portsmouth, Chancellor Dr. Angela Merkel glided with tranquil confidence down the aisle in Frankfurt am Main, heading toward the podium where she would address the 60th anniversary celebration of the Hessischer Kreis, a group founded by Kurt Freiherr von Gleichen to encourage networking and discussion of current affairs among leading citizens. On this particular evening the Chancellor didn’t mention FGM but her emphasis on Africa and the three successive trips she has made to the continent easily allow the good news to emerge. “Africa is not a problem but an opportunity,” she insisted. Its dynamic, youthful demographic warrants attention, cooperation, and development. Of the thirty nations topping the list of populations under 18 – exceeding 50%–, all but 3 are in Africa, and the majority of those countries excise girls.

Were it not for the Chancellor’s confidence in political will to deal successfully with this explosive situation, i.e. the toxic mix of youth, poverty, and unemployment–, the figure would be alarming. Not only inadequate education but also discrimination against women, widespread excision, and lack of birth control fuel the exodus that wealthier nations now face. Therefore, as the UN and many European agencies for foreign aid acknowledge, women’s empowerment opens the door to a better future, not only for inhabitants of the ‘global South’ but for aging populations in the ‘North’ as well.

Behind Merkel’s remarks was of course concern for the integrity of borders and encouragement toward unity in hospitality among the 26 nations bound by the Schengen Agreement which, on 14 June 1985, created “Europe’s Schengen Area, in which internal border checks have largely been abolished” among the 26 nations that signed on [ Accessed 7 June 2019].

The ‘free movement concept’, however, despite a long history in Europe, has sadly been hijacked by fascist, racist and anti-Semitic elements – labels, I hasten to add, that the Chancellor herself did not use but certainly gestured toward – to cultivate hostility to foreigners who include, it appears, not only economic and political migrants but internal minorities as well, in particular those historic ‘intruders’, Roma, Jews and people of African descent. That this development is unacceptable to the German government represented by Chancellor Merkel is incontrovertible. She gave the impression that the arsenal of options at hand to defend democracy – the “freiheitliche demokratische Grundordnung” in Merkel’s words, the free liberal democratic system – would be deployed.

And regarding efforts to end FGM, from the earliest days of the present movement dating from the 1970s, Bonn and Berlin have been active underwriters. The patron of INTEGRA, for example, the umbrella organization whose members include more than thirty NGOs against FGM in Germany, has from its inception been the German President, a largely ceremonial position distinct from that of the Chancellor but with high visibility and respect in the nation. Starting in the 1990s, the GTZ,  now GIZ, or German Corporation for International Cooperation GmbH, has financed initiatives against FGM in Africa and cooperated with volunteer associations, such as FORWARD-Germany (recently renamed FORWARD for Women), to educate newly-arrived immigrants and coach affected communities residing here.

In Hamburg just this week for the Rotary International Convention, I met UnCUT/VOICES’ author who penned with me the ‘Memoir and Sourcebook’ titled Kiminta. A Maasai’s Fight against Female Genital Mutilation. (2015). Together with actor Dorothea Hagena, Maria Kiminta and I explored avenues beyond the paper pages for engaging a broader audience in our movement. An audiobook perhaps? And a German translation? Beyond individuals, however, the call goes out strongly to government, and we’re happy to note that the German regime has our back.

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