With a tedious pandemic and lockdown fatigue, many likely awoke this morning in a less than jubilant mood. My blues, however, have a different source. I was reminded that
“Angelika Köster-Lossack and Florence Howe have their birthdays today.”
How I wish it were true, but neither is here to celebrate, only to be remembered and mourned. It had slipped my mind that these dear friends entered the world on March 17, Angelika Köster-Lossack, a former Member of the Bundestag (Parliament), born in 1947, and Florence Howe, co-founder of the Feminist Press, born in 1929. They died in October and November 2020, Angelika deceased on November 29, a mere day after my mother-in-law Anne Freifrau von Gleichen, born in 1928, who died on November 28, 2020.
I miss them. Proponents of equality, each of the three inspired and supported campaigns to end FGM. In 1998, Angelika and Anne joined me to register the NGO FORWARD in Germany, whose creation Efua Dorkenoo advised.
Also in favor of ending FGM, Florence, a frequent guest during the Frankfurt Book Fair, motivated me to start UnCUT/VOICES Press. In 2005, the Feminist Press printed my translation of a memoir penned in German by a refugee from Somalia whose infibulation caused lifelong distress. Khady’s best-seller Mutilée came out the same year, and although I urged Florence to publish it as well, the sad topic seemed risky, generating indifference, even aversion in the United States where, in contrast to Europe, a movement against FGM was yet to emerge. Despite the success of Waris Dirie’s Desert Flower in 1995, the hostility Alice Walker suffered seemed a cautionary tale. In 1992 and 1993, Walker’s Possessing the Secret of Joy and, in particular, her Warrior Marks were savaged, and it would take another fifteen years before rising attention to FGM would increase media concern.
In the meantime, the rights to translate Mutilée had been bought by publishers in 11 nations, so readers in Japan, Taiwan, Poland, and Russia, for example, could benefit from the passionate script calling forcefully to end excision — but not speakers of English. And I was impatient. Campaigning since 1977, I understood Khady’s contribution as exemplary and encouraging of needed support. Her story bracketed so many others, as Marge Piercy wrote in a poignant review. The gamut of vulnerabilities in which FGM is emmeshed finds space in the drama. Excision is followed by early, forced marriage. At 14, Khady is ‘given’ to a cousin, placed in a Parisian tenement, subject to ‘domestic violence’, — that is, beaten – and, forbidden the pill which is rumored to facilitate promiscuity. She is serially raped, impregnated and left without access to French welfare benefits deposited directly into the husband’s account. The importation of a younger co-wife is the last straw and lends Khady the strength to rebel. She does so with majesty and purpose, becoming active in immigrant and French campaigns against FGM and, despite schooling that ended in the 7th grade, she earns a degree in accountancy and supports herself. Although 3 of her four daughters were cut, she awakens to the amputations’ harm once the French press sounds the alarm. In other words, spreading the word inspires opposition and enhances lives.
Strong and outspoken, Florence, Angelika and Anne were partners in Khady’s effort to end female genital mutilation, that is, the inscription of a patriarchal wound on little girls. So, yes, we’ll light candles today. For joy — because death can’t delete the beneficence nourished by their memory.
You can read Khady’s narrative in Blood Stains. A Child of Africa Reclaims her Human Rights. UnCUT/VOICES Press, 2010. Order from Amazon.