Khady’s influence

As a delegate to the BanFGM Conference < BanFGM Conference on the global ban on female genital mutilation > in Rome, Jan 30 – Feb 1, 2017, organised by No Peace without Justice and the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children,* Khady gave interviews and spoke out in the plenary, adding to the impressive list of powerful addressees she has reached, urging abolition.

As the poster in yesterday’s blog shows, Khady’s peers chose her to represent the meeting as a whole. Adopted as a figurehead, she knew that only by going to the top — to city hall, to premiers and presidents, to parliament, the UN, the Council of Europe, the African Union and more — would she influence decision-makers and, equally important, donors.

Khady in Rome, Parliament, January 2017. Photo credits: Tobe Levin von Gleichen

Never mincing words, she wants the world to know what girls endure when born where excision has, from the dawn of history, been normalized. Chapter 1, Salindé — literally, to purify for prayer — is subtitled “New York, March 2005.” Why? Because Khady opens her tale as she closes it. A courageous activist backed by Emma Bonino, later the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Khady speaks directly to the UN General Assembly. FGM is a global issue; everyone shares in the duty to condemn it.

In Mutilée/Blood Stains, Khady exceeds an objective re-enactment of events by asking who benefits. She takes a stab — if you’ll pardon the term — at explaining. Following is again a quote from Chapter 1.

*The opening paragraph shares information reported by the Council of Europe, Human Rights Intergovernmental Cooperation, accessed 13 October 2022.


After all the mothers had decamped, an eerie feeling of abandonment hung suspended in time, but now I know that no mother, not even a strong-hearted one, can stand to see what is going to be done to her daughter, or, even worse, to hear her cries. She knows what it’s all about because she’s been there, and, the moment the knife bites her girl, her own body bleeds all over again. Still, she accepts because that’s the way it is, and she has no other option but this barbaric ritual of supposed “purification for prayer” and virginity insurance until marriage with fidelity forevermore.

            It’s a scam to have forced African women to maintain a custom that has absolutely nothing to do with religion. On our continent excision is practiced by animists, Christians, Moslems and the Beta Israel who are Jewish. It is centuries old, its origins predating the advent of Islam. But men have several bad reasons for wanting it: to guarantee their power, to believe other men won’t get their wives pregnant, and to protect the excised from enemy rape!  Other explanations, even more absurd, hold that a woman’s sex is impure and diabolical; that the clitoris, devilish in itself, can cause all kinds of harm, up to and including death if it touches the infant’s head at birth. Some have also thought that the imposture, that miniature penis, menaces virility.

            But domination is the real motive. And men have passed responsibility for execution onto women, because it was out of the question that a man should “see,” let alone “touch” that intimate part of female anatomy, even on a child.

            At age seven, like all girls, I didn’t even know I had a clitoris, let alone the purpose it served. I had never noticed it before, and now I never would. The only thing that really counted on that particular morning was the prospect of a horrifying pain whose vague echoes I had heard before but that had seemed then not to concern me. I remembered my mother and grandmother threatening a naughty little boy with a knife or a pair of scissors. Pulling on his diminutive appendage they would gesture – snip! – and utter those terrible words: “Behave or it’s the blade for you!” The kid would take to his legs as fast as he could, recalling the sting that, unlike the girl’s, would soon subside, besides real circumcision being essentially hygienic. But I spied the boys’ bizarre waddle like ducks, saw them sit with difficulty and whimper for two or three days, sometimes for a whole week, afterward. And I thought I was safe because I was a girl!      

            In 1967, I had no idea of what the intimate bloody cutting would mean for the rest of my life. But it bequeathed me a hard and sometimes cruel fate that led, in 2005, all the way to the U.N.

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