International Day of the Midwife, and the cutter once imprisoned who now campaigns to end FGM

“I met many FGM survivors who ended up as sex workers to pay for their health care #obamacare was a life saver #shocked #disappointed.” Leyla Hussein, Tweet, 4 May 2017.

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Dr. Pierre Foldes with Linda Weil-Curiel, both associated with the Institut en Santé génésique in St. Germain-en-Laye near Paris

 

How ironic that “repeal and replace” – a bill in the US legislature that passed yesterday — should emerge on the doorstep of the “International Day of the Midwife,” today, May 5,  launched in 1992 by the International Confederation of Midwives. Similarly paradoxical is the Exciseuse coverassociation of midwifery with FGM. “Daya,” for instance, the Egyptian woman who amputates the clitoris, is translated as ‘midwife’ by Nawal el Saadawi,[1] and, in fact, benevolent and less benign duties concerning gynecological and obstetric health are her concern. Perhaps not coincidentally, an episode on FGM in the UK’s TV series Call the Midwife, whose screenplay benefited from Nimko Ali’s guidance, is airing this week in the USA.

But what has UnCUT/VOICES Press to do specifically with midwives?

The editorial project was inspired by three French volumes of highest quality neglected for years by anglophone publishers, thereby depriving English-speaking readers of their insights, and one is about a notorious and eventually laudatory midwife. These texts, translated by Tobe Levin, include Khady with Marie-Thérèse Cuny, Blood Stains. A Child of Africa Reclaims Her Human Rights. (Mutilée, 2005; English 2010); Hubert Prolongeau. Undoing FGM. Pierre Foldes, the Surgeon Who Restores the Clitoris (Victoire sur l’Excision, 2006; English 2011); and Natasha Henry, Linda Weil-Curiel with Hawa Gréou, “If only I had known!” Confessions of a Cutter (Exciseuse, 2006; English unpublished). Sadly, disagreement among the authors and CityEditions prevented this manuscript from appearing in English. But that’s no reason for the entire content to languish unseen, important as it is in efforts to end FGM.

Naana and Linda Rome

Naana Otoo-Oyortey, executive director of FORWARD (UK) and Linda Weil-Curiel in Rome, January 2017

 

Hence, below you will find excerpts from the Preface to Exciseuse. Entretiens avec Hawa Gréou translated by Tobe Levin:

November 16, 1984  … In Paris, a tenant on the rue de Montreuil wrote her landlord to inform him that in the Gréou’s flat, just on the other side of the wall, she could hear atrocious infant howls, truly horrifying cries.

Her letter read: “I had always noticed that whenever the first wife was around, they received a lot of African visitors who then left with crying babies all wrapped up.  Sometimes the line was so long it extended down the stairs. I always wondered what was making the children bawl like that as their parents carried them away. They were truly piercing shrieks.” So shrill that the writer added, “A heart condition made hearing those cries truly distressing so, to avoid falling ill, on those afternoons I felt obliged to leave the house.”

The police were called, but, at the Gréou’s, they found nothing amiss.

Several months later, in March 1985, the PMI of Yvelines also alerted the authorities: a baby had just been hospitalized for a botched excision. Her parents had emigrated from Mauritania. When interrogated by child protection, the father gave the exciser’s name: Hawa Gréou.

In 1994, Hawa Gréou received a one-year suspended sentence.

July 31, 1993

Paris. The very day she turned eighteen, young Mariatou left her parents’ home, took her things to a friend’s and then sought out the juvenile court judge. She was asking for justice in the form of some sort of protection for her younger sisters. She had left for fear of a forced marriage and worried about the smaller girls. At the same time, she revealed that both she and her other sisters had been excised. Later she would also give the exciser’s name: Hawa Gréou.

In 1999, as a result of the spectacular trial launched by Mariatou’s revelations, Hawa Gréou was sentenced to eight years in prison.   

The remarkable aspect of this tale is its dénouement. After serving, ‘Mama’ Gréou emerged from prison, appeared in the prosecutor’s office, took a seat and confessed to Linda Weil-Curiel that she had changed her mind. She understood that FGM was wrong and began to campaign against it.

The context of this historic, and to date unprecedented, story emerges from the Table of Contents which includes

It all began down there ° Female sexual mutilation: A social issue ° Hawa Gréou, ten years of excision in France ° A spectacular trial ° The attorney who prosecutes excision ° Dialogue between Linda Weil-Curiel and Hawa Gréou ° Marriage without love ° Excision in France ° Prison ° The Trial ° Excision today ° “Forced marriages” ° Girls and Teens in France Today ° Concerning female genitalia ° Zero Tolerance

Like Hawa Gréou, midwives can be a force for change in efforts to counteract  medicalization  (so-called ‘benign’ nicks) and prevent continued damage to girls’ genitalia.

I welcome further inquiries from anglophone readers unable to deal with the French text. tobe.levin@uncutvoices.com   or   tlevin@fas.harvard.edu

[1]http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/profiles/nawal-el-saadawi-i-am-going-to-carry-on-this-fight-for-ever-2371378.html. Retrieved 5 May 2017.

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For UN World Book Day – emphasis on translation — publishing against FGM

Thanks to English department chair Judy Peterson, UnCUT/Voices was welcomed to introduce our books to the Honors class at Blue Ridge High School in Pinetop, AZ, USA, on April 21. On 24 April 2017, the  UN comemorated World Book Day with emphasis on Translation — tKhady coverhe perfect opportunity to present once again our first two books, translations from the French. Since UnCUT/VOICES was inspired to begin publishing by the importance of French contributions to academic knowledge and efforts to end FGM, we share the UN’s appreciation for translations. The French have pioneered several approaches, specifically by highlighting the biographies of dedicated activists – e.g. Khady, Mutilée (2005), put out by UnCUT/VOICES Press as Blood Stains (2010); and by celebrating innovative techniques of repair, e.g. Dr. Pierre Foldes who reforms damaged tissue as described by Hubert Prolongeau in Victoire sur l’Excision (2006), titled with UnCUT/VOICES Press Undoing FGM. Pierre Foldes, the Surgeon who Restores the Clitoris (2011). Both books were translated by Tobe Levin.

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A bestseller when it first appeared in France, Khady’s memoir by continental Europe’s leading activist against female genital mutilation breaks new ground. An immigrant from Senegal to Paris, Khady was founding president of the first European Network against FGM and blows the whistle on excision, forced and early marriage, and unequal gender relations in Diaspora.  Ultimately, Khady’s courageous battle against genital torture and for women’s human rights leads her to the U.N. to urge international support.

In Undoing FGM. Pierre Foldes, the Surgeon who Restores the Clitoris, prize-winning novelist Hubert Prolongeau provides an extraordinary, artistic introduction to the topic. He was commissioned by renowned French publisher Albin Michel to shadow Foldes, the already well-known urologist, battlefield surgeon and co-founder of Doctors without Borders. Unfamiliar with FGM before beginning his research, Prolongeau shares with readers the mixed emotions that accompany increasing knowledge of a complex and damaging custom, especially the conviction that the tradition must end. Prolongeau’s lively depiction draws on interviews with Foldes and his medical staff; showcases lengthy discussion with patients who reveal their motives for seeking surgery, feelings during healing, and assessment of results; and places the targeted biography of Foldes at the center. Here is a man determined to ‘reverse the effects of a crime’ against women perpetuated by other men.

Khady Geneva UN Book Day 24 April (3)

 Geneva, Switzerland, at the Human Rights Council, 11 May 2016, l to r, Kaillie Winston, Khady Koita, Tobe Levin von Gleichen, Hilary Burrage, and Isatou Touray

 

Following is an excerpt from Khady’s Blood Stains. She has addressed the UN and heard encouraging speeches by world leaders at least verbally committed to ending excision, not necessarily as feminists but because, among its other detritus, the damaging custom severely retards entry into modernity and economic development. But then the strain of years and years of effort threaten to overcome her.

In February and March 2005, I addressed the 49th session of the UN Committee on the Status of Women. There nearly 6000 NGOs greeted good news with exuberant applause: national governments, without reservation, had re-affirmed the Platform for Action on violence against women formulated ten years earlier at the Beijing plus 10 Conference. For my part, I was on a cloud, sure that now everything would change …

             But that evening, on re-reading the speech I would be giving the next day at a UNICEF conference in Zurich, I fell to earth and wept.

             My whole life unfolded before me like a film whose first installment had been a tale of horror.

             Since 1975, when the first United Nations women’s conference took place in Mexico and I arrived in France, thirty years had passed. How many women had suffered since then, and how many were suffering now? How many women had had to put up a fight like mine? In how many countries did men still not know what a phrase like “women’s rights” means? I had just lived through a magnificent moment listening to beautiful speeches by male politicians. I was tempted to cry out who I was and why I was there. To hurl at them my suffering and anger and tell them to stop talking but go see for themselves the lives of women in whose name they made decisions that wouldn’t be applied for half a century … if ever.

             Discouragement claimed me, exhaustion in this interminable combat, the same feeling I had experienced three years earlier in Italy when they awarded my activism a prize shared with a young Bangladeshi whose face had been destroyed by acid for refusing to marry. That day I also cried, seeing that woman, of rage and desire to just let it all drop, so vast did the journey seem, and male violence so oceanic.

             But my courage returned in New York, Geneva, Zurich and elsewhere. I began again to march and intend to go on, carrying the message of African women, victims of torture and humiliation.

             My mother no longer tells me I run around too much. I trust, — no, I believe–, she is proud of me. I dedicate this book to her in the hope of being able to translate for her, without shying away, every word.

Excerpt from Khady with Marie-Thérèse Cuny. Blood Stains. A Child of African Reclaims Her Human Rights. Trans. Tobe Levin. UnCUT/VOICES Press, 2010.

Tobe and Foldes

Tobe Levin and Pierre Foldes in his office, 2011. Foldes with Frédérique Martz now runs the Institut en Santé Génésique in St. Germain-en-Laye.

 

Pierre Foldes shares Khady’s concern for the word itself – creating public awareness of what had heretofore been a well-kept secret immune from critique – and for male responsibility in both perpetuating and ending FGM. Former Foreign Minister of France and founder of Doctors without Borders, Bernard Kouchner provides the preface to Prolongeau’s Undoing FGM. Here is an excerpt from Kouchner’s text, translated by Tobe Levin.

Opposition

Pierre Foldes worked in Mother Teresa’s hospice. Influenced by the devotion of Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, he, too, grew determined to shelter the dying no matter where they came from. And knowing the protective force of words, he would start to unsettle those indifferent to sexual mutilation, speaking out about the rights of man, the rights of woman, and for equality. He never fled from his responsibilities. Not in Burma as the military regime acceded to power and used forced labor while spreading AIDS by growing poppies for heroin production.  Not in Mali or in Sarajevo either, where he accepted constraints in order to serve the greatest number. But let’s stick to what we know.  Who forced him to volunteer? No one, and therein lies his power.

Action

Cut off the clitoris, mutilate the labia majora, stitch it up and knife it open for each pregnancy – this wreaks havoc on a woman’s whole being. Foldes has chosen to join the fight to stop it, to take on himself the sorrow of others, and this commitment leads to solitude, to a risky but fertile jurisdiction. He is threatened but continues on his way. Men visit him, armed with knives. His skin crawls but he doesn’t give an inch. Death is an inevitable part of the game, as he has learned from many war zone missions.

Reconstruction

Give pleasure back to women, emotions other than fear of violence, gratification beyond that available to a piece of merchandise or a baby machine.  He operates, and his medical research and surgical repair attract attention. People start to emulate him; the World Health Organization is interested. He publishes an impressive series of successes. In nearly 80% of cases, women no longer suffer after intervention. They regain elementary sensation. A great physician, he has innovated a common surgical procedure for magnificent humanitarian ends.

Excerpt from Prolongeau, Hubert. Undoing FGM. Pierre Foldes, the Surgeon who Restores the Clitoris. Foreword Bernard Kouchner. Trans. Tobe Levin. Frankfurt am Main: UnCUT/VOICES Press, 2011.

Both books are available from UnCUT/VOICES Press at the special price of $12.00 or €12,00 plus postage ($6.00/€6,00) or both for $20.00 or €20,00 plus postage ($7.00/€7,00). Payment accepted via PayPal, US$ personal check, or bank transfer. Please email tobe.levin@uncutvoices.com or rebecca.levin@uncutvoices.com.

Thanks to Kaye Beth for the cover design of Undoing FGM.

For International Poetry Day, introducing WAAFRIKA to Harvard

On the UN’s International Poetry Day, it seems appropriate to announce a lecture and discussion taking place tomorrow on what may be the world’s only LGBTQ play with FGM at the heart of the story.

NICK HADIKWA MWALUKO, author of WAAFRIKA 123. 1992. Kenya. Two Womyn Fall in Love, is an emerging dramatist with a courageous ethical vision. Born in Tanzania and raised in Kenya, Nick now resides in California and, in his drama, published by UnCUT/VOICES Press that has been performed in NY, Florida and California, he presents a moving portrayal of FGM tied up with a village’s response to crisis, lesbian and queer sexuality, and identity anchored in ancestry, soil, and personal anguish. If you are in the Boston/Cambridge, MA, area, you are welcome to join us.

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International Women’s Day, ending violence and FGM

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Lorraine Koonce Farahmand with her class attending the speech by Dr. PIerre Foldes, Frédérique Martz and Axelle Cormier at the University of Paris Cergy-Pontoise 2 March 2017

 

At the University of Paris Cergy-Pontoise on 2 March 2017, Dr. Pierre Foldes, Frédérique Martz and Axelle Cormier talked to dozens of interested students about violence against women, suggesting we may sooner find an answer to ending FGM if we see it in the complex context of a broader category, sexual violence in general. Representing the Institut en Santé Génésique, the three experts opened by soliciting audience participation.  Under the heading “Violences sexistes,” three questions appeared on the screen:  Qui es-tu? (Who are you?), Que fais-tu? (What do you do?), Que fait-on (What can you/ what can I do?) Allegorical figures soon populated the first list,  students offering such terms as Inequality, Abuse, Aggression,  Feminine Weakness, Silence, Denial. What violence DOES is produce trauma, isolation, humiliation, loss of self-confidence, guilt. … What you and I can do? Mobilize! Educate! Break the taboo!

Parallels to  experience of the genitally mutilated are inescapable.

Foldes screen 2 March (2)

Foldes 2 March

Dr. Pierre Foldes is the subject of UnCUT/VOICES Press book by Hubert Prolongeau. Undoing FGM. Pierre Foldes, the Surgeon Who Restores the Clitoris. (Foreword Bernard Kouchner. Trans. and Afterword Tobe Levin) 2011.

 

 

To broaden decades of effort to understand FGM, a gathering of experts at Lady Margaret Hall on March 10, 2017, will also place the ‘harmful traditional practice’ within the larger scope of contingent abuses. And you are invited!  See  http://www.lmh.ox.ac.uk/IGSC/Home/Activities/Workshops.aspx

Four specific Challenges to Ending FGM:

Medicalization, Female Genital (Cosmetic) Surgery, Asylum,

and (Lack of) Education (about FGM)

We meet in the Mary O’Brien room, Lady Margaret Hall, 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. on Friday, March 10, 2017, co-sponsored by the International Gender Studies Centre, Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford, and the Clitoris Restoration and Fistula Repair Fund (UK charity commission # 1169186).

10:00 a.m.– 10:15 p.m.

Welcome. Dr Maria Jaschok, Director, IGS, and Dr Tobe Levin von Gleichen

10:15 – 11:30 p.m. Education. Chair: Dr Tobe Levin von Gleichen.

Resource experts: Professor Hazel Barrett, Coventry University; Kate Agha, Oxford Against Cutting; Kameel Ahmady, researcher and author, FGM in Iran; Dr. Michal Moskow, Chair, Board of Directors, Education and Skill Development Institute and Somali Family Services, Minneapolis, MN, and Garowe, Puntland, Somalia (Statement); Surgeon Dr Pierre Foldes and Frédérique Martz, l’Institut en Santé génésique (Statement on medical education).

11:30 to 12:45 p.m.: Medicalization. Chair:  Lorraine Koonce Farahmand, Solicitor (UK) and Attorney (NY), Advisor CRFRF, formerly American Graduate School of Paris, presently l’Université de Paris (Cergy-Pontoise and Dauphine).

Resource experts: Caroline Pinder, representative of 28 Too Many, presenting their report on medicalization; Dr Phoebe Abe, MBChB MSc FRSA, General Practitioner UK, CEO Dr Abe Foundation; Dr Morissanda Kouyaté, executive director, Inter-African Committee, Addis Ababa (statement).

12:45 – 1:15: Bannir le Couteau de l’Excision, [Away with the knives!] a 20-minute film produced by Erica Pomerance with Fatoumata Siré Diakité and Tobe Levin. Documentary showcasing curricula on FGM at a school for midwifery and a medical university in Bamako. Dir. Erica Pomerance. Montréal and Bamako, 2014. http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/caravan-of-youth-against-excision-mali/

1:15 – 2:00 Sandwich lunch. Cost-share requested.

2:00 – 3:15 p.m.: Female Genital (Cosmetic or Restorative) Surgery. Chair: Hilary Burrage, sociologist, author of Eradicating Female Genital Mutilation: A UK Perspective (Ashgate/Routledge, 2015),  co-founder of CRFRF

Resource experts: Leyla Hussein, therapist and campaigner (statement); Hoda Ali, activist and nurse (NHS); Dr med. Dan mon O’Dey, plastic surgeon for genital reconstruction, University of Aachen (statement); Dr Mariame Racine Sow, educator (FORWARD – Germany) (Statement); Dr. Marci Bowers (SKYPE).

3:15 – 3:45 p.m.: Coffee and networking break

3:45 – 5:00 p.m.: Asylum. Chair: Dr Barbara Harrell-Bond OBE, Founder Refugee Studies Centre.

Resource experts: Dr Owolabi Bjalkander, Karolinska Institutet (SKYPE); Joy Keshi Walker, Arizona Summit Law School, Phoenix (statement); Dr Annagrazia Faraca, Perugia, Italy; Dr Pierrette Herzberger-Fofana, President, DaMIGRA Board and FORWARD – Germany; Dexter Dias QC, Barrister.

5:00 – 7:00 p.m.: Discussion 

Participants: The WORKSHOP addresses feminist and other scholars in medicine, law, social work, education, law enforcement, psychology, gender studies, international relations and social policy concerned with (stopping) FGM.

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Introducing the Clitoris Restoration and Fistula Repair Fund

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World Philosophy Day: Time to Think Again about FGM

Did you know that today, 17 November 2016, is World Philosophy Day? At least the UN calls it that and, not coincidentally, 16 November 2016 commemorated the International Day for Tolerance. Both were intended to “inspire a public debate between intellectuals and civil society on the challenges confronting” our world [http://www.un.org/en/events/philosophyday/].

Nathan Oghale Okoro. The Truth Is, Both Men and Women Suffer. Oil on Canvas. 2009.Among these is surely the difficulty in ending female genital mutilation about which academics, activists, and the general public have debated for decades. In many people’s minds, excision is a custom so horrible that a first encounter with it can indeed provoke intolerance, especially in the absence of inquiry into its complexity. But to dismiss FGM as wrong – which of course it is – and not attempt to see its anchoring in fear, social pressure, conceptions of female beauty and gender identity won’t accelerate its disappearance.

To illuminate the power this gruesome tradition exerts on practicing communities, I’ve introduced a metaphor in my speeches. I ask all females in the audience to consider the case of Gregor Samsa, Kafka’s hero who awakens one morning to discover a dramatic change: he has become a bug. Now, if you’re a woman, suppose something similar happens, namely on opening your eyes, the mirror reveals you’ve grown a beard, an accessory  certain not to delight but to terrify you, and the first thing you’d do is shave. Why? Despite the elegance of Conchita Wurst’s delicate duvet, ‘real’ women don’t have beards.

In Kafka’s masterpiece, Samsa can do nothing to alter his novel condition, but, even if tragic for himself, accepting it gradually confers real benefits on his entourage. Because he is no longer able to serve them, they confront the challenge of his absence with their own initiative, and the new configuration holds out hope. With women’s hirsute chins, however, the status quo instantly resumes. The foliage is erased. In other words, to BE a woman you must APPEAR to be one, and where FGM prevails, clitoral ablation is the script. Although some few societies accept androgyny and transgender, in most places binaries remain, and if the line is crossed, transgressors face, in Orlando Patterson’s words, ‘social death’.

Thus  gender boundary policing is largely responsible for shearing, or as Simone de Beauvoir points out, women are  made, not born. A female’s facial fur, like the clitoris in a society that cuts, is extraneous; it  violates  norms and challenges aesthetic judgments. Can a bearded woman be a beauty? Can clitoris-carriers be good wives if, by definition, they are not ‘normal’ women?

On 7 March 2015, at the University of Oxford, a symposium about “Contestations around FGM” examined the role ‘normality’ plays in the tenacious hold ritual wounding of girls maintains on immigrant populations globally. Viewing FGM through the lens of various  disciplines,  our sessions included personal testimony (memoir),  law, medicine, the arts (painting, film, fiction) and activism itself.  After all, as Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director General notes, “Philosophy is more than an academic subject; it is a daily practice that helps people — [that is, also girls] –to live in a better, more humane way.” [http://www.un.org/en/events/philosophyday/].

To read the 56 page symposium report with color photos,  available for €6,00 plus postage from UnCUT/VOICES Press, please contact Dr. Tobe Levin, tobe.levin@uncutvoices.com.

Gratitude to artist Okoro Oghale Nathan for The Verge of Virility. Oil on Canvas. 2007.

 

Khady’s Visit to Brandeis Remembered

On 8 November 2010, during a symposium on polygamy, Khady and I presented at Brandeis University where, yesterday, I enjoyed a board meeting of the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute as it transitions to a new director in 2017.  The ‘old guard’ vividly remembered Khady’s presentation, offering an opportunity to share an excerpt from her (sadly) still relevant memoir.

In addition to a chapter titled ‘Polygamy,’ Khady addresses the abuse in her conclusion focused on campaigning — and success. Here’s the passage that brings bad news but also good …

Susan McLucas and Khady confer at Harvard

Susan McLucas of Sini Sunamen (Mali) and Khady Koita (La Palabre, Senegal) have a word in solidarity at Harvard, 10 November 2010, at a W.E.B. Du Bois Institute event.

From 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.

… GAMS always works cooperatively with local African associations. If a family in France proves unreceptive to our arguments, our colleagues in Africa take over. Some parents continue to excise girls on holiday, and, with considerable nonchalance, bring them back, thereby evading French law. They check luggage at the border but not girls. How could we handle this?

When a baby is born in France and not (yet) excised, a few judges and prosecutors may, if they so desire, subpoena parents. It’s our job to alert the authorities to suspicious cases. I want so much to guarantee to girls born into immigrant families in Diaspora treatment exactly like French girls whose heritage goes way back. Both groups must benefit from the same protective legislation which punishes neither tradition nor culture but simply the crime of mutilation. “Tradition, culture!” These were our opponents’ only arguments when our campaigns began. Every time we would bring up the topic for TV debate or elsewhere, insulting phone calls were sure to follow. Today, things are different. I’m always gratified when people tell me, “I saw you on TV, sister. It’s a good thing you’re doing. Keep up the good fight. We’ve got to stop a tradition like that!”

I’ve been hearing these kinds of remarks, however, only in the last couple of years …

I believe our struggle will end excision, but polygamy is another matter. Not only is it broadly accepted but also considered the man’s due!

Back home, a husband would think twice before abandoning his wife who, if she were rejected, would probably be “recuperated” by the family that had given her in marriage. But without financial independence, in urban housing, with distance, isolation, and multiple births, the African woman in Diaspora has a hard time surviving. Even if many men assured us: “I don’t need welfare to feed my kids,” government subsidies remain substantial.

I remember a certain family: the man had two wives and fifteen children, ten of whom were pupils when the school asked me to intervene. Both mothers told me at the time – it was 2002–: “We can’t access the money because welfare payments go directly into his account. He’s also taken a good part of it to visit his third wife in Africa where he’s been for three months. But school is starting, and we’re broke. What he left is hardly enough for the three oldest ones.”

It’s easy enough to do the math. Multiply welfare by ten plus the additional sums given for school supplies at the start of the academic year, and you can be sure that back in the village, that husband is living well.

Surely something can be done to prevent such situations. If only those polygamous men drawing money from the system would invest it in their wives’ education or simply take proper care of their kids! But no. Too many use it for a second or third wife to humiliate the first one.

I believe the government is not doing its job on this front. Then again, to achieve women’s rights all over the world, there’s just too much to do.

In July 2003, African countries signed the Maputo Protocol, an addenda pertaining to women attached to the Charter for Human Rights. It’s a magnificent document and if really applied one day will improve the lives of African women. It affirms equality, condemns violence against women and censures traditional practices damaging to health of which genital mutilation and forced marriage are two.

Regrettably, some countries that signed the Protocol still haven’t ratified it. At present five signatures are needed before it can enter into force but those hesitant nations require cultural exemptions. … I could say “to each to his own,” but opposition flies in the face of a clear international will to end women’s submission. Emma Bonino has launched a campaign to lobby not only for ratification of the Protocol but also for its application by all signatories and especially the indecisive.

I am involved in these efforts. Since 2002, I have been president of the European Network for the Eradication and Prevention of Female Genital Mutilation (EuroNet – FGM). The organization grew from a 1997 networking meeting in Sweden co-sponsored by the International Center for Reproductive Health and GAMS. Consolidation followed in 1998, thanks to the University of Ghent in Belgium, the association ATD Fourth World, and the Somali women’s organization of Gothenburg together with the city’s immigration authority. EuroNet FGM facilitates cooperation among NGOs at European level to increase efficiency and improve immigrant women and children’s health by fighting harmful traditional practices, in particular genital mutilation and forced or early marriage.

Young women regularly join our ranks. As for the old guard, we’re impatient waiting for male politicians’ good will, not to mention the good will of men, period.

Sacrificial lambs obliged to expose our private lives, we have been the first immigrant wives to suffer domestic violence and community pressure. From my experience I can assure you, I was sometimes forced to quasi-extort a husband’s permission to enroll his wife in literacy classes. Most men were opposed, and if I always succeeded, I don’t know by what miracle. We created the network to build on this kind of success.

Now, these same women campaign for themselves against excision. And some do more: the absence that stalks us leads some to seek reconstructive surgery offered by a heroic urologist who has perfected the technique. “If the clitoris had not been removed what would I feel?” many ask. But to access a time before cutting you have to face the knife again, and for this, you must be psychologically prepared. You may forget the scar from time to time, but the blade always brings back that ancient haunting ache.

It must feel very strange when the vanished part returns.

I’ve talked to some young women who have been “restored.”

The first one who came to confide in us at GAMS really made us laugh. “I’ve got a clitoris!” she declared. “It works! It goes vvvrrrrr….”

At twenty, she has a boyfriend and her whole life ahead of her. Others have come to see us since and more will follow.

But let’s beware of suggesting that restorative surgery eliminates the problem.

Reconstruction is not the answer. The answer lies in total eradication of the practice.   Laws alone, however, won’t suffice even when they exist.

In the Sudan, for instance, infibulation has been outlawed since the 1940s but FGM continues today. Why? Many African heads of state fear what one called “emotional reactions from certain religious leaders or minority groups.” Such resistance must be broken. Imams and griots should join us, not oppose us.

For if God made us as we are, why destroy a perfect work?