To end FGM we need to stop playing with words!
On every 6 February I join millions in denouncing all forms of female genital mutilation and calling for its end, zero tolerance and redress for victims. But for our fight against FGM to succeed we need to reflect on the fact that it should not be seen as anything other than one of the worst expression of patriarchy, oppression, gender inequality and discrimination.
As a feminist and women’s rights advocate, I have been wondering for years if the legislations criminalizing FGM, community prevention programs and other interventions were not doomed as long as they did not address the fact that FGM is found in conservative and patriarchal societies and coexists with a plethora of other forms of submitting women and girls to the male power. I will not write in this blog about the well-known links between FGM, early marriage, maternal and infant mortality and other forms of SGBV.
I would like to focus on the fact that more and more I see FGM referred to as FGC, with C standing for cutting or even circumcision. There is also an increasing attempt to return the issue to the closet of the dark cultural secrets which have to be respected in the name of misplaced cultural sensitivity, political correctness and/or opportunism.
I have been asking for the past 5 years why FGM is referred to as FGC more and more. I got given some vague answers and it is only recently that I finally found a straight forward one. The Tostan Organization which works in African countries to achieve community led social changes, including to end FGM has chosen like a growing number of stakeholders (including UN Agencies like UNICEF) to talk about cutting instead of mutilation as this latter was seen as “judgmental” and “value-laden”. When I read this I thought that it is actually interesting how in the face of such a brutal practice there are still some well-meaning people to think in terms of political correctness. I think that in 2015 there is ample evidence from testimonies of survivors and experts that these practices are MUTILATIONS. The minute we start trying not to jugde the practice we open the door to its acceptability in other forms seen as less or not harmful like its growing medicalization seen as safer, equation to male circumcision or attempts to replace it with practices such as the proposed ceremonial pinprick or small nick on young girls that the American Academy of Pediatrics advocated for in 2010 “as a possible compromise to avoid greater harm”.
In the same vein, in July 2012, I read in total disbelief reports that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf had said that Liberia had no plans to abolish FGM. She justified her stand by saying that “to hastily abolish the practice could spark off a serious societal crisis”. She added that “this is not a thing that you can legislate. If you try to legislate or enforce it without much sensitisation, we might run into some tension in our society that we don’t need,” and went to the extent to say that “the long historical reasons cited by traditionalists were something to consider”. Those few words were taking the work of decades of activism, advocacy and community sensitization backwards, not only in Liberia but most likely in other African countries still waiting to adop anti-FGM legislation and making this issue a priority on its agenda.
I was amazed at that time that there was so little reaction from our feminist community to this statement. I think it might have come from the fact that as feminists we did not want to be seen as undermining the very first elected female African president even though on that particular occasion she was so deeply mistaken. The other sensible explanation would be maybe the tremendous shock was too great for immediate coordinated action from us.
So on this 6 february 2015, I would like for all of us to continue calling this practice what it is, namely FGM and to find ways to tell Mrs Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and all those hiding behind, societal cohesion, low prevalence figures and cultural heritage to show true leadership by taking a stand and all decisive actions needed to endFGM in the Africa we want. We owe it to the 30 millions of girls who are at risks of being mutilated in the next 10 years.
About the Guest Blogger: Diakhoumba Gassama is a proud panafrican feminist from Senegal. As a women’s rights lawyer she has spent the last 10 years working at the continental, global and national levels on issues related to women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights, inclusive governance, social justice and political leadership.
This post was first published on YoungAfricanFeminist