Today is the International day of zero tolerance for female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). Sponsored by the UN, it’s a day for raising awareness of the practice and calling for an end to it.
What is FGM/C?
FGM/C refers to several harmful practices that involve the deliberate cutting of the female genitals. It is estimated that around three million girls worldwide, most under 15, are ‘cut’ each year. FGM/C is most prevalent in Africa, some countries in Asia and the Middle East, but it is also practised all over the world including countries where it is illegal. In is estimated that in the UK around 23,000 girls are cut every year. There has recently been some debate as to whether legislation is an effective way to end the practice.
FGM/C has no basis in any religion and no health benefits and can be extremely harmful. The World Health Organisation (WHO) outlines some of the possible short and long-term consequences here. To find out more, watch this TEDx Talk with leading anti-FGM activist (UK) Leyla Hussein.
I first learned of FGM/C when I was at university and someone shared their personal experience with me. I was horrified by the very idea of it but in an attempt to understand why it continues, I tried to put myself in the shoes of those women who allow it to happen to their daughters. I wrote a poem but did nothing with it until recently, when I posted it here.
Although the poem suggests that this is an ongoing cycle, it doesn’t have to be. I believe that it is women who can and eventually will break the chain. The key lies, as it so often does, in education. The United Nations Volunteer programme works tales a community-based approach, working to combat FGM/C via education and awareness-raising. There are also several charities and organisations across the UK dedicated to raising awareness of the issue and educating communities as to the health implications of this practice.
What can I do to help?
At this point I’ll hand over to Leyla Hussain, who outlined what needs to happen next in her recent article for the Huffington Post.
You can also support the organisations (by donating, fundraising and/or volunteering) who are actively working to put an end to the cycle of FGM/C.
Daughters of Eve
The Desert Flower Foundation
FGM National Clinical Group, who work with women who have been affected
The United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme
Photo credit: Orchid Flower by pakorn at freedigitalphotos.net
I read this article in the Guardian today and although it’s not the first time I’ve read about female genital mutilation (FGM, also referred to as ‘cutting’) this is the first time I decided to say something about it…
This is not something I have been through myself. My first ‘real’ experience of FGM was someone telling me about it in detail when I was at university. I knew little to nothing of this practice before then. At the time, I wrote a poem about it and that poem has been sitting with a pile of other stuff I wrote at the time, with which I did nothing. Something about it doesn’t feel quite right – like, am I qualified to talk about this not having been through it myself? But then I thought, I wrote it for a reason… It was to try and understand why so meany women continue with this practice when it is so obviously such a horrific ordeal to go through, let alone put your child through. So here it is (feedback – all kinds – welcome as always):
Repeating the lies
She looked up at her mother with innocent eyes
For at just eight years old, she was still just a child.
Her mother had just repeated the lies
That they had told her before she died inside
And now her baby’s about to have her womanhood defiled
They told her that she had come of age
And that this was part of an ancient tradition
That she should look forward to this the next page
They didn’t tell her with what she would have to trade
They never really asked her permission
It wasn’t that she didn’t feel her daughter’s pain
When you became a woman, this just had to be done
When she was a child it had been the same
If it hadn’t she would have bought shame
That’s why when she fell pregnant she had prayed for a son
So she let them take her daughter’s womanhood and even more besides
As they said this made her the kind of woman a man would want for his wife
These were the words that penetrated her cries
And so she too decided to believe the lies
Rather than admit that they had been closer to taking her life
It’s now several years on and her belly starts to swell
She already feels a bond that’s strong and true
She prays not to have a daughter as well
For she knows the pain of the lies she’ll have to tell
When it’s time for her to become a woman too.
Posted in Poetry
Tagged fgm, poem, Poetry