Female Genital Cutting and Activism

After finishing Fadumo Korn’s memoir, I was left with a lot of unanswered questions.  What should the rest of the world do in this type of situation?  Is it at all beneficial to include the media in this movement against female genital cutting, or does that bridge a larger divide between cultures?  Is there a way to help without seeming as though the movement is a battle between us versus them?  After contemplating these questions for a great deal of time, I have decided that there are ways to help that could help unify cultures and empower women.  However, it is important to realize that there are many complications and complexities associated with this type of activism.

First and foremost, is is crucial to respect and understand different cultures.  If someone has decided to help women who have been circumcised or try to prevent future circumcisions, it is important that they understand cultural differences.  Regardless of whether it is through an awareness raising campaign or a direct interaction between a volunteer and a community that practices circumcision, it is crucial to establish trust and understanding.  Judgements and personal opinions need to be put aside in order to work towards a group’s common goals.  Even if both parties do not agree, it is still important to respect their arguments and try to understand their perspectives.

Many actions that may seem respectful to one person are completing inappropriate to another.  For example, Korn writes about a presentation she went to where they showed various images of girls during and after circumcision.  To some, this may seem like a powerful way to convey a message, but this cannot be accepted as universal truth.  As Korn writes, “How could they be so disrespectful?  Why show a tortured little girl in the depths of despair if not to appeal to millions of voyeurs?  Couldn’t they imagine what a child might feel like when faced with such an image” (158)?

These cultural differences are also important to consider in regards to education.  Education, as we have discussed in class many times, is a great way to raise awareness and bring about positive change. However, whatever curricula are established need to take into account these cultural differences.  Korn often speaks about her astonishment regarding how insensitive people are when speaking about female genital cutting.  In this education, it is also important to focus on language.  First, what is the best way to describe this practice?  In class, we agreed that female genital mutilation was too harsh and female circumcision made it seem comparable to male circumcision.  We decided that female genital cutting was the most appropriate but would culture specific words be more effective?  This may make the education more relatable and ultimately yield better results.  Also, it is important not to have any biases in the education.  The information needs to be presented in a factual manner that presents the health risks associated with female genital cutting.  It would also be a good idea to present alternatives to the procedure, such as abstinence-only or comprehensive sex education.  Although studies show that comprehensive sex education delays sexual intercourse more than abstinence-only education, any type of education would be better than female genital cutting.  Also, educators should include health professionals and women who have been circumcised, not simply outsiders because this makes it seem as though they are imposing their own culture’s ideas.

Another important way to start up this movement is to raise awareness around the world.  Although many people are aware of female genital cutting, many people are not.  The media, specifically news sources, should focus on this issue.  Rather than portraying it in a negative light and bridging a divide between opposing sides, the media should lay out the facts.  This would spark discussion and make people want to get involved.  If people are not aware, they cannot be active!  However, it is crucial that the important is factually accurate.  In class, someone mentioned that is is better to be wrong than ignorant because ignorance can evolve into awareness.  However, I do not believe the media should be presenting false or biased information.  For example, this image was part of an awareness raising campaign that disagreed with female genital cutting.  However, this image is biased and is not presenting any information via this photo.

This next image is from a French awareness raising campaign that also does not agree with female genital cutting.  Unlike this first image, it presents factual information that specifically addresses female genital cutting in France.  I feel this advertisement is much more appropriate than the first, but it also is taking a clear-cut stance.

GAMS, an organization in France, is actively working to end female genital cutting in France.  They have been very creative in their efforts and are even working with famous musicians that share the same stance.  Rapper Bafing Kul has agreed to help GAMS and his song lyrics express his message.  One song says: “May my ancestors forgive me. Not all traditions should be preserved. Islam does not endorse this one.”  To learn more about female genital cutting in France and GAMS’ work in the country, click here.

Overall, it is important for people all around the world to get involved in this movement.  Whether this is done by donating money or simply bring the topic up in conversation, each action is important.  Cultural understanding and sensitivity are crucial to this movement.  Imposing cultural beliefs about superiority are completely counterproductive, but there are many ways to work towards ending female genital cutting without coming off as imperialistic.

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