I can’t remember anymore when it was when I first heard about FGM or female genital mutilation. It must have been rather late, in my early 20s, at university (on my side of the world this was one of the miseries that women did not have to endure). What I clearly remember, however, is what shaped my thinking about it. After reading The Color Purple I became fascinated with Alice Walker. So I started reading her books one by one, and I soon got to Possessing the Secret of Joy. I was amazed, shocked and appalled by Tashi’s story, who undergoes this dreadful ritual as an adult and then tries to get on with her life in America. Walker broke taboos and at the same time raised awareness of this practice in the Western world when she wrote the book in 1992.
A few years ago I moved to a part of Europe where the number of immigrants is quite high from Northern Africa, and from French-speaking countries of Africa. I also work in an environment where most of my coworkers have lived in developing countries for decades and worked on missions trying to “make the world a better place.” Many of them are doctors and many volunteer for various NGOs in their free time, so I have become much more closely exposed to this issue. One of them very actively took part in the European Campaign of Amnesty International to End FGM (as the immigrants from these countries bring their culture with them, there are about 180,000 girls at risk in Europe of undergoing FGM. Worldwide, 3 million girls undergo FGM every year.) Recently I took a class on Gender, Diversity and Politics at a Brussels university and some people argued there that if we want to fully respect and protect multiculturalism, then we should not intervene and advocate for the end of FGM. We should let people do things according to rules of their own culture. I disagree in this case, strongly. I tend to agree more with Alice Walker (and my colleagues): “Torture is not culture.”
This was only an intro to a video I stumbled upon on TED recently. It is a must see. The speaker, Kakenya Ntaiya made a deal with her father: She would undergo the traditional Maasai rite of passage of female circumcision if he would let her go to high school. Now she is changing the destiny of girls in her village by having built a school for them.