Why I believe the youth can End FGM

Earlier this year, during the 60th Commission on Status of Women (CSW) held in New York with the theme “Women’s empowerment and its link to sustainable development”, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) was for the first time included in the global goals under Sustainable Development goal 5. Target 5.3: Eliminate all harmful practices such as child, early/forced marriage and female genital mutilation. 

For the millions of girls currently at risk of FGM this new global goal brings the promise of a better future.

Globally, an estimated 100 Million to 140 Million girls alive today have undergone some form of FGM (UNFPA 2015). Unfortunately if the current trend continues, an estimated 15 Million girls between ages 15 and 19 will be subjected to female genital mutilation between now and 2030. Additionally millions of girls are currently suffering from the pychological effects due to the pain and shock as well as the physical effects of FGM such as fistula, difficulty during childbirth,HIV AIDS among others.

Eliminating FGM is a crucial step in achieving many of the other Sustainable Development Goals including targets on health and well-being, education, gender equality, decent work and economic growth. As the practice of FGM continues, the health/well-being of girls and women is threatened and they are denied opportunities for decent work and quality education.
This provision is also a great platform for the billions of the youth in the world campaigning against the practice.
Why the youth?

According to UNFPA2015, 1.8billion people between the ages of 10-24 constitute to the worlds population. These are great numbers that can push for desired change! I slightly fall out of this age gap but guess what?

We just got a great provision to enable us eliminate FGM in one generation. We are powerful in eradicating FGM since we are the Change agents, we are the revolutionists. A new beginning starts with us and a new world is definitely molded by us.
We are the voice and the driving force behind the developments to eliminate harmful customs and traditional practices within our generation.
We are the pacesetters; we set a trend that the next generation will follow, the future of the next generation is therefore destined in us. We are the blacksmiths of this current and future world, we can shape it the best way possible since we have the power and the ability to advocate for change.
We are the innovators, most creative ideas generate within us. We have the right technology that we can incorporate in our campaign to end FGM.
We have the energy to work, energy to lead, ability to influence decision making, ability to influence policy formation and law enforcement.
We have unique talents: ability to sing, write, draw, dance etc. We can use our various talents to drive Anti-FGM messages home.
We are the future leaders, doctors, midwives, social workers, and teachers. We are therefore supposed to take up the leadership roles now. We are practically the leaders of our nations. Let us use this power to direct and influence change.
It is necessary that we learn now why FGM and early child/forced marriages is wrong so that we can grow in a society that condemns these practices. Do we in the first place really know about the practice? How can we influence change without the knowledge? Let’s start by empowering ourselves with the right information through education. Education is key in eradicating these practices, we need to pioneer for interactive resources that can be used in a classroom setting, both formal and informal education, Mali, Kenya and Burkina Faso has done it. These way children do not accept FGM unquestionably as an inviolable tradition. Through education, young people learn to think for themselves and make decisions for themselves and future families.
We need to realize that we cannot work as stand-alone entities. Let’s come together, tap into available resources, converge all our unique talents and abilities, form a national movement that speaks with one voice and move with synergy towards eradicating FGM and other social malpractices. Let’s create a national dialogue, engage the key players and create relationships with all the activists and organizations campaigning against FGM .Our concerted effort can indeed wipe out the practice.
Let us not focus on teaching young people solely from FGM affected background; it is necessary to educate all young people. FGM is a human right abuse and therefore

“Everybody’s busines

Building a movement around Khatna

This is part 2 in a two-part series on FGM in India. Read Part 1 here

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) or “Khatna”, as it is referred to in India, is practised secretly among the Bohra community. Over the past year, several women from the community have spoken up about the practice while encouraging other women from the community to speak up as well.

I speak to Mariya Taher from Sahiyo, an organisation building a movement against Khatna on this issue and their work.

“More than a year ago, five women who felt strongly about the ritual of female genital cutting within the Bohra community came together to fight this practise. Each one of us had been working on the topic for many years,” Mariya said. Mariya is a social worker, activist and writer who lives in the United States.

The group includes a social worker, a researcher, two filmmakers and a journalist located in different parts of the world; and all of whom had already been speaking out against the practice of Khatna.

“As our collaboration grew, we realised the need for an organised, informed forum within the community that could help drive a movement to bring an end to Khatna. That is how Sahiyo, the organization, was born,” Mariya added.

Sahiyo is the Bohra Gujarati word for ‘saheliyo’, or friends. She said that the word reflected the organisation’s mission to engage in dialogue with the community to find a collective solution.

Working on collecting data

The silence around the practice in India among Bohra women and women of Indian origin who have experienced Khatna has led to very few details about the extent of Khatna. Sahiyo tackles this problem by first documenting the experiences and narratives of women, one story at a time.

“We realised that the way to end FGC was to build a movement from the ground up. This included first finding out how widespread it was amongst the community. There are no large scale studies at the moment. Only anecdotal evidence. This is all very important, but we knew to be able to really reach out to our community, we needed to carry out a type of needs assessment, this is why we carried out the first online survey on khatna in 2015,” Mariya notes.

However, there is growing evidence through the voices of women who have experienced Khatna that it is prevalent even among Bohra women who have migrated. “Hence, there was a need to ensure that we were focusing on how to stop the practice amongst Bohra regardless of where in the world they were. To carry out this work, we also understand the importance of community outreach and education,” she added.

Sahiyo through its work at the grassroots level is spreading awareness about the practice through dialogue, conversations, group discussions and seminars. They have also been providing peer counselling and informational support to families who are considering the practice, and have been able to provide women the needed psycho-social support by connecting them to appropriate social services such as counsellors or social workers.

“One of our core areas of work is building from the ground up. We have been working on community-driven awareness and advocacy initiatives aimed towards ending FGC, such as organising townhall discussions and dialogue with Dawoodi Bohra women, Dawoodi Bohra clergy, doctors and nurses, midwives and “traditional cutters”, media,” Mariya stated.

Backlash from the community

There is a fear of being excommunicated from the community for speaking up on the issue. However, Mariya feels positive about the progress the community is making. “We are increasingly receiving responses online from people who support the practice – people telling us that we are speaking out just to gain publicity or that we are interfering with religious traditions. Which in turn is actually a good thing, as earlier on in our work, people were silent in response to what we did. Now, the issue is known in the wider community, and the work around awareness raising that we are doing about FGC (Khatna) can’t be ignored. So, actually, their opposition is leading to further debates within the community about Khatna, which is a good thing.”

India Speaks Out on FGM and Sahiyo are running a campaign Each One, Reach One to break the silence against Khatna. You can support the work being done by Sahiyo by speaking up against Khatna or reaching out to someone you know who might have been subjected to the practice.

You can follow them on Twitter: @SpeakOutonFGM and @Sahiyo2016 and join the conversation.

Photos courtesy of Each One, Reach One.

Indian women speak out against FGM

This article is part 1 of a two-part series on FGM in India

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is traditionally known to be practised in 30 African countries. According to latest reports from international agencies like UNICEF, it is said that FGM has been done on at least 200 million girls.

I recently interviewed Masooma Ranalvi who began a campaign to encourage Indian women from the Bohra community to speak up against the practice. The practice is called Khatna locally and is classified as Type 1 FGM by the WHO. It is estimated that there are nearly 1.5 million Bohras globally who have undergone FGM but numbers on how many have been cut are still unavailable.

GG: I read about the campaign India Speaks Out on FGM through the article highlighting the petition in The Ladies Finger. Till I read this article, I had no idea that the practice existed in India. It is usually portrayed as an African issue. Your thoughts?

MR: Yes that’s true. It is India’s best kept secret. There is a reason behind it. We as Bohra women who were subject to it never spoke about the practice to anyone ever. It is an extremely secretive ritual and a shroud of silence around it. Beginning from the manner in which it is done, by deceit, by not even informing the girl child about what is to happen to her. And of course no information about the WHY of it. The pain and trauma resulting from this is repressed and suppressed and no one wants to reveal or talk about it.

Second factor is the shame behind talking about this. As women we have been taught never to talk about anything sexual, about our reproductive organs, our sexuality and sexual problems. Until we began to speak out in open. This has in turn inspired many women to do so.

GG: How long have you been working on this issue?

MR: Since last year.

[You can read her writing about her experience here]

GG: You have on multiple occasions spoken about your own experience of Khatna. You are also documenting the experiences of other Bohra women who have experienced it. Why do you think this is important?

MR: For one its important for women to speak out about it. It is cathartic. It helps release the anger, frustration, helplessness. Secondly, its important for the world at large to hear these stories of a hidden and secretive ritual that being carried on since centuries in our own backyard. This is your regular educated and savvy women, who are professionals, who do it to their daughters. Sometimes we need to show a mirror to ourselves, to see what and who we actually are. And finally and most importantly these stories are inspirational and help building solidarity with our other sisters and strengthen our anti FGM movement.

GG: What were the challenges you have faced while speaking up?

MR: The biggest challenge is to challenge the control of the clergy over the bodies and minds and lives of the adherents. The control is not just over the religious practices but over secular life as well. The control is deep and absolute and women or men who have even remotely challenged any practice have been threatened with repercussions. There is a strong and real fear of social boycott which has been used in the past to bring dissenters in line. Women fear for themselves and their families, their businesses and their social lives as well. The challenge for us is to break this fear psychosis and give them courage to speak out. Because this is a practice which harms us and our girls. We need to speak about it to banish it from our lives.

From February 6 (which is recognised as the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) by the United Nations General Assembly) to March 8 (International Women’s Day) India Speaks Out on FGM along with Sahiyo are running a campaign called Each One, Reach one.

GG: Through Each One, Reach One, what do you hope to achieve?

MR: The underlying principle behind it is to help break the silence now. The campaign aims to erase the secrecy around female circumcision and generate a healthy dialogue about it.During our  conversation, we want share stories about khatna: memories of the day when the cut was done, feelings and emotions towards the experience, the reasons given for the practice, the reasons behind the silence around the practice, the physical, psychological and sexual impact of the practice for women. A healthy conversation that is  respectful, rather than judgmental, moralistic or aggressive.

Apart from speaking out about Khatna, Masooma is also trying to draw the attention to the fact that United Nations doesn’t list India as a location where it is practised. This is a grave oversight and injustice to the women who it has been practised on and those who might suffer it. However the Sustainable Development Goals now make it mandatory for all countries to begin reporting on FGM. 

To help, Sign the petition to End FGM in India, and help spread the word and raise awareness! 

Featured image courtesy of India Speaks Out on FGM campaign. 

*Post has been edited to clarify the number of Bohra women estimated to have experienced FGM and to make a note of the SDG requirement to report on FGM. 

Zero Tolerance for FGM

This post is written by: Paula Kweskin, Human Rights Attorney and Documentary Filmmaker

Imagine a surgery performed with dirty instruments, without anesthesia, and no doctor. No one dresses your wounds and there are no follow-up appointments. This is not a description of a medieval medical procedure; it is a practice which takes place every six minutes around the world. 140 million girls and women have been affected by female genital mutilation (FGM), the cutting and/or removal of a girl’s genitalia in order to preserve her “honor” or “purity.”

FGM violates several human rights principles, including rights outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

FGM is not prescribed by any particular religion, and yet it is often advocated by religious and community leaders who believe the removal of a girl’s clitoris is necessary to ensure she marries well, brings honor to her family or clan, preserves her virginity and limits her sexual drive.

FGM is a horrific practice; it should never be excused by culture, religion, or tradition. Though the procedure may take moments, a girl is scarred for the rest of her life. She will likely endure serious physical and emotional trauma, including problems menstruating and urinating, complications during childbirth, and a higher risk of sexually-transmitted diseases.

FGM is primarily practiced in African countries, though women throughout the Middle East and parts of Asia have also been exposed to the practice.

And, while shocking to many, more girls than ever are at risk of the practice in the United States.

A recent report by the Center for Disease Control revealed that at least 500,000 women and girls are at risk of FGM in the United States. This number is up three-fold from a previous study conducted fifteen years prior. Experts attribute this rise to the increase in immigrants to the USA who practice FGM.

As activists and human rights advocates, we must be shocked into action by the half a million women who have undergone – or are at risk of – a barbaric practice in the US, and the hundreds of millions who suffer from it globally.

On this day – the International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM – please take a moment to educate yourselves and then share this video with your friends and family. It is a clip about the practice of FGM taken from my documentary film, Honor Diaries. Feel free to check out the full film on Amazon, iTunes, and Netflix.

Let’s educate ourselves and all work together to #endFGM this generation!​​

 

Cover Photo Credit: Fixers, Flickr Creative Commons