Vagina is not a bad word

Yes, I said it. Vagina.

People often think vagina is a bad word. It is not. Half of the world have vaginas, and the other half have penises. I cannot understand why we avoid talking about vaginas. When I am spending time with friends and I mention the word vagina they say, “June, stop! People can hear us!” It puzzles me how people can not deal with saying ‘vagina’. Ok, maybe I’ve said the word vagina too many times, but you get the point.

When I talk about Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), I often begin by saying that we are going to have a conversation about vaginas, fannies and muffs. FGM is the partial or total removal of a woman’s genitals for non-medical reasons and has life-long consequences on women and girls. FGM breaches at least 5 human rights of women and girls, and takes away a woman’s right to choose what happens to her body. In these cases, someone else has control over their vagina.

On 22 July, the UK government hosted the Girl Summit, a day to focus on ending FGM and Child, Early and Forced Marriage (CEFM). The Girl Summit brought together young people, ministers and change makers who made serious commitments to stop these heinous acts of violence. I was extremely happy to have attended the summit, and to be on the #YouthForChange panel. However, I am angry that it has taken this long for the government to take the issue of FGM seriously.

I am angry because we live in a society where discussing vaginas and FGM is simply not done. Thousands of girls in the UK alone have been subjected to this barbaric practice. I am angry that because we can not talk about vaginas and FGM in schools, many of my peers are still unaware that a practice like FGM exists. I am angry that because we can not talk about vaginas, we dismiss FGM as a ‘cultural’ practice that we do not need to interfere in. The idea that ‘culture’ could justify this practice horrifies me. If it was culture to chop of peoples’ ears or men’s penises, there would be worldwide uproar. Why is it any different when we are dealing with vaginas?

When I think about FGM, I think about how our patriarchal and misogynistic society allows the practice to continue. We are often reluctant to have conversations about women’s rights.

The Girl Summit was a landmark moment, a moment that when I first started talking about FGM three years ago, I did not think I would see.

We still have a lot to accomplish before we can end FGM and CEFM. Before we can talk about FGM properly, we can no longer see vagina as bad word.

Men must be involved in the conversation on vaginas and FGM too. The fact is, all men were birthed through a vagina but more importantly, men have daughters, sisters and wives. They need to understand why FGM is wrong and join the fight to stop it. We can not leave half of the population out of the discussion. Mothers do not cut their daughters because they want to, but because they want their daughters to be accepted in the society, especially by the men. If girls are not cut, they are ostracized in their communities.

FGM is a grave human rights violation that affects 140 million women and girls worldwide. It’s a practice that we need to stop in our generation.

There have been some amazing women already paving the way in the UK and worldwide: Efua Dorkenoo OBE, Naana Otoo-Oyortey, Leyla Hussein, Nimko Ali, Alimatu Dimonekene and young people such as Ifrah and Muna Hassan from Integrate Bristol. We are all standing as proud members of the Fanny Defence League (Female Defence League if you’re under 18) declaring that vagina is not a bad word. It it only when we no longer see vagina as a bad word that we can have honest conversations about FGM. FGM is not an issue that only affects women. FGM is everybody’s business and now is the time to act to end this practice in this generation.

Want to take action?

Cover Photo Credit: Judyboo, Flickr Creative Commons

Cutting Female Circumcision From Egyptian Culture

Written by C. Kott

Suhair al-Bata’a was once a 13 year-old Egyptian girl, described by her family as sweet and spirited. Today she lies in a tomb near the home she grew up in, after she died a year ago, while undergoing surgery for female genital mutilation (FGM).

Despite the fact that FGM was banned in 2008, it remains a common practice in Egypt. UNICEF reports that more than 90% of women in Egypt have undergone the procedure. This issue has the support of prominent political and religious groups.

FGM is perceived as an initiation into womanhood that defines a girl’s femininity and cleanses her of sexual impurity.

Individuals, activists and organizations hope that Suhair’s tragic death will create change for other girls. A landmark trial is underway with the potential to alter the face of Egyptian society.

Initially, Suhair’s family filed charges against the doctor who performed the operation. Later they dropped the charges, claiming Suhair was being treated for genital warts. Vengeance for Suhair might have ended there, had Reda al-Danbouki not intervened.

Human Rights Lawyer, Al Danbouki, Photo Credit: Al Danbouki
Human Rights Lawyer, al-Danbouki, Photo Credit: al-Danbouki

Al-Danbouki is an Egyptian human rights lawyer, as well as Founder and Executive Director of the Women’s Center for Guidance and Legal Awareness. As an activist for women’s rights and supporter of women’s health, he joined with Equality Now and Egypt’s state-run National Population Council to press charges against Suhair’s father and the doctor responsible for her death.

Though this is the first trial of its kind – FGM has never before been prosecuted in Egypt – al-Danbouki believes this is the beginning of change though he knows the struggle to ratify the practice will continue.

“People need to be educated more about it,” he says, “and the government needs to be pushed politically so they will take real action.” -al-Danbouki

Education campaigns have helped dozens of villages to become “FGM free.”

Al-Danbouki’s Women’s Center is leading the movement in education, fighting to give women the information they need to change their own lives.

A few months ago, following his successful partnership with Equality Now, al-Danbouki reached out to Honor Diaries, a women’s rights movement centered around the film by the same name, that breaks the silence on ‘honor violence’ against women and girls, seeking to put a stop to the human rights abuses they suffer.

Photo Credit: Honor Diaries
Photo Credit: Honor Diaries

Al-Danbouki contacted Honor Diaries through their Arabic Facebook page and in June, he coordinated the first major global screening of Honor Diaries in Arabic. The event, held in the city of Aga, north of Cairo, was a groundbreaking success, educating almost 70 women on the issues proliferated in cultures of honor.

The responses to the film were mixed. Some felt the film encouraged wives to rebel against their husbands, but many women were inspired, and declared a desire for more education so they could help the women in their communities.

The film’s goals go beyond the audiences affirmations. The real victory accomplished during the screening was creating awareness and a platform for conversation around these important, life-changing issues. The film sparked an intense discussion about violence against women, FGM, child marriage, honor crimes, the meaning of the word ‘honor’ in Middle Eastern culture and, most importantly, what can be done about these problems.

Al-Danbouki is birthing advocates and educators, and his success has inspired him to spread this medium of education further. The event was extensively and positively reported by local media, who quote al-Danbouki saying he plans to screen the film across Egypt, starting during Ramadan at the end of June, and put an end to these harmful practices.

Visit the Honor Diaries website to find out how you can be a part of this movement to change the lives of millions of women living under oppressive systems of honor.

Cover Photo Credit: DFATD/MAECD, ACDI/CIDA/David Barbour, Flickr Creative Commons

End Female Genital Mutilation: #FGMrose

My mother grew up in Sierra Leone, a country where 88 percent of girls undergo the process of female genital mutilation (FGM). But my mother was not cut. Her mother refused to allow her daughters to undergo the process, and members of their community shunned them. My grandmother was cursed by everyone and anyone and she was told her daughters were unclean and they would never find husbands.

FGM has stopped in my family, because of my grandmother’s bravery to stand up for what she knew was an act of violence.

Unfortunately, not all girls and women are as lucky. Worldwide, it is estimated that 140 million women and girls bear the scars of FGM.

FGM is defined as the partial or total removal of the genitalia of girls and young women for non-medical reasons. It commonly leads to infection, infertility and even death and is mostly carried out between infancy and age 15.

There are three types of FGM. FGM type 1 is when a girl’s clitoris is pricked or cut, damaging sexually sensitive skin. FGM type 2 is the partial or total removal of the clitoris and labia minora, and is also extremely painful and can be lead to infection. But by far, the worst form of FGM is FGM type 3, where a girl’s clitoris and labia majora are cut; she is sewn up and is left with a small hole. This hole is where she is expected to pass urine, menstruate, have sex and have a baby. The hole can sometimes be so small, that she has to be cut open before sexual intercourse. FGM can also lead to prolonged labour, which in turn can lead to obstetric fistula. When obstetric fistula occurs, women suffer from incontinence and are often ostracized in their communities.

My mother told me how FGM was celebrated in her community in Sierra Leone. The girl would dress up and she would be taken away deep into the bush with twenty or thirty Bundu women. Unaware about what was going to happen, the girl would be told to lie down and her legs would be held up firmly by some women. As FGM was being performed, the women would sing at the top of their voices, to block out her cries.

It took thirty singing women to silence the cry of one girl.

FGM is a grave human rights violation that has serious physical and psychological consequences for millions of girls and women worldwide. Women who undergo FGM are affected physically and psychologically, and it is a practice that leaves them scarred for the rest of their lives.

We must end FGM.

I joined Plan UK’s ‘Because I am a Girl’ campaign which aims to eradicate FGM, and you can too. The campaign aims to support four million girls to stay in school, so that they can fulfill their potential. By joining this campaign, you can help transform the lives of millions of girls worldwide. Join Plan UK in their fight to end this grave injustice against women and girls!

Take action!

Cover image c/o Plan UK

Speak Out Against Cutting

Written by: Jaha Dukureh


Photo Credit: Jaha Dukureh
Photo Credit: Jaha Dukureh

My name is Jaha Dukureh.

I am 24 years old.

I am a survivor of female genital mutilation (FGM).

I now live in Atlanta, Georgia, but when I was a baby in Gambia, my parents asked a family friend to perform the ritual on me. That day, I was robbed of a part of my femininity.  Since I have started speaking out against FGM, I have met many other girls who have been cut. Not all their stories are like mine.

Many of these girls are American.

They are girls who were born and live in the United States where nearly 200,000 girls are at risk of FGM. Yes, it is illegal, which is why many girls are subject to what is called vacation cutting. They are sent back to their parents’ home countries, where relatives arrange the ritual. Many of these girls are unaware of what is about to happen to them.

They are scarred and traumatised – physically and emotionally.

Girls are told the cutting ritual is a transition into womanhood. However, for the rest of their lives, they will struggle with pain and complications during their periods, sexual intercourse and childbirth. No girl should be subject to this pain.

When I first spoke out publicly against FGM, my family and friends were shocked and ashamed. They pressured me to stop. I almost gave into them. I was only one person – what could I accomplish?  I knew that no girl should be forced to cut her body. Although every day it happens to 6,000 girls.

I had to speak out.

I started a petition calling for an end to FGM in the United States. I have found inspiration in other brave women who have spoken out against this abuse and are taking action to create change. These brave women motivated me to join a rising campaign called Honor Diaries  a film and a movement whose aim is to stop the violence that women experience in the name of honor and tradition.

The courageous women in this film speak on behalf of their own issues and the struggles of so many women and girls. Through their support, I realize I cannot give up this fight.

We live in a free country. Why should these girls have less freedom than we do?

Why don’t more of us stand up and say something? The girls who undergo vacation cutting are not far away. They live in your neighborhood. These girls are your friends, classmates and colleagues.

We cannot remain silent while they suffer. Please watch Honor Diaries – the stories you will hear are sad and horrific. The women are hopeful and courageous. They will inspire you to get involved. Together we can make the world a better place for their daughters, my daughters and for your own.

Sign my petition here: End FGM Now

Cover Photo Credit: Heal the Cuts