Thursday, 22 October 2009

The Matrix and FGM....

I've recently read an FGM publication written by Nahid Toubia "A Global Call to Action."

The thing that stopped me in my steps though was a photograph of an infibulated seven year old Sudanese girl. I wish I could reproduce it here. I guess words will have to do.

All you see is her brown legs apart, lower down, the black star of her anus. Above this, a wider hole - almost like a belly button - some sort of orifice, puckered. Above that - nothing. Absolutely nothing - smooth smooth skin. Clearly she is too young to have pubic hair, but the pristine smoothness of this skin apalls and amazes me.

I mused with my friend Ben about it. He instantly hit on something: "it sounds like the body of an android" - that seemed to say it. De-sexed. Everything internal is intact (unless it is ravished by infection and succumbs to all of the health stresses that happen as a result of FGM) women are able to still have sex, still give birth, but everything in this area is now controlled by others.

My other analogy is a Barbie doll. And the smoothness of the plastic reminds me of the skin with no marks. Perhaps you may connect with a more modern analogy, which Julian told me of - Neo in the Matrix. The point where his mouth disappears and all that is left is the bold line of his face, mouthless. This is the same, but vulva-less.

The photograph haunts me. Worse, I go around showing it to everyone. I am lucky in my friends - they don't shy away - even Brett, the hairdresser in Smithfield, wants to know more, doesn't baulk from talking.

I realise I now might have to find a way of reproducing the photo.... will do my best.

I wanted to quote directly from her report:

"The thinking of an African woman who believes "FGM is the fashionable thing to do to become a real woman" is not so different from that of an American woman who has breast implants to appear more feminine. Presented below are some of the reasons given for FGM:

Female genitals are unhygienic and need to be cleaned
Female genitals are ugly and will grow to become unwieldy if they are not cut back
FGM is a fashionable thing to do to become a real woman

FGM is an intiation into womanhood and into the tribe
The noncircumcised cannot be married
FGM enhances the husband's sexual pleasure
FGM makes vaginal intercourse more desirable than clitoral stimulation

FGM improves fertility and prevents maternal and infant mortality

God sanctifies FGM

FGM safeguards virginity
FGM cures "sexual deviance" ie frigidity, lesbianism, sexual arousal.

None of the underlying messages and language used to justify FGM is unique to Africa. These messages reflect a universal language used to perpetuate women's second-class status and a re reminiscent of reasons given for slavery, colonialism and racism."

The whole report is well-written and I glean facts from it that I haven't done elsewhere - in particular, issues around the cutting and recutting around childbirth and "access" for marriage. It also talks about the recognition that whilst infibulation is seen as the pratice that has most impact health wise, this can leave clitoridectomies seeming almost acceptable. In fact, some communities "downgrade" to removing the clitoris.

This is a discussion I had with friends recently - one said that she felt that if the practice could be done more hygienically, by medical professionals, that this would make it much safer.

To me, this is anathema and indeed, Toubia points out that this is one of the gravest issues - if the practice is put into the hands of the medical profession and seen as helpful, then all of us advocates will be set back by at least 30 years. It will have been appropriated by the system, and there it will stay - wresting back control of women's bodies will be even harder than now.

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