Warum “Information und Aufklärung” im Kampf gegen Genitalverstümmelung nicht zum Ziel führt – und wie sich der Westen damit zum Komplizen macht
2. November 2017

Although it might sound provocative, long-time experiences in Africa and Europe oblige us to reconsider the meaning of information and education within the process of FGM-abandonment.

While right from the start the main-focus was put on educating and informing the FGM-practicing communities about the harm that FGM causes – hoping that this would lead to accordingly abandon the practice, today’s reality is unmasking this idea as pure illusion!

Many Western-based organisations blindly insist on claiming that “if people understand that there is noting good within this tradition, they will stop” (Marianne Raven, CEO, Plan International Germany e.V.). Others at least admit that this strategy widely failed: Recently, the German GTZ conceded that “education about the health consequences does much more lead to FGM-medicalisation than to its abandonment.”

The World Health Organisation (WHO) had to raise the question why women, who are well-aware of the awful consequences of FGM, even those who officially campaign against the practice, continue to mutilate their children in spite of that.

The answer to that question does not only lie in the social pressure.

To find an answer to that question, the still widespread view, that FGM is a “traditional custom that people do for the girl’s best” must be put into question:

This view does not only label the people who perform and propagate FGM as uneducated and “not really knowing what damage they do”, but also offers an excuse and trivialises both the perpetrators and the practice itself.

Already in 1977, the Senegalese authoress Awa Thiam was contradicting this shortened perception by pointing out that there’s „an apparent wish to exculpate our elder women by alleging that they don’t have any science-based information about clitoridectomy. This is an underestimation…“ (Awa Thiam: „Die Stimme der schwarzen Frau“ Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag, Reinbek 1981, S. 61)

In 2007, the Egyptian FGM-Activist Riham Shebl vehemently answered back to the wrong image that continues to be created about FGM:

“For a long time FGM was associated with lack of education, a lower socio-economic background. This made it worse for upper- and middle-class women, because it became a double stigma; they were not only circumcised, but are also like the poor and the uneducated…”In 2000, a study run by the African Women’s Organisation in Vienna underlines that people, who are well-aware about the consequences of FGM, are far away from the step to abandon it: 75% of the interrogated immigrants who live in Austria now were in favour of FGM-continuation – although the number of those who confirmed to know the devastating effects was not considerably lower!

Her colleague Vivian Morqos unmasks the active involvement especially of educated Elites in perpetuating the violent practice:

“..75 per cent of those in the medical field are the ones practising it, though it was Ali Ibrahim, a doctor, who first lobbied for banning FGM/ C in Egypt back in 1928”

“Incomplete information, unprofessional opinions and the notion that the practice is limited to grassroots communities are all instances of irresponsible misinformation.” (Al-Ahram Weekly, January 2007)

In the last centuries, Female Genital Mutilation has been spread to countries and populations which cannot be considered “traditional clan-people”, but who adopted FGM for the same identic reason that can be found in all FGM-practising communities: to oppress and control women’s sexuality in a society where general discrimination and marginalisation of female human-beings is legitimate. Such countries are Iraq, Malaysia, Indonesia – and more recently, the number of hints increases, that even in Central Europe – in Bosnia – FGM is on advance.

Yet, it might be more comfortable or more “politically correct” for Western Organisations and politicians to hold on the illusion that the cause of FGM can be found in lack of education or knowledge and therefore can be eliminated by education.

But day by day and year by year, the ones who have to pay the price for this obvious error, are thousands of little girls who are submitted to that inhuman treatment in full awareness about its consequences.

The time is overdue to finally recognise the true nature of Female Genital Mutilation as a particular, specific kind of violence against female children.

Once we start to analyse the Systematic of that violence, we can find conclusive and logical answers to the – until now – helplessly asked question:

”Why do people continue to mutilate their children in full awareness of the consequences?”

The psychological mechanisms which take effect can be compared with those appearing in “classical forms of violence” which are passed within families from one generation to the other, for example sexualised violence against children within families.

By understanding Female Genital Mutilation in conjunction with „inter-generational violence“, it gets clear that women do not mutilate their daughters although they have been victims themselves – but because of that.

This comprehension leads to a necessary change of priorities: The highest priority must be put on breaking through the fatal circle of violence by consequently stopping girls from becoming victims of FGM.

The responsibility for that clearly lies in each government’s hands. Our European governments have to implement efficient measures that cover all potential FGM-victims and lead to true and measurable protection of the girls.

This includes consequent identification and prosecution of the perpetrators.

There are consequent and efficient strategies that could lead to a measurable end of Female Genital Mutilation in Europe even in three years – they just need to be applied.

These strategies set entirely new standards and will become a criterion, how serious European governments, politicians and NGOs the problem of FGM honestly take…

(c) Ines Laufer 2010

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