Saturday, 6 February 2016

FGM Zero tolerance Day - back to basics


The history of FGM is not well known, but the practice dated back at least 2000 years. It is known when or where the tradition of FGM originated from. Some believe it was practised in ancient Egypt as a sign of distinction amongst the aristocracy. Some believe it started during the slave trade when black women entered ancient Arab societies. Some believe the practice developed independently among ethnic groups in Sub Saharan Africa as part of entry into womanhood.

The Romans performed a technique involving slipping of rings through the labia majora of female slaves to prevent them from becoming pregnant.  The Scoptsi sect in Russia performed FGM to ensure virginity. Historically FGM was practised by UK and US gynaecologist to cure women of so called ‘female weaknesses’.

In some parts of Africa it is valued as a rite of passage to womanhood (Kenya, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, Ghana and some parts of Nigeria).

Other countries see this practice as a means of preserving a girl’s virginity (Sudan, Egypt, Somalia and Ethiopia).  In Sierra Leone and Senegal for example, female genital mutilation provides a social status and therefore a critical component of female identity.

Alternatives to FGM

How then can the above be done without cutting?

  • In the Gambia (Tolston – Wolof meaning breakthrough) involves an 18 months community education programme that addresses hygiene, women health, human rights and problem solving. Once again this involves whole communities.
  • It is important to tailor interventions very specifically to the communities in which FGM is practised. Because it is an ancient and valued custom, practices are often very specific to communities or ethnic groups.
  • Older women should always be included in discussing alternative rites of passage to womanhood as they uphold old customs.
  • Cutting girls is illegal in most African countries but this practice still takes place in the 21st Century. Any significant change to attitudes works well if developed in partnership with the members of FGM practising communities and not be perceived as a threat to a people’s culture.
Find out what works well with specific communities rather than give orders

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

One Woman, all Women?

For many women, problems of nationality, class and race are inextricably linked to their specific oppression as women. In many instances gender equality must be accompanied by changes in other fronts.

Since the issue of 'women' became important to the global political and social agenda in the 1960's, the question of whether we can legitimately speak about women as a group has been an important one. Within one country, the differences between individual women are determined by their social background,class, education, ethnicity and age. The experiences of a black single mother living in an inner city area may have little in common with those of the wife of a wealthy white suburban banker.
How can the term 'sisters' or gender equality  be used with anything other than irony in the face of the hierarchical structure that exist between different women?

Women are oppressed not only by their gender but by their caste and colour etc, sharing these oppressions with men from similar social groups. But if poor men are doubly oppressed by their colour and class, poor women experience a 'triple yoke of oppression'.

In order to understand gender in the struggles against other forms of oppression in developing world, we have to understand more about the legacy of hierarchy and inequality left by colonisation and some of the post colonial institutions including gender relations.

Food for thought!

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Female Genital Mutilation and prosecutions in the UK



The UK cannot boast a single conviction for FGM, compared to the 100 plus recorded in France. Why is this? Part of the answer might lie in the nature of the two legal systems – the inquisitorial in France, and the adversarial in Britain.

In short, the aim of the French system is to establish the truth. By contrast, the truth is not relevant to the outcome of a British criminal trial, (or a criminal trial in any country where the adversarial system is practised.)

The French system is based on a presumption of guilt. The process is investigative and works backwards from that premise. In the adversarial system, all investigation has taken place before the case has come to trial, after which, two counsels engage in a contest played according to certain rules.

The onus is on the prosecuting counsel to prove the guilt of the defendant, ”beyond reasonable doubt”, and the defendant is presumed innocent. This is one of the cherished features of our system, frequently commended as a liberty that we should be proud of. But investigations into miscarriages of justice tend to begin from the premise that the guilty verdict was correct and work backwards, finding the essential flaw as it proceeds, i. e. follow the French model.

I suspect that the adversary system is as likely to let the guilty go free as it is to condemn the innocent. The daughter of a well known Scottish barrister once told me of the occasion when her Father was greeted with the words,”You almost had me believing I didnae do it”, by a notorious Glaswegian hoodlum that he had just successfully defended!
 
My opinion!

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Female Genital Mutilation V Male Circumcision



There is always a problem when people do compare things that should not be compared. In this case I mean FGM and MGM and I am realising each time I say FGM must end, then someone would say how about MGM. I never said MGM is good but comparing the two, FGM mutilation is the worst and here is why.

Frankly, the commonly performed version of male circumcision isn’t as serious as many of the widely performed FGM practices. Yes, removal of the foreskin causes harm and, despite claims to the contrary, has no detectable medical benefits, but FGM often goes far further. Leaving aside the horrible pain that the severe mutilation of a structure as sensitive as the clitoris causes (to have anything approaching a point of comparison, don’t think of removal of the foreskin, think instead of someone cutting a chunk out of your glans) The scarring of the woman’s genital tract can easily result in Obstetric fistula and complications in pregnancy or birth, assuming that the victim does not die soon after the initial mutilation occurs due to blood-loss or secondary infection.

In some forms of FGM, the entire clitoris and most of the labia are excised in their entirety, and the vaginal opening sewn shut except for a small aperture left for urine and other bodily secretion, until the victims wedding night, when the stitching is either cut or ripped open. The level of physical and emotional trauma the victims suffer is hard to imagine.

Then there is the social context of the respective behaviours. Removal of the male prepuce, while painful, disturbing and entirely unnecessary, is viewed primarily as a form of rite of passage – a means of identifying the victim as part of the in group. While these elements also feature in FGM, the symbolism goes far further. The labia and clitoris are removed in a bid to destroy the victim’s ability to experience sexual pleasure, as an expression of the utter contempt that the cultures and religions that perform this horrific abuse hold women and female sexuality in. It is believed that by removing these structures, women will not be ‘tempted’ to take charge of their own sexuality. Further, some cultures believe that by excising the seat of female sexual pleasure you also remove a component of the woman’s free will, thus rendering her more biddable. It is a twisted attempt at sympathetic-magic-based mind-control.
 

Finally, there is in some ways the most horrific and repugnantly misogynist component of all – in no small degree FGM is performed in pursuit of the aesthetic preferences and perceived convenience of the men of these cultures. It is a concrete expression of the idea within these societies that women aren’t actual people at all – that they exist as mere chattel for men, to be used for the pleasure and gratification of men and discarded at the whim of men.
Given all these factors, comparing male circumcision and FGM as somehow equivalent is highly inappropriate, and may easily be interpreted as an attempt to dismiss the suffering, and silence the voices, of women by means of a wilfully facile comparison to a superficially similar cultural rite that doesn’t cause anything approaching the same level of physical harm or carry the same toxic social baggage.

Think again and help us end female genital mutilation.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

When does a joke go too far in the workplace?



"Why are you so uptight? It was just a joke…" is not funny when it comes to sexual harassment.

 

In 2005, I was working in a school along with a whole lot of other colleagues, male and female. I was 28 and getting on with my job which I was leaving in a matter of weeks to go abroad for further studies.

One particular male colleague was the flirty type, even though he was married with kids. Unfortunately, he hung around with another female colleague, who used to love dressing provocatively, banter with the men and enjoyed their suggestive comments and looks.

I think he thought his behaviour was fully condoned by hanging out with this woman on coffee breaks, etc.

So one day, he asked me if I had a stick of Pritt glue which he could borrow. I was working on something on my computer and in a distracted way I rummaged in my drawer and let him have a stick of glue.

A few minutes later, he returned the stick of glue, and asked me, “So where do you want me to put it?” The ambiguity was totally lost on me at that moment, as I was still concentrating heavily on my work.

I said something like, “I don’t know, just put it anywhere.”, as I opened the drawer of my desk for him. 

Suddenly, he bursts out laughing and couldn’t stop snickering, and then rushed off to another male colleague a few desks away and I heard him recounting the story to this other guy:

“She doesn’t mind where you stick it in, front or back, it is all the same to her.” They started laughing and snickering even more.

I was so angry and humiliated when I realised what had happened.

 
I walked up to them and told them that it wasn’t funny at all, and of course I got the usual reply, “Why are you so uptight? It was just a joke.” and “M would have laughed and found it funny.” (M is the provocative dressing co-worker).

I told the perpetrator of this harassment that I did not appreciate the sexual undertone of his joke, and being the subject of their joke and having them laughing at my expense.

 
There was no remorse or apology, just a blatant insistence that I was the one in the wrong.  I reported the incident to the owner of the business, who was not impressed. 

Fortunately, they were quite progressive in their outlook and did not condone this guy’s behaviour at all. I was involved in a hearing with this guy and the management, where I recounted what had happened word for word. 

 
The guy still tried to make light of everything, but I could see that he did not feel so sure of himself any more. Since I was leaving,  I let the matter rest. I knew that this guy would be a lot more careful around me in future, but that other women would probably have to continue to watch their back while he was around.

He didn’t last for much longer in the company, management was not happy with his work and a year or two later, he resigned from the company.

 

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Female Genital Mutilation and Women Rights


Every 10 seconds, somewhere in the world, a little girl is a victim of genital mutilation. Three million girls are excised every year. Together we have to be able to put an end to this human tragedy. Excision is a matter of universal concern. The issue of female genital mutilation has been on the agenda of organizations for many years.

Despite the fact that FGM causes pain and suffering to millions of women and girls and can be life-threatening, it remains deeply entrenched in certain social value systems. Changing this reality to bring about positive and protective social behaviour requires a holistic and integrated approach with harmonized programmes of action to achieve the common goal of Zero Tolerance to FGM.


To combat FGM, a synergy among international organizations, political and religious leaders, the media, civil society and the medical corps is absolutely necessary for the goal of abandoning this practice within a generation to become reality.

The international community has long expressed its rejection of this extreme manifestation of gender inequality, notably through international instruments, such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and regional instruments, such as the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Its Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa.

Only a strong and international alliance will enable us to put an end without delay to such practices

One of the most important elements of international human rights law is that the State and only the State has responsibility for upholding those rights. It is not left to individuals. What the State must do is ensure that through its actions it prevents individuals from committing human rights violations. It is one of the most fundamental precepts of international law.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Female Genital Mutilation and the Journey ahead






Have you ever wondered why, with FGM having been so much in the limelight in the last 5 years, there have not been any prosecutions in Britain?

 

A conversation I had recently with somebody I know in the anti FGM sisterhood ended in disappointment. She clearly thinks that because so much attention has been paid to FGM in the news of late, there is no longer any need to do anything. WRONG! Actually now is when we need to do more. Since there has been more awareness raised, more and more people who believe in this practice will now go underground. It has been known throughout history that people engaged in whatever practise will try to find a way of acting in secret if they are forced to do so by legislation. So let’s be vigilant and not fool ourselves into believing that the work has been done.

 

Remember this is not the first time FGM awareness has been raised.