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Survivors Speak Out to End Genital Mutilation

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 9 2016 (IPS) - “I had no identity, I didn’t know who I was, I didn’t know what I was going to do, I didn’t know what my place was in society because of what I went through,” Inna Modja said while recounting her experience with female genital mutilation (FGM).

FGM, which consists of procedures involving partial or total removal of female external genitalia, is a deeply ingrained cultural practice with devastating medical, psychological, and social consequences for young girls and women, as well as for their families and communities.

While speaking to IPS, Modja, a young musician from Mali, told her story of undergoing FGM against the will of her parents. “My mom was out and when she came back, my grandmother’s sister took me and cut me, so it was a terrible moment for my family,” she described. She was just four years old.

Modja is one of millions of girls and women around the world who have had and continue to experience FGM. According to a report by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), approximately 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone the harmful practice in 30 countries. UN agencies including the World Health Organisation have described FGM as an extreme form of discrimination against women.

Though more governments have increasingly outlawed FGM, the cultural practice remains strong in many communities. To discuss and raise awareness of the issue, Modja was one of the speakers at a UN high-level event marking the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation.

“It took a lot away from what I could achieve as a teenager…cutting me was telling me I was not good enough,” she told delegates.

When asked what her biggest challenges were, Modja told IPS that it was those who strongly believe in traditions and do not want change.

“I once was brutally assaulted by a family of a girl I was taking care of because she had surgery to repair her mutilation and she was staying at my place. And her brother and dad assaulted us both,” she recounted. “I think traditions are great when they’re not harmful like FGM,” she continued.

In Mali, 89 percent of women and girls experience FGM.

Also speaking at the event, “Mobilizing to Achieve the Global Goals Through the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation by 2030” organized by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and UNICEF, was Keziah Bianca Oseko, a FGM survivor from Kenya.

She was eight years old when she experienced FGM. “The scar still remains fresh in me,” Oseko said in a blog post. She described that in her village, all girls had to undergo the practice.

“I didn’t have any option but to follow the community traditions and it’s the community that dictates, not you,” she continued.

The practice of FGM is not isolated to African communities. In Indonesia, more than half of girls under the age of 12 have undergone some form of FGM.

Patricia Tobón, a lawyer from Colombia and another panelist, said about the prevalence of FGM among the Emberá indigenous community. The practice, which many thought did not exist in the country, came to light in 2007 following the deaths of two newborn Emberá girls.

Tobón said that though legislation banning FGM is important, working at the community grassroots level and promoting dialogue is essential to ending the harmful practice.

Modja and Oseka echoed similar sentiments. “It’s going to be from villages to villages, from countries to countries, it’s going to be the fieldwork that is going to make the difference,” she told IPS while stressing the importance of speaking directly to families to change attitudes to FGM.

Oseka also highlighted the need to include boys and men in the conversation, stating: “If they stand up and speak about it, we can make a milestone in ending FGM.” “We are together in this,” Oseka remarked, looking over to Modja and then to participants.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) includes a commitment to eliminate all harmful practices, including FGM.

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