This is in response to your valuable and justified thoughts on the advocacy methods employed by anti-FGM activists, as shared in the editorial of the 13 October 2014 edition of your esteemed newspaper.
May I first of all join you in commending “Think Young Women” and “Safe Hands for Girls” for putting together a timely forum at the Paradise Suites Hotel in a bid to deliberate on the FGM discourse which is seemingly an over-worked topic but which is still defiantly looming over our societies.
This contribution of the aforementioned organisations towards the ultimate eradication of the hazardous practice in question has indeed been counted by some of us as a worthy move.
Nonetheless Mr Editor, the point raised by you regarding the debatable methodology employed by such activists, even though well-meaning, was one that I found very timely since I have equally been bothered by this shortcoming in the usual approach of anti-FGM advocates.
Indeed the big question has always been whether the tremendous efforts of activists in the direction of combating FGM have essentially yielded the anticipated degree of dividend. Or rather how commensurate are the successes gained to the intensity of advocacy efforts geared towards the circumvention of the FGM dilemma? This is not to say that some amount of success has not been registered so far. To insinuate this would be unrealistic and unfair. Already the removal of the veil of secrecy that once shrouded this questionable practice in itself is a significant breakthrough apart from the fact that a good many previous adherents have already or are gradually giving up the practice.
These achievements are in fact what I have sometimes tried to take solace from yet taking a keen look at related developments it has dawned on me that this is a mere cold-comfort. Like you rightly questioned, Mr Editor, “Why is it that after a long time of advocacy against FGM, it still persists with such intensity?”
Such a situation thus is obviously indicative of the fact that there is the need for us to go back to our drawing boards to see what we have left out and subsequently re-design our anti-FGM campaign strategies.
As you highlighted, Mr Editor, the issue in question is one that is far more complex than we may want to imagine. The act of FGM does not stand in isolation but is rather firmly rooted in religion (or at least religion is being used as a trump card in its defense), and tradition. This is why I would buttress your stance that a situation of this nature demands, “home-based scholarly research materials and advocacy tools that are compatible with our local reality”.
In other words we must be able to have a deeper understanding of the phenomenon at hand and ultimately unearth the reality that FGM is merely a tip of the iceberg and that there are those elements underneath, namely religion(so to speak), and tradition, which are fully engaged in supporting and holding the said practice in place. This is in fact why if sensitisation initiatives are not able to first of all target and transform the mindset of the custodians of traditional and religious beliefs then our strategies would only be equated with an attempt to terminate a river along its course or even its mouth instead of its very source!
In the simplest language the religious and traditional custodians like chiefs, Imams, Reverends, female traditional initiators and so forth should be brought on board as full-fledged partners in the struggle to eliminate this social threat. This show of cultural-sensitivity would be a bottom-up approach and one which is often more appropriate for social challenges like FGM for example.
If this suggested approach is not given due consideration it will be virtually impossible for us to reach our goal and sad to say, our conferences, seminars and workshops might only end up as mere talk-shops! It is also of prime significance that this should be carried out with empathy and respect so that we do not end up antagonizing the very people whose cooperation we so direly need in order to make an impact.
Religious leaders are to be enlightened about the fact that the practice in question is not an instruction per se in any religious doctrine and the eyes of the custodians of our tradition should be opened to cultural relativism: that is to say, culture was established by us human beings to serve in our best interest and not the other way round. If therefore they are found to have lost their relevance or serving as an impediment, then it ought not to be seen as sacrilege if we re-visit, modify or if need be, overhaul those aspects of our culture which are not productive while upholding those which are meaningful.
Most importantly the women should know that history has it that this practice was not their creation and from all indications it was not meant to be in their favour. At best therefore FGM should be seen as a mere surreptitious tool of patriarchy, nicely parceled and handed over to women as if it was their initial idea!
Moreover we should be aware of the fact that the usual outcry for cultural authenticity (by those who see the opposition of FGM as cultural imperialism), would be baseless if the said practice is in reality not in our favour.
To conclude, Mr Editor, I wish to reiterate my most sincere appreciation for this very thoughtful and valuable contribution of yours towards this all-important subject.
Ola T Johnson
Universal Peace Federation (UPF)
‘Ambassador for Peace’]]>