Monday, 2 May 2016

"OUT" Poetry Collection coming soon







While working on my next poetry collection in English, I've decided to collect here six of my latest poems. In this special edition they are presentend along with the Art of a young visual artist, IKI. It was fun enough to work together. Iki loves to explore the boundaries between reality and dream so in a way it suits my words which describe situations, feelings, events that are somehow at the margin, OUT of the mainstream.


The poems are personal reflections on identity, boundaries, taboos, prejudices and some came out from unfolding memories of the past and aknowledging how the past informs our present. Some have been inspired by events and experiences that somehow had a personal impact.

If you want to purchase come back here in a week .
Soon on Amazon.
OUT is published by  an indipendent imprint Kabiliana Press.



Thursday, 28 April 2016

Agli editori Italliani

Una riflessione indirizzata agli editori italiani.
Probabilmente non dovrei rivolgermi a tutti in modo generico, ma lo faccio anche per offrire uno spunto di riflessione. Agli editori ai quali ho sottoposto il mio libro sulle Mutilazioni Genitali Femminili e che mi hanno scritto, ho risposto in privato.

Molti scrittori sanno che un nuovo libro è ogni volta un'esperienza diversa anche per quanto riguarda la ricerca di un editore. Il fatto che tu abbia pubblicato otto libri con altri editori non ti da la garanzia che il nono abbia la strada già spianata o una porta già aperta. Su questo non ho nulla da ridire, del resto chi fa lo scrittore lo fa perché ama farlo indipendentemente dalla pubblicazione, almeno nel mio caso è così. Ci sono tuttavia delle eccezioni, ci sono libri che nascono per essere pubblicati.
Quattro anni fa ho lavorato con un collettivo di donne in Sudafrica con cui ho realizzato una performance sul tema delle Mutilazioni Genitali Femminili (per dettagli si veda nel sito). Due anni fa ho messo insieme tutto il materiale del collettivo, le mie ricerche cominciate molti anni prima del collettivo, il risultato dei miei incontri con attivisti, sopravvissute e artisti in giro per il mondo che sono quotidianamente impegnati nel sensibilizzare sull'argomento. Inizialmente avevo trovato un piccolo editore a cui la tematica interessava, che aveva in mente di sviluppare un ambizioso progetto di una edizione in tre lingue, il risultato è sfociato in una totale mancanza di professionalità e puntualità, quindi ho declinato la collaborazione.
In una seconda fase, ho cominciato a inviare il libro ad altri editori (tra cui anche a quelli con cui ho lavorato in passato) che hanno collane di saggistica su temi sociali. Le risposte sono state gratificanti: "complimenti per il libro", "apprezzo la completezza del libro che mi ha permesso di conoscere aspetti inediti sull'argomento che ignoravo", "il suo lavoro è meritevole", "congratulazioni, il libro è accurato e coraggioso" etc...
Per contro il senso finale di alcuni di questi messaggi è: nonostante il libro sia "pregevole", "interessantissimo", "notevole e ben curato", "non trova spazio nell'editoria italiana perché occorrerebbe "un investimento" che solo un grande editore potrebbe fornire se mai volesse farne diventare un caso dell'anno strumentalizzando così la tematica."  Ho riflettuto e c'è un solo modo perché un libro sulle MGF  possa diventare un "caso letterario" in Italia: essere una donna mutilata. Se fossi stata una migrante proveniente da un paese dove si praticano le MGF e avessi scritto un'autobiografia (magari con l'aiuto di un ghost writer, cosa che accade) parlando della mia mutilazione allora un editore avrebbe potuto investire del denaro e ricavarne/costruirne un bestseller. Preciso che non sono contro questo tipo di libri, anzi sono felice quando donne sopravvissute alle MGF riescono a parlarne e a condividere la loro esperienza, a far sentire la loro voce per cambiare la società in cui sono cresciute. Chi meglio di loro conosce il dolore e la sofferenza che portano sul loro corpo e sulla loro mente? Ho alcune amiche in diversi paesi che lo hanno fatto e hanno avuto successo, meritatissimo. Del resto il mio lavoro consiste anche in questo, come nel lavoro del collettivo sudafricano, aiutare chi ha subito un trauma a usare l'arte/la parola come strumento per affermare la propria identità superando il silenzio e spezzando il tabù che spesso avvolge diverse forme di violenza come le mutilazioni. Una donna sopravvissuta alle MGF che condivide la sua esperienza,  scrivendone sta aiutando qualcun' altra a trovare il coraggio di uscire allo scoperto e denunciare la pratica. 
Il mio punto è un altro. Un tema così importante non dovrebbe essere strumentalizzato, da un editore per di più ( mi viene da pensare che in Italia anche la politica lo ha strumentalizzato a suo tempo).
Ci sono vari modi di presentare l'argomento: attraverso un'autobiografia come ho detto poc'anzi, un saggio antropologico (poco fruibile però alla maggior parte dei lettori) o anche un percorso artistico. Nel mio libro ho cercato di mettere insieme le voci di chi ha vissuto questa esperienza e il mio percorso artistico con donne mutilate e colleghi impegnati a "tradurre" in arte il dolore, la sofferenza ma anche il coraggio di dire di NO a questa pratica, per far sì che l'argomento sia facilmente fruibile da tutti. Un libro che vuole essere uno strumento formativo e informativo, una lettura sul potere dell'arte come strumento per superare i traumi e affermare la volontà dei cambiamenti sociali e culturali.  Un libro che permette di esplorare il tema delle MGF in un quadro più ampio,  attraverso le testimonianze dirette di chi viene da comunità che praticano le MGF, attraverso gli artisti che in diverse arti danno voce a chi non ce l'ha, attraverso il lavoro poetico e teatrale di chi è sopravvissuto alle MGF e ha trovato nella parola, nella musica, nel cinema, nella pittura un mezzo per creare impatto e scuotere il pensiero dominante patriarcale che "giustifica" le MGF.

In Italia l'argomento delle MGF interessa pochissimi editori, i pochi libri che esistono sono perlopiù saggi antropologici che non si rivolgono certo a un pubblico vasto di lettori.
Rispetto ad altri paesi europei sicuramente l'Italia ha un tasso di donne mutilate o a rischio di mutilazione più basso. In Italia i grandi media parlano raramente delle MGF a meno che non si tratti di qualche evento drammatico. I piccoli media indipendenti online si sforzano un po' di più! (Mai abbastanza).
Nonostante tutto questo le MGF sono un argomento che ci riguarda tutti. Il fatto che l'Italia sia un paese di forte immigrazione da paesi dove le MGF vengono praticate,  dovrebbe essere un indicatore certo.
Mi piace citare la scrittrice ed educatrice statunitense Rudine Sims Bishop che afferma che i libri devono essere specchi e finestre. I libri diventano specchi quando sono in grado di far scattare un processo di identificazione nel lettore (il lettore si vede rappresentato, acquista una voce), i libri sono finestre quando presentano mondi, idee, esperienze, culture, tematiche  diverse.
Secondo questo assunto le 35/40.000 donne mutilate e a rischio di mutilazione in Italia hanno il diritto di essere rappresentate e al contempo tutti gli altri di poter aprire una finestra su una tematica importante e urgente.

Mettendomi nei panni di un editore, direi che bisogna avere il coraggio di fare delle scelte diverse dalla tendenza e in base a queste scelte fare in modo che l'argomento scelto raggiunga un numero sempre più vasto di lettori. Non si può pensare che un argomento di importanza sociale nazionale e internazionale abbia l'approvazione solo se è in grado di scatenare un "caso" e quindi numeri ragguardevoli. I numeri si costruiscono sui contenuti, ci vuole impegno, dedizione, passione, intuizione e coraggio.

Ho diverse amiche scrittrici, femministe, plurilaureate appartenenti a "minoranze"  in giro per il mondo che, per vedere affermato il diritto di rappresentanza  (ed esempio afroamericani, latini, lgbti, salute mentale, immigrati) negato dagli editori mainstream, hanno deciso di non mollare e hanno creato un loro marchio imprint e permesso a tanti lettori di conoscere il loro lavoro discriminato per una ragione o per l'altra.  Chiaramente non riescono a trovare spazio sulle grandi testate per interviste, segnalazioni, recensioni, né possono partecipare a premi letterari, ma la rete, in lingua inglese soprattutto,  è vasta e lo spazio perché il loro lavoro sia visibile, lo trovano.
Quindi ho pensato anche io a nuove strade.

Aggiungo che quando si tratta dei media, le cose non sono migliori. Quando parlano di MGF avviene perlopiù per mettere in risalto la notizia di una bambina morta dissanguata come conseguenza della pratica. I toni sono quasi sempre pregiudizievoli e poco inclusivi, anziché avvicinare chi vive in comunità praticanti le MGF a considerare l'opportunità di spezzare il silenzio su questa pratica, li allontana. 
Al riguardo insieme ad un team internazionale di attivisti a vario livello sto preparando una lettera, tradotta in molte lingue,  indirizzata ai media di tutti i paesi dove si fa una esplicita richiesta affinché l'approccio alle MGF sia inclusivo, dia spazio a chi vuole opporsi alla pratica senza paura di essere giudicato e contribuisca a diffondere notizie positive di chi lavora ogni giorno per far vedere un mondo libero da questa pratica.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Reflections on ending FGM within the BOHRA Community

Sahyio 

Since it was founded Sahyio has made history within the Bohra community for having inspired and encouraged many Bohra women and men to speak against khatna. Her my conversation with the five co founders of Sahyio: Priya Goswami (filmaker), Insia Dariwala (filmaker), Aarefa Johari (journalist), Shaheeda Tavawalla Kirtane (researcher), Mariya Taher (social worker).



Three members of the Bohra community in Australia were recently convicted for performing FGM on two little sisters, bringing to global attention continued existence of the condemned practice among this global community whose origins is India. Five Bohra women are working hard to end this practice, as they discuss in this interview.
It was little known, until recently, that Female Genital Mutilation is practiced also in India. The only known community who performs it is the Dawoodi Bohra, a sub-sect of Ismaili Shia Islam, who trace their roots back to the Fatimid Dynasty of Yemen in the 11th century. It is estimated that its population is between one and two million, half of whom live in India and the rest in the diaspora. A sizeable community lives in East Africa.
One of the traditions that the Bohras carry is khatna, Female Genital Mutilation. Normally performed on girls at the age of 7, khatna is meant to moderate a woman’s sexual urges preventing her from having pre-marital or extra-marital sexual affairs.
Known as a well-educated community that empowers women as well, the Bohras differ from other Shia Muslims, having their own practices and traditions. They are the only known Muslim community in India who perform khatnaand they have never been outspoken about it, at least not much until three members of the community based in Australia were recently prosecuted for having performed FGM on two little sisters. This event has helped other Bohras to take a stand and become open to discuss the issue.
In 2012 Indian activist Tasleem started a petition on the platform Change.org to ask the late Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin, the religious leader of the community, to put a ban on khatna. Later last year another petition End FGM in India collected almost 50,000 signatures.
In 2012, Indian filmmaker Priya Goswami was awarded the National Film Award for her film A pinch of skin, aboutkhatna within the Bohras. Later last year together with Insia Dariwala (filmaker), Aarefa Johari (journalist), Shaheeda Tavawalla Kirtane (researcher), Mariya Taher (social worker), she has co-founded Sahyio, a nonprofit organization to address FGM within the Bohra community and widely in other communities in South East Asia.
Sahyio (www.sahyio.com) is the Bohra Gujarati word for Saheliyo, meaning friends. The name reflects the organization’s mission to engage in dialogue with the community to find a collective solution towards ending khatna.
Since it started its public activity Sahyio has launched several campaigns which have raised a public dialogue onkhatna among the Bohras. This February Sahyio launched Each One Reach One (EORO) campaign in which one woman reaches another one talking openly about khatna and her experience undergoing it. The campaign gained success inspiring many women worldwide to share their experiences of khatna.
More recently Sahyio promoted the I Am Bohra Photo Campaign where Bohra members are invited to post on social networks and media their photo with a placard telling the world why they would like the community to stop practicing khatna. More and more Bohras are speaking out against the practice, in the media, in blogs, on social media and, most importantly, among their friends and families.
Following the recent conviction of three Bohra members in Australia for having performed khatna on two little sisters, some Bohra Jamaat (Assembly) have explicitly stood against FGM as it violates the law of the country where they have migrated and live. Up to now the Sydney, Melbourne, London, San Jose/California, Tampa, NY, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Orange County have banned FGM. The movement is spreading. We invite all the Jamaat of every country in the world where Bohras are to ban khatna as it is a violation of human rights. The most important step would be the complete ban announced from the central headquarter in Mumbai, the Badri Mahal.
THE INTERVIEW
VALENTINA MMAKA - In 2012 Tasleem, an Indian activist, launched the first online petition to ask the entire Bohra community to sign against the khatna and address the issue to the religious leaders of the community. Can you say that has been the starting point that turned attention on khatna within the Bohra community in a public space? What has changed since then within the Bohras in India and in the diaspora?
MARIYA TAHER: Actually, women have been bringing the topic of khatna to the forefront of the Bohra community for years before Tasleem did. Mariya (one of the co-founders of Sahiyo) wrote an article discussing this movement. Here is a section from her article published in the Huffington Post:
“Over the years, there have been various attempts by Dawoodi Bohra women around the world to speak out against female genital cutting and to call for an end to this practice. One of the first studies that I am aware of regarding the practice of FGC in the Dawoodi Bohra community is "All for 'Izzat': The Practice of Female Circumcision Among Bohra Muslims in India." This small case study documenting the practice was done in 1994 by Rehana Ghadially.
In the last few years, other voices have called for action through articles in magazines, other publications, and blogs by survivors of khatna as well as their supporters. In fact, I have also written about my own experience for the Imagining Equality Project. This tradition does not just happen within Dawoodi Bohras in India, but also to diaspora groups of Dawoodi Bohras that now reside worldwide. For example, Australia recently tried their first case of female genital cutting within the Bohra community there.”
However, the petition might be the first time that social media/internet was used to draw attention to instances of FGC amongst Dawoodi Bohras. And it definitely did add to khatna being talked about within the media. I do think that since that time, social media has had a huge impact on connecting Bohra women who have undergroundkhatna and who have questioned it or have been against it in an easier way on a global level. It has made people able to find one another and support each other. That is really how the origins of Sahiyo came about a few years ago. Now with this second petition, and with the Each One Reach One campaign, even more attention is being placed on the practice of khatna. There is dialogue occurring in larger numbers, and that is always a needed step for change within the community. The religious authorities have yet to comment on the practice, and that is unfortunate. However, we hope that too will change.
PRIYA GOSWAMI: The petition may have been the start of sorts but what actually brought in the change was the continued media attention and work on the subject; be it via films, media coverage or via women who spoke out on this subject openly, over the past five years or so.
Since you mention Tasleem, I would like to share an anecdote here:  she was a very interesting starting point for me personally. In late 2011, while still searching for people who would be willing to speak to me for my documentary, I came across Tasleem. I remember her getting in touch and me persuading her to come out in the open, reveal herself and her stance against the practice. While one still doesn’t know who she is (Tasleem is her pseudonym) she kept on working under her hidden identity and connecting a lot of people to me and vice-versa. Even under anonymity, she helped connect a lot of dots by bringing people together via emails, etc. Although I am not in touch with her, I believe that she is still in touch with some of us and still continues to connect dots! In a difficult situation such as this, there are so many covert ways to continue to work towards the goal even under anonymity!
Having said that, as Mariya mentioned, there have been people who have been speaking about khatna before Tasleem’s petition. However, initiated by the petition a lot of media attention ensued which was key in changing things. I remember getting in touch with Bohra women after reading an article as early as 2011. Also having observed the course of change over the last few years now, I feel that the continued attention is the reason why this issue has suddenly gained momentum.
When my film came out in 2012, I remember so many journalists telling me that they had no idea that this happened in India too! And this is when articles had already started pouring in. It is not so today. Today if you dig up the archives, in the last few years will form a continuum comprising news articles, films, in-depth op-eds, etc.

VALENTINA MMAKA: Last year in Australia took place the first trial in which three Bohra people were convicted for having performed khatna on two little sisters. How did this event impact the community and what has been the reaction of the religious leaders? Do you envision India banning FGM one day? What would be the obstacles to that?
AAREFA JOHARI: The Australian trial has definitely been a landmark one for the community. Even though religious authorities did not publicly react to it - so much so that many Bohras around the world were not even aware of it - the case was reported in the international media and was soon picked up by sections of the Indian media as well. This brought in a certain amount of negative publicity for Bohra khatna that must certainly have placed some pressure on community authorities. Initially, the reaction in the community had been very hush-hush, but things suddenly took a different turn on February 9, 2016. The Australian court is in the middle of hearings to decide the quantum of punishment for the accused. In the midst of this, the Bohra authorities headquartered in Sydney sent out a notice to all Australian Bohras asking them to obey the law of the land and not do khatna on girls any more, even by taking girls overseas for the procedure. Within two days, the notice was reported about in the media and was all over Bohra WhatsApp and email groups. We began to hear anecdotes from fellow activists, about loads of Bohras suddenly starting to talk about khatna, many of them expressing support for the cause to end the practice.
Many Bohras are now pushing authorities across the world to make such announcements wherever FGM is illegal. There is renewed enthusiasm to push for a legislation against khatna in India.
MARIYA TAHER: Personally, however, I don’t believe that legislation will be what ends FGC in India or amongst Bohras in other parts of the world. It’s banned already in the United States, but still it is occurring, in secret. So even if India does ban FGM, I don’t believe it will end the practice. However, legislation can be an important acknowledgment that FGC is a form of gender violence that should not occur. It can help pave the way for other support and prevention programs to be created. But it needs to be coupled with community dialogue and education.
VALENTINA MMAKA: Last year Sahiyo  was born, an organization based in India which has the aim to"empower Bohra women and other Asian communities to end FGM”. What led you all to found this organization? What motivated each one of you to break the silence around FGM in India which is still a huge taboo subject?
MARIYA TAHER: Sahiyo began more than a year ago as a conversation between five women who felt strongly about the ritual of female genital cutting (khatna) in the Bohra community. Each one of us had been working on the topic of FGC for many years. Our group includes a social worker, a researcher, two filmmakers and a journalist, and all of us had already been speaking out, in our own ways, against the practice of khatna. As our collaboration grew, we realized the need for an organized, informed forum within the community that could help drive a movement to bring an end to khatna. That is how Sahiyo, the organization, was born. Sahiyo is the Bohra Gujarati word for ‘saheliyo’, or friends, and reflects our organization’s mission to engage in dialogue with the community to find a collective solution towards ending the practice of FGC.
This is how we started and from our origin, we realized that the way to end FGC was to build a movement from the ground up. This includes first finding out how widespread FGC is amongst the community. There are no large-scale studies at the moment. Only anecdotal evidence. This is all very important, but we knew to be able to really reach out to our community, we needed to carry out a type of needs assessment, this is why we carried out the first online survey on khatna. Our group also recognized that FGC is not just a problem in India as Bohra who migrated took the tradition with them, hence there was a need to ensure that we were focusing on how to stop the practice amongst Bohra regardless of where in the world they were.
I think we all come from understanding that not everyone is able to or capable of talking about FGC out loud in the community.
MARIYA TAHER: It took me many years to finally come to a point where I felt I could talk about FGC in public without fear for my family members being socially excluded from the community. It’s hard, but I also had a lot of great mentors along the way who helped me think about both the positive and negative consequences of talking out loud. And there are some - you risk being alienated by family members, losing loved ones, amongst many other reasons. In the end, I felt I wanted to be a supportive voice for those who are unable to talk about FGC or for those who are unsure of the practice but want to reach out to someone and talk to them in a nonjudgmental way.
INSIA DARIWALA: For me it was a very different reason. I was never cut. My sister was. And it sort of felt that I was being punished for not being cut. I used to get left out from some of the ritualistic gatherings in which my sister and other cousins used to participate. Possibly since I was not considered ‘clean’ or  a ‘good girl’; something that I reasoned out today. But as a young child I didn't know what khatna was, and felt that perhaps I was not good enough, or not pretty enough to be a part of that ‘special’ group. So even though I did not undergo the trauma of being cut, I had to live through the trauma of being cut off.
Today, as a filmmaker and a child rights activist, I choose to address that feeling through my films and art. I find visual art a very powerful means of reaching out and expressing our deepest fears and emotions. In fact, I have a film ready on FGC which is aptly titled The Good Girl.
When all of us decided to come together as a group to form Sahiyo, it just seemed organically right. Here we were, five women, from different walks of life, on the same journey, with the same voice; and that was to reclaim our power. Through Sahiyo, we have not only found our own voices, but also given many women a platform to break the silence within themselves. They might choose to stay anonymous, but at least they are not living an inwardly anonymous life anymore.
AAREFA JOHARI: I had been speaking against khatna at home, to my mother, all through my university years. But I think the trigger to speak more publicly came when Tasleem started her petition and the media began to look for Bohra women who would openly give their testimonies without concealing their identities. I realized immediately that I did not mind revealing my identity or publicly condemning this practice - there was a lot of resentment and fury about the practice that had built up over the years. Since my mother has been supportive of my decision from the beginning, it has helped a lot. I realize that my family could face trouble from the authorities, but that hasn’t happened so far, and my mother’s support makes everything easier.
PRIYA GOSWAMI: In 2012, I made a film called A pinch of skin which was on the practice of Female Genital Cutting among Dawoodi Bohras. After making the film and several screenings later, I realized that it was much more than a just a subject for me. In a certain sense it was hard to move away from it, especially since it had a deep-seated impact on me as a filmmaker. It was my most important work and what the film was speaking about was a real-life practice which impacts thousands of women. I want to see this practice coming to an end and I wanted to be a part that change. And this is when Sahiyo happened!
As filmmakers we are told that we cannot affect change but only start a dialogue. A pinch of skin (APOS) for me was that initiation.  Today, as a part of Sahiyo I already see so much has changed in these quick four to five years. While making APOS no one across the country was willing to reveal their identity. Today brave women such as Aarefa from India, Mariya from the US, have not only come out in the open but are also fighting their battles openly and are no longer hiding in anonymity. If this can happen only in a span of four/five years, I am hopeful that one day we will be able to usher in the day when FGC is discontinued among Bohras.  
SHAHEEDA TARAWALLA KIRTANE: My mother has always been my greatest influence and my strength to work on this as a researcher, and my voice to speak on this comes from her. Not only has she helped shape my views onkhatna, but she has also guided my internal moral compass. When I started university, I came across a bag we had brought from India upon our immigration to Canada (my mother is a lawyer trained to practice law in two jurisdictions - India and Canada), and it was full of literature and videos from various organizations like WHO and UNICEF, to whom my mother had written seeking information on FGM. This discovery started a more informed discussion with my mother on the subject of khatna (I had always known what it was as my mother had educated me on the subject as a child, so I couldn't be tricked by anyone from my immediate or distant family to go with them and have it done to me as a child). At the University of Toronto, my interest on the subject sparked after realizing the great injustice to which my mother and my six aunts were subjected to as children. Subject grew from a medical and research perspective and I had approached professors as the university to see if I could pursue graduate work on the subject - but there was very little interest and information available on khatna amongst the Dawoodi Bohras. Irrespective of my being about to pursue graduate work on the subject, I knew research was essential in order to understand the extent of the practice and to come up with holistic and community-driven ways to address khatna.
After connecting with the other girls from Sahiyo, the first thing I told them we must do is some kind of study. Connecting with Mariya, who had already done her masters thesis on this practice in USA, allowed us to brainstorm and put the online survey in place. As a researcher, I am really hoping that the online and on-the-ground survey in India will allow us to throw light on the real-world scenario of khatna amongst the Dawoodi Bohras. Our future need-based interventions that will come forth from the results of both these survey give me great hope that, perhaps, an end to this practice is indeed really possible.
VALENTINA MMAKA: Bohras live  in the diaspora, and also in East Africa,  how could Sahyio represent a point of reference for those who never really  spoke out on the issue of khatna and feel doing it now in the countries they live?
MARIYA TAHER: I think we are already doing that just by the nature of who are the founders of Sahiyo. Mariya was born and raised in the United States and has done extensive work connecting with other NGOs, health workers, governments, etc, to address FGC. She has also connected with other women in the United States who have undergone it and are from the United States. We’ve also heard from Bohra women from Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and more places. One of the great things about our survey is that it was open to Bohra women around the world.
SHAHEEDA TARAWALLA KIRTANE: Our Sahiyo blog and volunteer set-up will act as a point of reference to allow women from all over India as well as the world to involve themselves and participate in work to bring about an end to khatna in various ways. Whether it be by simply by penning down their thoughts, feelings and childhood memories of khatna or doing a bit of work, in whatever capacity, for our on-the-ground survey that will follow later in the year.
VALENTINA MMAKA: Does Sahiyo aim to collaborate with organizations in other countries to support the Bohra community or other Asian  FGM  practicing communities to find a free space to lead a cultural change towards the eradication of khatna?
MARIYA TAHER: Absolutely and we’re already doing this, as well. Various members of Sahiyo have relationships with organizations such as Wadi, Equality Now, Orchid Project, Tostan, the U.S. Consulate, and more.
INSIA DARIWALA : Yes and recently we were also present at the Asian FGM convention in Singapore which was organized by Wadi and Aware. It was quite an enlightening experience to meet with other women who were cut, to learn about what their thoughts were on khatna, and to understand what legal remedial measures were being implemented to understand/stop FGM in that part of the world.
VALENTINA MMAKA: Is your goal also to mediate between the community and the religious leaders of the community  who support the khatna? Did you receive any feedback or sign of dialogue from the leaders since Sahiyo became operative?
MARIYA TAHER: I think we addressed this in earlier answers, but we haven’t heard too much from religious leaders yet, but we do seek to engage them in dialogue later on, as we know that we need to encourage dialogue amongst all members of the community.
INSIA DARIWALA: I think it’s extremely imperative to have room for dialogue with the religious leaders of the community. We are a small faction in this  populous world and closely knit to the religious diktats issued by the higher priests. Whatever they say becomes the way of life for the Bohras. So I do feel if the high priests engage in a dialogue with the women and try to understand the ramifications of an outdated practice, good sense may prevail.
VALENTINA MMAKA: You all belong to different areas of competence: film, journalism, writing, health care. Starting from your background, in which way do you think your own personal contribution will change the perception of FGM within  the Bohra community in India and abroad and raise a public dialogue around it?
MARIYA TAHER: We all build on each other’s strengths. Priya and Insia understand the power of the visual medium; Mariya and Shaheeda understand the importance of research; Aarefa knows the importance of reportage and publicity - all of these things help Sahiyo understand the various ways in which we can reach the community, engage with them, and provide support to them.
INSIA DARIWALA: Yes we do bring to the table diverse problem-solving methods, which I believe is our biggest strength.
PRIYA GOSWAMI: I agree with Insia and Mariya. Sahiyo’s biggest strength lies in the different mediums we bring to the table.
VALENTINA MMAKA -   Goals and expectations of Sahiyi’s work in the next few years?
  • To bring an end to the practice of female circumcision, which has been recognized as a human rights violation by WHO, UNFPA and UNICEF.
  • To enable a culture in which a woman/girl's body and female sexuality is not feared or suppressed, but embraced as normal
  • To recognize and emphasize the values of consent and a child/woman's right over her own body
  • Spread awareness about the practice of FGC and its perils; engage in conversations and dialogue about FGC through group discussions, seminars, conferences, workshops, films and other events.
  • Provide peer counselling and information to families who are considering khatna for young daughters or grand-daughters
  • Connect women who experience khatna-related problems to appropriate social services or individuals such as doctors, counselors, social workers, etc.
  • Conduct workshops (art-based and regular) to understand women's experiences of khatna and reinforce feelings of empowerment
  • Conduct surveys of various Bohra sects: One of the main intentions for doing this research is to find out more about the practice of khatna in the Bohra community, so that based on the results, we are able to formulate an appropriate strategy that engages all stakeholders to end this practice.
  • We would like to work on community-driven awareness and advocacy initiatives that are aimed towards ending FGC, like organizing town hall discussions and dialogue with Dawoodi Bohra women, Dawoodi Bohra clergy, doctors and nurses, midwives and “traditional cutters”, media, etc.  
VALENTINA MMAKA -  Sahiyo has conducted the first online Study on khatna. Can you give us a glimpse of this work and if /where is it available for readers?
MARIYA TAHER: We’re working hard on analyzing the data and writing up the report. For now we can let you know that preliminary results show that 80% of respondents reported having khatna done. Our goal is to have the report published in May.
Originally Published on Pambazuka 

Thursday, 31 March 2016

#BOOKMARKS2ENDFGM April Campaign

While doing my educational workshops addressing FGM to youth, I've collected so many hand made bookmarks, posters, postcards, painted fabrics, "small" pieces of Art with a HUGE meaning to share and donate with friends, relatives, teacher, schoolmates, etc...
I decided to launch the #bookmarks2endfgm campaign before school closing.

During the month of April, starting from tomorrow  
I'll launch on TWITTER the 
BOOKMARKS2ENDFGM campaign using the hashtag
  #bookmarks2endfgm  

Through the hashtag we collect significant phrases to
RAISE AWARENESS ON FGM
 and invite every person to do his/her own bookmark and donate it to a friend asking to send the picture of the bookmark  on twitter or via mail using the same hashtag 


HOW IT WORKS

PART ONE


Think at a significant phrase that will raise awareness on  FGM trying to chose inclusive non judgemental terms (positive ideas about the importance of our body' s integrity, on education and culture, on empowerment, etc...) that may inspire others to take action and share it by posting the phrase on TWITTER using the hashtag #bookmarks2endfgm  or via MAIL writing in the subject line the hashtag #bookmarks2endfgm
and in the body of the mail your phrase.

THE PHRASE CAN BE IN ANY LANGUAGE 
 POSSIBLY PROVIDE A TRANSLATION

PART TWO

- CREATE your own Bookmark using your creativity with your own phrase
- DONATE it to a friend, school mate, colleague, relative, librarian, bookseller, teacher, doctor
- SEND a picture of your Bookmark

You can use
TWITTER using the hashtag #bookmarks2endfgm
FACEBOOK using the hashtag #bookmarks2endfgm

or as an attachment via

MAIL
writing in the subject line the hashtag
#bookmarks2endfgm

NOTE
- every BOOKMARK should have the hashtag  #bookmarks2endfgm on it even if in small letters
- anyone can participate, there's no limit of age and you don't need any artistic skill


HERE SOME OF THE BOOKMARKS ALREADY COLLECTED DONE BY STUDENTS













HERE SOME OF THE KANGA POSTCARDS







 
English


I'll publish all the works received during this month in a blog where you can also comment your work.

Stay tuned on May I'll launch a poetry campaign to raise awareness on FGM  GBV CM



Tuesday, 15 March 2016

WHAT DO MEDIA NEED TO IMPROVE TO ADDRESS FGM A conversation with award winning journalist Diana Kendi

Diana Kendi
Last year the UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) and The Guardian launched the  Efua Dorkenoo Pan African Award for journalists reporting on FGM across the African continent. The award - in the words of the UNFPA – is intended to increase media awareness and engagement on FGM within community, national and regional media outlets and recognize and encourage outstanding efforts of journalists throughout Africa.
The first edition of the Award went this year to Kenyan journalist Diana Kendi for her reportage made with colleague Jane Gatwiri, The Bondage of Culture, which is about five young women who sought to flee FGM in West Pokot, Kenya.
Third of six children, Diana Kendi, from the Luhya community in Western Kenya, says how she is privileged coming from a community that doesn’t practice FGM. Overwhelmed by the award, which was assigned last week in Abuja, Nigeria, Diana says how important is this recognition not only for her but also for all the women in Kenya who live and fight within and outside FGM practicing communities: This award has really encouraged me to work an extra mile together with the other anti FGM campaigners. It was important to ensure that the agenda has been set especially in the communities that still practice Female Genital Mutilation, so that our girls can be free from the bondage of culture.
Diana started dreaming to become a journalist at 11. Though facing many challenges in her life, she managed with courage, humbleness and strength to pursue her dream. In this conversation Diana reflects on the role of medias covering news on FGM urging every country to have more engaged medias and more willing FGM practicing communities to share their stories so that the information is widely spread, understood and shared.

VALENTINA MMAKA – You’re a young journalist and you have achieved so far this important recognition for standing alongside who wants to eradicate FGM. Did you always want to be a journalist? How did you start your career?
DIANA KENDI - My dream to become a journalist started way back in 1997 when I was 11. I used to admire how journalists had a privilege to report on what’s happening, how it’s happening, to whom and with who, to a large number of people through media.  But my dream was somehow cut short in 2002. I couldn’t continue with my secondary education in Form three, due to unavoidable circumstances. I stayed out of school for seven years. I am a talented hairdresser, I plait women hair, so during that time I used to do plaiting work but not in a specific location. I used to walk from one house to another whenever they called me. In August 2008, I heard in a local radio station that one could be able to register for Kenya Certificate for Secondary Education Examination as a private candidate. At that time I was so desperate, I needed to achieve my dream but couldn’t do so because I didn’t have the KCSE certificate to enable me join any college. I shared the information with my father, who advised me that August was very late since the exams were to start in October. We then agreed to register for the Exams in 2009 so that I could have enough time to prepare and at least get a good grade. But to attain that, I needed some coaching, so I identified an Adult Education Centre, registered as a student and later on registered for the KCSE. In that center, we used to study for 4 hours a day, Monday to Friday. It was such a challenge since I had only one year, to read and understand form 3 and form 4 work which I had not done in high school. I thank God because I attained a grade that would enable me study journalism though at a very low level at the time. In 2010, I enrolled for Film and Video Programmes Production a one year program and later graduated in December 2011, with a Certificate in Film and Video Programs. I later joined Kenya Broadcasting Corporation KBC, for my industrial attachment as a Studio Technical Operator, from October 2011 – December 2011. In March 2012, I secured a job at QTV Nation Media Group as a Production Assistant, and then started doing reporting work in July 2012 to date. Journalism has always been my dream, and am happy that by God’s grace I was able to achieve that despite the challenges.

VALENTINA MMAKA – Internationally, medias never portray FGM in a non-judgmental  inclusive way, there’s no public dialogue about it. There’s no space for interaction and dialogue. It comes under the spotlights just when something bad happens. How do you think global medias should engage and commit to make FGM a speakable issue?
DIANA KENDI - All that is needed by the global media is highlighting the stories of girls who have been affected by FGM again and again, using experts to speak about the negative effects brought about by FGM. The more they highlight such stories, the more the information is passed across and the more the abandonment of the practice.

VALENTINA MMAKA – How are Kenyan medias related to this issue? And on a larger scale, African medias if you are aware of? Is FGM enough covered? What should be improved according to you?
DIANA KENDI - Just as you mentioned earlier, both local and international media have been highlighting the FGM issue when something bad has happened, some feel that it has been over reported with no new angle of the story on FGM to be covered. But I feel that the local media especially vernacular radio stations should be vocal about FGM and its dangers, especially in the communities where the practice is still rampant, by having talk shows on such issues, inviting the survivors and the campaigners of anti – FGM etc. Media has power to set the agenda in those communities and even make things happen, but again the locals, especially the survivors must be willing to share the information with the media. Was it not for the three girls who survived the cut, and the other two who were mutilated, together with the reformed circumciser and some of the locals sharing their story in West Pokot, we wouldn’t have highlighted the story. But they gave us their story, what they went through and what they are doing to shun away the practice, that’s how we came up with ‘THE BONDAGE OF CULTURE in WEST POKOT’. 

VALENTINA MMAKA – What were the main obstacles you and Jane Gatwiri have encountered while shooting Bondage of Culture?
DIANA KENDI - While filming the ‘BONDAGE OF CULTURE’ in West Pokot, the biggest challenge we encountered was men in Pokot community not wanting to speak about FGM. They are very violent and wouldn’t welcome anyone who wants to interfere with their culture, something that has made them wealthy over the years. We didn’t get a chance of interviewing the fathers of the girls who had been cut, and the others who had escaped the cut, just because they wouldn’t let us interview them. Another challenge was the distance from one home to another, at some point we were forced to postpone our journey till the next day yet we only had two days to do that work.  I had faced other challenges in other three counties where I had covered stories of FGM, Tharaka Nithi County, Samburu and Kuria where I had been denied to interview elders of the community because I’m an uncut woman. In Samburu, some Morans almost attacked my cameraperson when we were covering FGM stories, telling us that we are trying to detach them from their culture. Generally, communities practicing FGM are struggling to stop this because they believe it’s their culture.  

VALENTINA MMAKA – Though Kenya has a law which bans FGM, it’s still practiced and some recent news says it is increasing. Do you think that law is the answer to eradicate FGM or perhaps a cultural change is needed empowering youth, men and women?
DIANA KENDI - I acknowledge the fact that the Anti FGM law was passed in 2011 here in Kenya, yet only two cases have been taken to court. One circumciser was charged in Kuria District and is serving a seven jail term. The other case is still going on in the same district. Having a law is one thing and fulfilling that law is another thing, I think that as stakeholders, we should come up with new ways to eliminate FGM in Kenya. The law alone isn’t enough. If we deal with the target group, which is the boys and girls especially in schools we can achieve much.  Boys in those communities are advised not to marry girls who aren’t mutilated, prompting the girls to undergo the cut so that they can get married. We’ve focused on parents in our campaigns so much, yet all they do is to come and get incentives during the forums, and the next day they cut their girls, making Kenya spending more and changing a very small or no percentage in terms of eliminating FGM. However, I have to say,  some of them have come out to campaign openly against FGM, others not letting their girls undergo the cut. To the circumcisers, they believe it’s the only source of income that can take care of their upkeep. 

VALENTINA MMAKA – What are the main challenges grassroots’ anti-FGM activists in Kenya have to face ?
DIANA KENDI - Activists in Kenya have been very vocal campaigning against FGM, but again they too face challenges. Locals think that they have a lot of money from donors. They tend to think that the activists are just doing that for the money from donors but they aren’t really into it. So whenever they go for anti FGM campaigns, the locals want cash from them so that they can share their story, that’s a very big challenge since people are just money minded. The activists too face hostility from those communities. But with the training forums by different organizations to the activists, I believe they will be equipped on how to handle such matters.

VALENTINA MMAKA – We all know well that there’s no just one solution to end FGM, there are shifting factors which requires special attention, however there are some secured factors we can globally share. What is needed to end FGM?
DIANA KENDI - Everyone being an ambassador campaigner against FGM in their localities. It starts with you and me, we don’t need the whole world to make a change, everyone can do it from wherever they are. Another vital issue is talking and engaging the target groups, that’s the teenage girls and boys plus the youths. Through them, FGM can be something of the past.

VALENTINA  MMAKA – What projects are ahead of you after this achievement? What will you do for the anti FGM cause?
DIANA KENDI –I am planning to visit different Counties where communities still practice FGM and start Anti FGM clubs in both primary and secondary schools, as well as engaging the local vernacular radio stations, to air the anti FGM club debates in order to continue creating awareness among the people in those communities.

VALENTINA MMAKA – This award is also not just a professional  recognition but also a personal one. Your story might be inspirational to the many girls whose voices you’re giving a platform to be heard and shared. What would you tell young girls and boys who want to break the silence on FGM and pursue the desire to speak publicly to end FGM?

DIANA KENDI - They should speak out, this will help them overcome the challenges they are going through e.g. forced circumcisions, forced early marriages, lack of education and the rest. Speaking out will make people know what you are going through, but keeping quiet will not help the situation, instead it will make it worse. 

Originally Published on Pambazuka


Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Kenya. In Conversation with anti FGM activist John Wafula

John Wafula

In this interview, Kenyan activist John Wafula holds the view that: “FGM is not a culturally enriching choice but rather a tool to isolate women and girls for disempowerment, domination and stagnation. If FGM negates girls’ right to education and healthy bodies then it ceases to be tenable as a cultural identity”. Wafula features in many national and county policy documents on mainstreaming gender equality and addressing human rights violations. He has been involved in GBV and HIV programs for over 10 years besides a successful career as a high school teacher and a short stint as university don. He is presently serving as a gender specialist at Global Consult Limited and is enrolled for a doctoral program in Gender and Development at Kenyatta University. John is one of Kenya’s activists, alongside Tony Mwebia, the Maasai Cricket Warriors, Samuel Leadismo, Samuel Gachagua, Francis Baraka and many more, who strongly believe in men playing a key role with women in eradicating FGM. 

VALENTINA MMAKA - John can you tell me a bit of your background?
JOHN WAFULA: I am a gender specialist with a teacher’s professional background. I have been involved in teaching at high school and university besides doing gender equality programming which has focused on GBV and HIV. While teaching in Narok and Baringo counties I came face to face with effects of FGM as an impediment to girls’ education; but I engaged in actual programming to address the practice while working in Dadaab refugee camps. 

VALENTINA MMAKA: Can you tell me more about your experience working in Dadaab?
JOHN WAFULA: I worked in Dadaab between 2007 and 2010 as a Gender and Development Program Officer with CARE International. My foremost duties entailed GBV (Gendered Based Violence) case management, advocacy, awareness creation and capacity building. The CARE program sought to prevent and respond to sexual and gender based violence forms such as rape and defilement, and also harmful practices such as early marriage and FGM that mostly affected girls. 

Prior to interventions to address FGM, we undertook a baseline study to establish the prevalence of FGM in the camps, survivors, practitioners, and underlying causative factors. The reasons why FGM was practiced, mostly among refugees of Somali descent, included perceptions that uncircumcised women would be unfaithful and ineligible for marriage. Circumcisers, grandparents, parents, traditional birth attendants and aunties were mentioned as practitioners. Those opposed to the practice cited painful experiences, impact on the woman’s sexuality and human rights violations as the main reasons.

Our efforts to prevent FGM entailed creating awareness about its health, social and psychological consequences at the community level through focus group discussions, community theatre, marking of calendar days such as the International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM and production and dissemination of print and electronic information and communication materials. We also invited religious scholars who professed the Islamic faith to engage the Somali community on religion-based myths that were peddled to justify FGM. Through clubs and focal point teachers, we sensitized school children on human rights, which also encompassed protection against any form of violence, FGM included. Youth in the camps were engaged through sports and vocational training. We targeted refugee community leaders for sensitization because of their visible position as community gatekeepers. FGM was also practiced among the predominantly Somali host community around the refugee camps. We therefore reached out to them through their leadership structures and the local administration to ensure they did not accommodate the practice. 

We responded to FGM through a multi-sectoral and multi-actor strategy. CARE was a key member of the GBV working group in Dadaab, a platform that was used to follow up on survivors for documentation, medical support, justice and counseling. Linkages with community groups such as Men Against FGM, Ex-Circumcisers and community leaders ensured survivors were identified and consequences of having undergone the practice mitigated. As we addressed stigma associated with having not undergone FGM, the number of girls who had shunned it grew to a point that marriages involving uncircumcised girls were being reported. 

VALENTINA MMAKA: Certainly majority of the refugees were from Somalia, one of the African countries which has the highest rate of FGM. Do refugees practice FGM also in the camp? 
JOHN WAFULA: They do but it is extremely rare and discreet due to advocacy, awareness creation and legal sanctions. Mostly, such cases will be perpetrated by new arrivals from Somalia who are not conversant with the Kenyan legal system and girls who have succumbed to the stigma of not being circumcised and therefore demand for it. We, however, acknowledged collaboration between some refugees and some members of the host community to carry out such practices in locations within areas surrounding the refugee camps. 

VALENTINA MMAKA: How did they respond to your work? Have you ever encountered reticence or obstacles getting people from FGM practicing communities accept to be challenged about their cultural beliefs?
JOHN WAFULA: Certainly! We encountered resistance especially among older members of FGM practicing communities. Some eked out a living by sustaining the practice and therefore stopping it would jeopardize their income. Others saw it as a cultural infringement, a perspective that is inflected by the fact that among those who pursue change are individuals who come from outside the FGM practicing communities. Those persuaded in this manner feel obligated to defend the practice as custodians of their culture. Misconceptions that associate FGM with Islam render the fight against the practice quite dicey and volatile. This is especially when anti-FGM advocates are Christians who would be construed to be waging war against Muslim values. Delineation of various forms of FGM has also been the genesis of resistance. For instance, the infibulation type of FGM is considered outlawed among some segments of the Somali community but they consider Sunna (pricking) as admissible. They would therefore agree with you on elimination of infibulation (Type III) but still defend Sunna (Type IV). 

VALENTINA MMAKA: I’ve been working with refugees in Europe and Africa as well and one of the things that really make the hard experience of immigration possible to bear with is having this bond to cultural traditions. What is the plausible response to that? 
JOHN WAFULA: Considering FGM as a cultural embodiment is fallacious. The practice should be demystified and illuminated as the human rights violation that it is, so communities can disconnect sustainably. FGM is not a culturally enriching choice but rather a tool to isolate women and girls for disempowerment, domination and stagnation. If FGM negates girls’ right to education and healthy bodies then it ceases to be tenable as a cultural identity. Communities must be alive to patriarchal chicanery that invokes the cultural argument to perpetuate discrimination, exclusion and validation of historical injustices against women and girls. Our Constitution celebrates cultural authenticity but voids cultural expressions that assault the dignity and rights of Kenyans. FGM is one such practice as comprehensively articulated in the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act of 2011. 

VALENTINA MMAKA: You’ve also promoted livelihood projects for ex-circumcisers in the camp, can you tell me in detail about these projects and how were they welcomed?
JOHN WAFULA: The projects were well received by beneficiaries albeit encountering implementation challenges. Research (baseline survey) had indicated that FGM practitioners earned income from the practice and would do anything possible to sustain their source of livelihood. We therefore initiated an alternative livelihoods project in order to dissuade them from the practice. We first identified the circumcisers through community leaders and anti-FGM groups, and asked them to establish their own group which they dubbed Ex-Circumcisers. The name meant they had accepted to stop the practice and would not be victimized for previous perpetration. As a group they established leadership structures and spelled out their business vision. We would then train them on basic business skills like book keeping and provide them with seed capital for investment. They channeled the resources provided into various enterprises including boutiques, confectionary and vegetables. Some flourished but others faltered along the way and bowed out of the business. The main challenge that the initiative faced was the fact that unlike instant earnings from circumcision business called for patience and diligence, qualities that the ex-circumcisers needed to develop over time. They would also be approached by community members to revert to the practice and be paid handsomely. That most circumcisers were elderly didn’t help matters in a business environment that called for astuteness and vibrancy. Yet the initiative remained a laudable win-win approach for us and them. 

VALENTINA MMAKA: You also established men against FGM groups, can you tell me more about this campaign (where, when, how, feedback, impact…)?
JOHN WAFULA: It was a deliberate strategy to bring men on board in the campaign against FGM in Dadaab. Again, research had shown that girls were being circumcised so that they could be eligible for marriage to the men in the community. One therefore needed to stop the demand for circumcised girls in order to cut off the supply through circumcision. We aimed to change the attitude of men to find uncircumcised girls acceptable for marriage without feeling stigmatized and socially inadequate. 

Some men against FGM groups had already taken off by the time I joined the CARE Gender and Development program in 2007. I was therefore involved in sustaining the groups and supporting the emergency of others. It was men in the community opposed to FGM who mooted the idea of anti-FGM coalitions because of what they thought would be a structured way of dealing with the challenge. Besides expanding synergies in preventing and responding to FGM in the camps, the groups also provided psychosocial support to members who were facing stigma and discrimination for apparently going against the grain by advocating against the practice. 

I developed training modules and trained the groups on FGM within the humanitarian operation. I worked with them to develop information, education and communication materials and provided platforms and avenues for dissemination. The groups were instrumental in monitoring and reporting perpetration of FGM in the camps. They also supported survivors of FGM at the individual and family level to access a wide range of services, among them psychosocial support. They were consistently on the forefront of planning and executing advocacy events like marking the International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM on the 6 February. We also helped them establish income generating activities of their own through training and provision of material resources to cushion them against general indigence in the refugee camps. Having mooted the idea, the men were glad that we gave it support and it came to fruition. Besides addressing FGM in Dadaab, some members had opportunity to travel around Kenya during 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence for exposure and experience sharing. This emboldened them to be more vibrant in addressing not just FGM but all forms of GBV in the camps. The decline in demand for strictly circumcised women for marriage could be partly attributed to activities of the group. They also contributed to reduction in stigma against uncircumcised girls and expanded spaces for dialogue on FGM at the community level. The increase in the number of girls who had shunned circumcision further attests to the results of the efforts made by men against FGM. 

VALENTINA MMAKA: Some men activists ask to be more visible in anti-FGM campaigns, why do you think men have been excluded or “marginalized” in this cause?
JOHN WAFULA: This is entirely a programming and methodological lacuna. Programs predicated on the ‘women in development’, as opposed to ‘gender and development’ school of thought, do not find much value in promoting male engagement in anti-FGM campaigns. They don’t! This is misguided because men are gatekeepers and custodians of cultural heritage which can only give way for progressive ideas if we dialogue with them. We can only stop FGM if men will be disabused of the obsession with circumcised women for marriage. As Chinua Achebe put it, you cannot by pass a man and enter his compound. When you salute a man at the entrance to his homestead, the reception is certain to be warm. Of course this perpetuates patriarchal pathways to social transformation but it has the merit of setting a thief to catch a thief. 

From a cultural and moral perspective, I also acknowledge that the sexualized nature of FGM alienates men who are compelled to maintain strategic silence on FGM since it has to do with women’s genitalia. Confessing unconventional interest in FGM details is taboo and would be perceived as an encroachment on women’s privacy. The analogy of men being told not to set foot in the kitchen, which has been labelled as women’s space, obtains here. However, they should expect good food at the dining table. Women perform FGM for the benefit of men. As such men also marginalize themselves because they don’t want to be associated with a subject that sucks them into the tabooed narratives of women’s bodies. Indeed, those of us who have had the audacity to engage are looked at by some men as being effeminate whereas others, including women, think we are motivated by the pay cheque. 

Donor biases in funding have contributed to estrangement of men from FGM discourses and interventions. Men-led organizations will tell you that no matter how persuasive their proposals are most donors would be reluctant to fund them in preference for women-led organizations. It simply deepens the stereotype that FGM and GBV, broadly, are women’s issues. A paradigm shift is needed.

VALENTINA MMAKA: How much is this issue also a men’s issue? What can really work on men’s attention to support “No FGM campaigns”? Why should they consider it their own issue?
JOHN WAFULA: Men have daughters, sisters, mothers and girlfriends who are suffering as a result of FGM. The case of a man in Marakwet who committed suicide because the wife conspired with others to circumcise their daughter is quite instructive. Men cannot find fulfillment in marriage and sexual relationships because of FGM. No man would wish to witness dysfunctional marriages because the joy and bliss of nuptials has been sacrificed at the altar of FGM. When society stagnates because of girls not being able to participate in education men are affected just like everyone else. As providers, men are the ones to foot the medical bill of health repercussions associated with FGM. FGM is in the same league with HIV, cancer and malaria. It is incumbent upon men to address FGM as a human rights violation if they seek to create safe and just societies where all live in dignity. 

Men control resources and authority that can galvanize society for a radical shift in attitude towards FGM. There are also men who find FGM oppressive and are poised for action. We need to explode their energy by bestowing leadership of the anti-FGM movement upon them. For instance, legislation against FMG sailed through the Kenyan august House in 2011 because the motion was tabled by a male member of parliament from an FGM practicing community. Similarly, the PCEA church eradicated FGM in central Kenya under men’s leadership. This does not mean we marginalize women in the fight against FGM. No way! They know where the shoe pinches most, being the wearers. I am appealing for a cocktail of men’s focus and women’s vibrancy!

VALENTINA MMAKA: What is your opinion on how Kenyan institutions are working in protecting girls at risk, educating students and training professionals?
JOHN WAFULA: Against all odds, the institutions have remained resilient and impressive results have been notched. Presently, the Kenya Demographic Health Survey (2014) has indicated a nation-wide prevalence of 23%, down from 27% in 2008-09 and 32% in 2003. After enactment of the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act in 2011, the Anti-FGM Board was established under the leadership of Linah Jebii Kilimo who is herself an icon in the fight against FGM. The FGM policy is being reviewed under the leadership of the Board besides vigorous media campaigns to sensitize the public on the Act. Research on FGM has been sustained both in the academia and public domains, bringing in new insights. Collaboration and networking among various state and non-state anti-FGM actors is equally purposeful and resolute. I would therefore say that across many Kenyan institutions, tracking data on FGM, policy development, legislation, awareness creation, training, research and collaboration are noticeable. I must also acknowledge that development partners and civil society organizations have widened access to rescue facilities for girls at risk besides taking them through alternative rites of passage programs during school holidays. 

VALENTINA MMAKA: What do you think should be improved?
JOHN WAFULA: Mainstreaming FGM and the broad GBV content into the school curriculum remains nominal but it is something that can be done. Trainings have mostly been undertaken by CSOs but there is need for a national level curriculum that harmonizes all capacity building aspects on FGM. The anti-FGM Board exists and it has respectable leadership. However the body runs on a shoe-string budget that cannot make their work visible. A pedagogical re-orientation is necessary so that awareness and knowledge of FGM is inculcated in every young Kenyan to stimulate their agency in resisting it as a human rights issue. Political good will should go a notch higher. The current impunity where communities circumcise girls and get away with it scot-free is because the political class that should offer leadership in enforcing laws and policies is mum on the issue for political mileage. Networking should harness and strengthen the role of the church, granted the success of PCEA in central Kenya. Media should shift from glamourizing FGM and seek to persuade and change attitudes. Anti-FGM efforts should concentrate on practicing communities but it must be an issue of concern for all Kenyans. Declare it a national catastrophe! 

VALENTINA MMAKA: Working on different backgrounds, what are the main differences that you found in rural and urban Kenya about FGM? Do urban people, girls and boys, women and men acknowledge what is FGM about? 
JOHN WAFULA: Rural communities are more overt and passionate about their embrace of FGM than urban folks who display some level of hypocrisy. But it is also because urban communities are more conversant with applicable laws than their rural counterparts. Again, loss of social status with regard to being associated with FGM perpetration is more restraining in urban than rural places. Indeed, urban folks export their FGM victims to rural hideouts to evade the law and social stigma. Medicalization of FGM thrives more in urban than in rural set ups. Rural communities easily mobilize to defend the FGM practice than their urban counterparts who are mostly isolated and weak in conviction. Most urban dwellers are neither intimately aware of FGM nor do they value its supposed benefits including being sanctioned for marriage. They do it out of fear and ignorance that not practicing amounts loss of cultural identity. 

VALENTINA MMAKA: Culture is a fluid, transformative, mutable process and it seems so evident that cultures have been changing ever since, what is really the biggest challenge related to FGM? 
JOHN WAFULA: It is because its victims are women and girls. Period! Cultures, laws and policies that oppress men and boys change faster than those that singularly afflict women and girls. Look at apartheid? It collapsed because it was mostly men who were in prison. Victimization of blacks that led to the civil rights movement ended because men were also affected. I mention slavery in the same breadth. You must be aware that disenfranchisement of women took longer in most democracies than it was for certain categories of men. That is why FGM is not about culture. It is about patriarchal attempts to reconstruct the female body so that it becomes amenable to control for the aggrandizement of masculinity. 

VALENTINA MMAKA: You’ve been telling me that you rescued a girl who was to be cut, would you like to share her story so to help others?
JOHN WAFULA: I would have preferred that she narrated the story herself. I am never confident that a man can adequately reproduce a woman’s experiences especially those that affect her sexuality and inner being. Men have a way of narrating women’s experiences that fails to resonate with the salience of attachment to their bodies. 

Briefly, the girl was introduced to me by a member of our church who needed a family that could host her during April holidays (2015). My wife and I accepted and had the opportunity to support and mentor her till the holidays concluded and she reported back to school. During our short stay with her she indicated that going home at that time would have exposed her to FGM, which her parents supported and looked forward to. She loathed the practice per se and also feared that she would be married off and drop out of school once circumcised. She is a good friend of our family and comes to visit with other girls from Baringo who are attending the same school. She is sitting her exams this year and we are confident that she will excel. 

Published on Pambazuka