Thursday, 9 June 2016

LANGUAGE IS IMPORTANT WHEN ADDRESSING FGM

Four years ago, when I was preparing an educational tool to train multicultural mediators on FGM, I have shared it with a friend who is a professional photographer and  filmaker and suggested to make a doc showing how FGM is done, in some villages back in Kenya. I thought what a bleak prospect.
It's recent the  NEWS that Sky filmed a Somali girl undergoing the cut and intended to broadcast the video. So sad. 
I use my art to make impact in people's life trying to show the "other side of the moon", if you allow me the poetic licence. I use words to tell stories and I know how provocative words are, how can they dismantle one idea and put the seed for a new one. On the other side I also know how can they build distance, discrimination, alienation, obstacles. I know how words touch one's emotional intimate cords so why the heck should I use an image of a child who is cut to let other people feel what she is feeling? Why should I use poverty porn to touch the soul and mind of people to let them empathyze with that little girl?

Sometimes I'm asked to provide pictures to pair my articles on the media and some medias ask something "powerful", this is how they call it. Powerful to them means a razor, a blade, blood, a black and muslim girl. This is something I always have to make clear with my editors. To address FGM we need inclusive content.

This is also the reason why I believe that media (and also organizations) should read carefully the LETTER a group of activists and I signed to ask to address FGM differently... I don't believe a campaign that titles "FGM IS A MURDER ATTEMPT" nor "FGM IS BARBARIC" can help to raise more awarenss and indicate a path to eradicate it.  How would a mother feel being pointed as a murderer while she loves her daughter and just does what she believes is right and unchangable within her community? How would a girl feel to acknowledge that her mother is a possible murderer while she sees the love she has for her? 
We have difficulties to believe in that, but really most mothers who allow FGM on their daughters believe is the right thing to do, they have grown up with that and to make them to think differently without compromising the bond to the good parts of  their culture, it requires the right approach, the right language. They need to understand why they are abusing their children, why the practice they believe right, is on the contrary, humiliating and disabling. Effective changes are meant to be successuful out of dialogue and confrontation, answering questions, clearing doubts, calling people to take action against their wrong beliefs, understanding why they are wrong and who made those beliefs up back in time. Breaking taboos is not something you can do in one day nor in a forceful way. Cultures are made by people not the other way around and to change what is rooted from ancestral times, they need time to acquire, internalize, accept and decide... making decision wise and permanent for the good.

Language is powerful, either in bad and good way,  we have to use it right. We need to ask ourselves what do we aim to? What are our expectations when we write about a little girl who has been cut because her community believes its her culture.  Some may think that strong judgemental words can help to change what is there since centuries, but in reality is only helps newspapers to sell more. 
That's reality. I was even told by a publisher that to make sure that such a delicate issue finds a space in first page, it should be turned in a case no matter what. I have to admit that is true. I started working as a journalist back in the early 90s and I always tried to remain truthfull to myself and to my principles and when this was not guaranteed I stepped out of the system paying the cost of starving but satisfied with myself. 
FGM and GBV shouldn't be written about to sell magazines or make audience, they should come to our attention with the idea that it's possible for us to relate to those situations as human beings trying to be critical and pro active in thinking how we can contribute in changing the society we live. 
I know by saying this I risk to be judged that I'm not for the radical change, that I'm moderate and I support cultural relativism (who knows my activism and my artistic work knows that I'm not for cultural relativism when it's about human rights) but I know changes comes more successfully through engagement and dialogue, confrontation and debate.

I know that journalism has a different function than the art of fiction and poetry, but even though journalism has to remain attached to reality exposing events it should always offer a space for people to debate and discuss issues in a critical way. When it comes to human rights' issues, like FGM, it should re think its priorities and make sure that that little girl and her mother and her her father and their community might have a voice. And also to render them visible and represented within a larger context. If we create space for narratives out of news we can possibly engage people more effective. Stories connect people and break boundaries.

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