Zero tolerance, zero violence

February 6 marks International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, or Female Genital Cutting.

With Britain’s first FGM/FGC case underway at the moment, attention has moved to campaigners all over the globe who are fighting to bring an end to this painful violation of human rights, endured by more than 125 million women.

In December 2012, the UN General Assembly made a resolution which called upon “States, the United Nations system, civil society and all stakeholders to continue to observe February 6 as the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation and to use the day to enhance awareness-raising campaigns and to take concrete actions against female genital mutilations”.

According to research which only started in September 2014 by the Health & Social Care Information Centre, an average of 460 FGM-related cases are being reported every month by hospitals in England.

Lately, more campaigners are becoming accustomed to using the term ‘Female Genital Cutting’ rather than ‘Female Genital Mutilation’: the term ‘mutilation’ becomes something of an insult within communities participating in FGC, whereas ‘cutting’, blatantly states what the procedure is and makes it easier for volunteers to reach out to the people.

There are 4 types of FGC, each type more brutal than the other:

  1. Clitoridectomy: removal of the clitoris.
  2. Excision: removal of the clitoris and small parts of the labia.
  3. Infibulation: narrowing of vaginal opening, removal of clitoris and the stitching up of the outer parts of the vagina to allow only urine and menstrual fluid to pass through.
  4. Other types of mutilation and cutting; cauterisation, piercing, slicing, etc.

FGM/FGC can cause serious harm to women such as cysts, infertility, complications during childbirth and psychological sufferings.

There are hundreds of campaigners calling for action against FGC in the UK: Equality Now, Daughters of Eve, The Orchid Project, to name a few – as well as recently notable individuals like Fahma MahomedCath Holland and Malala Yousafzai.


– “Do you feel regretful about cutting your other daughters?”
– “Yes…”
– “Why do you feel sorry?”
– [Pause] “Because they have no desire anymore. That’s why we did it so early. To avoid trouble for them.”
Handful of Ash

“Zero Tolerance Day is a great opportunity to keep raising the issue on the international agenda. 2015 is a very important year as we decide on how to move forward with the Millennium Development Goals. Zero Tolerance Day is also important as an Africa-led event. Voices from the African continent have been hugely important in getting FGM onto the agenda of international and national-level policymakers.” Mary Wandia, Program Manager of Equality explained.

“Eliminating FGM in the UK requires a ‘joined-up’ multi-sectoral approach, including prosecution where relevant, but also simultaneous actions aimed at protection of girls at risk, prevention, provision of services and fostering partnerships across disciplines and with civil society groups.

“Some key areas of interest for the UK government are the lack of support and provision of safe spaces for survivors of FGM, as well as some continued resistance by health professionals relating to mandatory referrals and sharing information relating to FGM,” Wandia said.

Filmmakers, musicians and artists have joined the movement against the harsh violence which puts too many lives in danger. Their intervention is magnifying the urgency of this global situation, bringing it close to home.

The story of a Kurdish mother, overwhelmed with distress at the possibility that her daughters could have led healthy lives without female genital cutting, is narrated in Handful of Ash, a documentary spanning ten years of reporting by Nabaz Ahmed and Shara Amin, and funded by The Guardian.

It sheds light on the belief that female genital cutting is not a form of violence unto women, but a traditional procedure which stood the test of times.

The film brought outspoken responses from audiences in regards to the acceptance most practicing communities feel towards FGC.

Production company Spirited Pictures  joined the campaign with Female Genital Mutilation: A Change Has Begun. In their production, several women recount the harrowing experiences of being cut by members of their own family.

The feature was commissioned by Girl Effect, a non-profit organisation furthering various women-related causes, and had Harriman Steel on board as an interactive developer.

The film aims to explain that FGC “does not discriminate. It predates Islamic religion, is not in the Quran, is not in the Hadith and is not in the Bible as well,” insists Dr. Comfort Momoh, MBE, a prominent Public Health Specialist at Guy’s and St. Thomas’ Foundation Trust.

Producer Richard King and Flora Berkeley from Spirited Pictures recall their filming experience: “During the interviews, Richard and I went through a whole range of emotions. We were shocked that such a brutal practice is the norm for so many children in the world today; we were appalled at the injustice that FGM manifests; and we were inspired by the strength of the women we talked to, and their commitment to changing what they see as an unacceptable violence against women, even when faced with being threatened and ostracised from their communities.”

Even the student community is participating in anti-FGC campaigns; in autumn 2014, Campus MovieFest challenged students all over the country to produce short, original films in less than a week.

The winner of the nationwide competition for Best Picture was a team of University of Westminster’s students headed by Miho Soon. Critics were won over by the team’s symbolic, yet unforgettable, representation of FGC.

“We didn’t plan it [to be that raw]. It just happened,” said Soon after the short was first shown during the festival in November 2014.

With the current generation getting involved, there is a lot to look forward to after Day of Zero Tolerance.

Other forms of art have become ways to express indignation towards FGM/FGC, and not all of them have been met with positivity.

At the 75th Swedish Artists Federation, 33-year-old Swedish artist, musician and DJ Makode Linde made the papers with a controversial, yet demonstrative cake-cutting ceremony. The cake, shaped like a black woman, was presented to the public to raise awareness on FGC.

“The laughter surrounding the mock ceremony of FGM added to the macabre celebration which shook up activists and sparked heated reactions worldwide. If shock and horror were the markers of Linde’s success, he certainly hit the jackpot,” says a news post from END FGM.

Art Against FGM: International Protest Against FGM is a project involving European artists aiming to bring awareness to cutting-related physical and psychological scarring – vivid sketches and paintings of women of different nationalities expressing deep sorrow and hurt all encapsulate a much-needed understanding of the issue.

With awareness of Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM/FGC growing quickly, there’s hope that it could help create an atmosphere in which women make better-informed decisions with regards to their bodies and lead fuller lives, based on education and awareness of the long-term risks and dangers associated with the practice.

 

Images by Martin Cervenansky – Photo editing by Sara Furlanetto

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