First of all, I will start off by saying that it was an incredible honor to be on BBC HARDtalk, which was aired on Monday, January 11, 2016. I think Stephen Sackur did a fine job as an interlocutor and I appreciated the opportunity to engage with another smart, passionate African female activist who is concerned about the empowerment of girls and women on the subcontinent and Diaspora. This was a very intense, very personal and sometimes deeply emotional discussion of an aspect of our private lives that has become such a heated, controversial, political and global issue.
There was so much to talk about, from differences in personal experiences, issues of informed consent and criminalization to forging a way forward and negotiating through our disagreements; twenty-five minutes was not enough to scratch the surface! My hope or appeal really is that myself, Nimko and other women who are directly affected can continue the conversation outside and away from the gaze of the global media, far from the limelight and the fixation of outsiders - many of whom have their own personal and political agendas. And, I am confident that we can achieve this. The walls that have kept us divided - to ensure that we do not talk to one another or compare notes or connect our shared experiences or importantly, to whisper to one another our vision for our future and the future of our sisters, nieces, daughters and grand-daughters - have been shattered with this important global broadcast. That we - all African women - own and shape our own destiny is the aim of African Women are Free to Choose and I hope, the Daughters of Eve.
Now to BBC HARDtalk’s main question (citing President Obama’s speech in Kenya last year) that unfortunately was not posed directly to me during the discussion: Is there a place for FGM in the 21st Century?
No, there is absolutely no place for FGM! There has to be an end to the suffering of women like Nimko who as young, vulnerable and helpless girls felt betrayed by their mothers and their communities, who experienced unimaginable pain and see themselves as permanently disfigured, women who feel as if something has been irrevocably taken and that they will never experience the capacity for full sexual enjoyment. Women who say that, as young immigrant girls, they were “different” or from another culture, race, ethnicity or religion and therefore they were not cared for, respected and protected from the violence in their very own homes. These women of African descent, non-white or non-western women who identify as victims or survivors of what they believe is the worst form of patriarchy or male brutality should never have to see what they interpret as gender based violence visited onto the next generation of girls. However, the concept of FGM is more than just the experience of pain, betrayal or GBV - in my view it is a western feminist caricature of Africa as a Dark Continent; African men as brutal sexual sadists and African women as passive, sexually subjugated, masochistic beasts of burden with no agency; and therefore certainly, no autonomy. I absolutely agree that there should be an end to all forms of FGM including its racist and sexist premises!
As African Women are Free to Choose, we are the voices of millions of grassroots women in Africa and our sisters in the Diaspora who regard ourselves as the moral equals of all other adult women and men in the world and demand full autonomy, self-determination and equal rights in the control of our lives, persons and children under our care. We are women who are entitled to dignity, respect, access to the highest standard of health, to privacy, to adulthood, to our own humanity.
At a time when the demand for female genital cosmetic surgeries in western societies has increased tenfold in the last five years; when smart, educated, wealthy, elite white women are opting (less and less quietly) for labiaplasty and clitoroplasty or clitoral reduction (both procedures fit WHO Type II FGM/C) as well as clitoroplexy (WHO Type I FGM/C), vaginal rejuvenation (read: tightening), how on earth can feminists denounce comparable female circumcision practices among my African sisters? When the popular media reports and anecdotal evidence from practicing physicians indicate that western girls as young as 10 and 11 are being taken for labiaplasty, which is paid for under the National Health System in places like the UK and Australia, how can western women justifiably condemn our African mothers as mutilators and child abusers?
When male circumcision continues to be practiced as a routine procedure in western hospitals and in accordance with traditional Jewish or Islamic customs but the equivalent surgery, WHO Type I, in girls is considered FGM - doesn’t this pose a dilemma for gender equality? At this critical moment in history, when transgender operations that involve radical amputations, alterations and refashioning of both internal and external genital organs to change biological sex has become normalized and mainstream, yet the slightest nick to an African girl or adult woman’s genitals is decried as FGM, doesn’t this beg another question: Isn’t female and male genital reshaping a la Caitlyn the latest buzz of the 21st Century? So, what exactly is the problem with the notion of fully autonomous African women possessing the same right to choose what to do with our own bodies?
The 21st Century has launched “The International Decade of People of African Descent”. As African women, this is our time to define ourselves and to decide for ourselves who we are, what we want to be and how we want to live our lives. For an African sister like Nimko Ali this means rejecting an ancient tradition and preventing other girls from being subjected to what she experienced as patriarchal torture. For me, this means rejecting the label FGM and embracing an ancient African tradition that embodies an ideology of female empowerment or Matriarchy. We need to talk directly to one another. So, I invite the Daughters of Eve on this soul searching journey with African Women are Free to Choose so that we can pave the way for our liberation as complete, entirely equal and wholly autonomous, grown ass women in the 21st Century.
CLICK HERE TO WATCH FUAMBAI AND NIMKO ON BBC HARDtalk