In the BBC Global Questions Programme, which will be aired this weekend, November 21-22, presenter Zeinab Badawi raised the critical question, Is FGM a matter of choice for women in Africa? Of course, not many in the audience of mainly Kenyan* students raised their hands. In my next blog I will delve into some reasons for this response. But for now, as promised last week, let me lay out the key position of African Women are Free to Choose:
2. Allow parental discretion for WHO Type I, the removal of the prepuce of the exposed clitoral glans. This is the type of female circumcision that is analogous with male circumcision, which is not only allowed but prescribed by WHO as a preventive of HIV infection in Africa. The fact that opponents believe the female clitoral foreskin is more sensitive or somehow more sacrosanct than male foreskin represents a male bias that cannot be proven scientifically. The argument that removal of foreskin in the male is required for health, hygiene and aesthetics is as subjective and culturally rooted as the arguments in favor of female circumcision for the same reasons. The argument that male circumcision is religiously required is once more an expression of male bias and the privileging of patriarchal Abrahamic religion over the African matriarchal religious systems in ancient Egypt and Nubia among the Nilotic and Mande peoples that predated Judaism, Christianity and Islam. At the end of the day, equality means equality - male dominated religions do not have priority over female dominated religious practices in Africa. And although modern day radical, mainstream and conservative feminists would like to believe otherwise, female foreskin does not hold some intrinsic power or essence over male foreskin; if the latter can be safely removed so can the former.
3. WHO Types II and III, which involve more physically altering procedures should not be permitted on children below the age of majority in the country in question. This, for me is a major compromise but one me and my colleagues believe is a necessary starting point for discussions on global health policies concerning genital operations that ought to apply equally to everyone in the world with no exceptions.
AWAFC demands equal rights and equal treatment of circumcised women vis a vis uncircumcised adult women and all adult men - circumcised and uncircumcised. If uncircumcised or so-called intact adult women in western countries can opt for all kinds of female genital cosmetic surgeries, much of which are far more invasive than the African procedures, then those of us from societies that value female circumcision expect to exercise the same autonomy over our own genitalia, thank you. If adult western women can take their minor daughters for labiaplasties in the West, then we expect the same privacy and respect in making similar decisions for our underage daughters. If adult men can circumcise their underage sons, then we expect to freely take our minor daughters for comparable procedures. If, on the other hand, other adult men and women in the rest of the world are legally required to refrain from more extensive procedures (than type I) on their children's genitalia, we would not seek special treatment. Moreover, if other adult men and women were completely banned from operating on the genitalia of their minor sons and minor daughters, maybe then, just maybe, we too can come to the negotiation table and discuss a ban on type I for our minors.
Whatever the case is, female circumcision and the female centered or matriarchal ideals they represent has been around for thousands of years long before Abrahamic male circumcision and will be around until the end of time. There's no legislation or coercive policy that will stop African women from exercising our fundamental rights to self-determination and celebrating our cherished socio-religious and aesthetic traditions. AWAFC will continue to do our own little bit to help improve the health, social and psychosexual wellbeing of our mothers, sisters and daughters across the Sub-Sahara belt and to ensure that they can stand up for their human rights and rites of passage in this fast changing globalized world.
The time has come to end the outdated and bigoted representations of circumcised African women and girls as helpless, mutilated victims of the worst horror facing humanity.
*For more background information on WHO Types of FGM/C as well as the most up to date summary on the medical evidence concerning female circumcision, click here for the Public Policy Advisory on Female Genital Surgeries in Africa or view the article on my website.
Revised time schedule for BBC Global Questions on BBC World TV:
- Saturday 21st November at 0910 GMT & 2010 GMT
- Sunday 22nd November at 0210 GMT & 1510 GMT.
Co-Founder, African Women are Free to Choose