It was clearly a well-planned set-up that I knew I was walking into with my eyes open yet I had no reservations at all. Yesterday’s BBC World Have Your Say Programme that I was invited to appear on featured 12 or so FGM “survivors” and anti-FGM activists along with a representative from UNICEF, a minister from the UK and one from Ethiopia as well as a lawyer – all anti-FGM campaigners. The anti-FGM opponents (mostly hand-picked Sierra Leoneans, unsurprisingly) discussed the horrors and pain of their experiences. The Sierra Leoneans then detailed the alleged abuses of Bondo society and one even suggested that Bondo was under the authority of men and the Poro society. Try telling Poro men this…
All of this was expected. What I didn’t expect was that I would be ushered in a lone studio, staring at a blank camera (I had been told I would be able to see everyone in London) without any preparation at all, unable to see anyone or glimpse the scene that I was supposed to be participating in.
After each FGM survivor/activist spoke at length and uninterrupted about their traumas, I thought I would at least be given my 5 minutes -- to no avail. After about 25 minutes into the show, I was finally told I would be able to say something. Yaayy…I tried to remember all my soundbites, to no avail. They did go over to me after a commercial break and I opened up by thanking the other guests for their courage in telling their stories (I believe it takes a whole lot of bravado to go against the grain of dominant sociocultural norms…. I live it as a pro adult female circumcision activist based in the USA). But the minute I opened my mouth to clarify that the entire clitoris cannot be removed from a girl or woman’s body without killing her – I was pummeled. Speaker after speaker (mind you I could not see who was speaking) took turns interrupting and scolding me before I could finish my sentence. Before I knew it, I was unceremoniously muted and ignored for the rest of the programme. For a one hour show, I got in about 3mins and 24seconds in total!
Not all was lost, there were some pretty cool footages of the Malaysian crash debacle and escalating tensions in the Middle East flashing on a nearby screen that occupied my attention while the other women continued to have their say on the BBC World Have Your Say programme.
Alas, even though I did not have my own say, I know that Bondo/Sande in West Africa especially in Sierra Leone is here to stay. When the money runs out for anti-FGM activists (and the well will run dry…), we can then have a real global health debate and human rights discussion that focuses on consent for all non-medical genital surgeries on children – irrespective of gender, race, nationality, ethnicity, religion and so on. In the meantime we will continue to advocate for the equal rights and civil liberties of circumcised African women.
Stay tuned Friday for the BBC-TV version of today’s World Have Your Say radio programme – we will juxtapose that with the SBS-TV Insight Programme in Sidney, Australia that I appeared on last year with a Somali anti-FGM activist and let you decide which one represents true, impartial, unbiased journalism.