This morning, the daily digest of the Feminist Philosophers site that I receive every morning had the best news of the week, probably of the month (maybe beyond...): with the support of the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Program to end female genital mutilation, a campaign to convince people to abandon the practice of female genital mutilation in the Afar region of Ethiopia has been having impressive results. It started in 2000, and by now thousands of girls have been spared of the utterly revolting removal of all of their genitals, as in this region the version of FGM typically practiced is infibulation (which consists in the entire removal of the clitoris, the labia minora and labia majora, followed by sealing of the wound). The campaign was based on the strategy of convincing a core, influential group of people to speak against the practice. In this case, the group in question were religious leaders:
"The campaign was mainly spearheaded by religious leaders, who worked tirelessly to inculcate an understanding among their more conservative counterparts, clan leaders and the community at large that the practice is not supported by Islam. This came as news to many, who had grown up with the idea that it was a religious requirement."
The significance of these results cannot be overestimated. They show that well-conceived and -well-implemented actions can change even highly entrenched, age-old traditions. (Btw, when I complain about the Black Pete tradition in the Netherlands, I often hear that it is 'tradition' and traditions cannot be changed; now, if the millennial tradition of FGM can be effectively countered in just a few years, this shows that this kind of comfortable resignation must be rejected.)
Of all the horrific pains and abuses that women around the world endure, to me FGM ranks higher than anything else. it is often mentioned that it results in many severe health complications (which is of course true), but I find the emphasis on the 'health complications' (unless very broadly construed) almost offensive. Even if it did not systematically cause health complications, it would still be the cruelest kind of violence perpetrated against women. Men, think for yourselves: could you sleep at night in peace if you knew that in some corners of the world men were being systematically castrated at a very young age? (Btw, male circumcision is also genital mutilation, but that's a different story.) FGM of any form, but in particular the most radical forms, entails that a woman will never be able to fully enjoy the right that every single animal has to their sexuality. What is perhaps most gruesome about it is that it is irreversible, so even if and when a woman manages to free herself from the abusive environment (as the remarkable Ayam Hirsi Ali), the devastating effects of FGM wll be felt throughout her life (although surgery help for the victims, with at least partial recovery of the functions in some cases, is available).
So, if it is shown that effective measures can lead to a significant decrease of the practice of FGM (in some villages, to its total abandon), then this is to be celebrated as truly, truly excellent news. Nothing's going to spoil my good mood today!
UPDATE: In the Feminist Philosophers' post on this, David Slutsky (in a comment) provides several fantastic links on KMG Ethiopia, a women’s self-help community organization in the Kembatta Tembaro Zone. Do check it out!