USA: 'Asylum' Screening Sparks Debate

A documentary film screening sparked a discussion of female circumcision at the Women’s Center last night, with some students condemning the practice as promoting gender inequality while others argued that its cultural importance needs to be considered.

Although female circumcision is internationally condemned as a human rights violation, some argue that it has positive implications as a cultural rite of passage.

The film “Asylum,” released in 2003, follows the experiences of a Ghanaian woman, Baaba Andoh, who resisted her father’s attempts to force her to marry an older man and undergo female circumcision. Andoh fled her home country and was detained in the United States for a year before receiving asylum.

The discussion following the film mainly focused on whether the practice should be referred to as “circumcision” or “mutilation.”

About 30 students attended the event, but only one was male. Siena T. Koncsol ’08 said, “I feel like a lot of guys aren’t going to come to something called ‘Female Genital Mutilation.’”

Few of the attendees said that they had a lot of prior knowledge about female circumcision. Most said that they had heard the term but didn’t know much about it.

The most vocal participants had experience with the issue. Megan A. Shutzer ’10, for instance, said she had spent time in Senegal working with the organization Tostan to reduce the practice of female circumcision.

Some attendees argued that some forms of female circumcision are not as violent as they are often portrayed, and that the practice is seen in some cultures as an important rite of purification before marriage.

Michelle E. Oboite ’08 discussed a relative who has undergone female circumcision, who Oboite said views it as a cultural practice that “doesn’t demean her as a woman.”

Other audience members were not convinced. Katherine Y. Tan ’10 said that the discussion group should not “exoticize the issue” by attributing it solely to cultural practices.

Other discussion members cited health problems related to the practice of female circumcision. It can lead to problems with childbirth and menstruation, several said, and when performed without proper hygiene, female circumcision can cause infection and even death.

Despite differing opinions, attendees seemed to reach a preliminary consensus: agree to disagree.

“We all have different perspectives of what womanhood is, and we have to recognize that,” Oboite said.

SOURCE: The Harvard Crimson

AUTHOR: Ellen C. Bryson

URL: Click here

DATE: 11/03/2008

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