CANADA: Activist MD Says Women Need to Support Each Other

Women around the world share the pain of abuse, and need to support each other, the founder of War Child Canada said in Winnipeg at the annual fund-raising breakfast for a charity that helps women who've suffered abuse.

Dr. Samantha Nutt was the keynote speaker for the breakfast to benefit the Laurel Centre, a non-profit organization that offers counselling and guidance to women who have experienced childhood or adolescent abuse.

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Dr. Samantha Nutt was the keynote speaker for a breakfast to benefit the Laurel Centre. bylineBracket(" KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS"); (Ken Gigliotti / Winnipeg Free Press )

"The universality of the feminine experience transcends language and culture," said Nutt, who has worked in war-torn countries around the world. "I've seen it over and over again."

That lesson was driven home to her 13 years ago when she was just starting out as a neophyte doctor working with a UNICEF project in Somalia. The mission was to eradicate the practice of female genital mutilation, a horrific rite of passage, in which women and girls have their clitoris and labia removed.

Nutt and a local midwife visited a village armed with picture books to explain their mission to the women in the rural area with 100-per-cent illiteracy.

They had to get past the male elders who were astounded that Nutt, a woman, is a doctor, and that she had come to meet with the village women, not the men. They finally allowed the 50 women of the village to gather in the shade of a hut. Nutt and the Somali midwife showed them the picture books with illustrations of normal female genitalia and discussed reproductive health and the issue of mutilation. They drew a crowd.

"Men outside started to gather and they were getting closer... straining to hear," Nutt said.

"An older woman shouted out at them, and all the women were laughing and the men were running away and falling over each other," she said. Nutt asked for a translation.

"She said 'Hey all of you men - we're in here talking about vaginas. Unless you want to talk about vaginas, get lost!'."

That feistiness and the high spirits of the women fly in the face of the oppression and poverty they endure, said Nutt. It left a lasting impression on the budding activist MD.

"I expected to see women who'd given up," she said. "I met women who turned that stereotype on its head."

Supporting the work of agencies like UNICEF globally and the Laurel Centre locally can tap into that spirit and bring about profound changes.

"Change is inevitable when you put the control back in the hands of women who've had that control stripped from them."

SOURCE: Winnipeg Free Press

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DATE: 06/05/2008

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