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African Activism Against Female Circumcision Is Focus Of New Film

A new film focuseson the fight by African activists against an ancient practice that is stillperformed each year on millions of girls: female circumcision, often known asFGM, or female genital mutilation. Opponents call it a human rights abuse thatdestroys a woman's ability to enjoy sex, is sometimes fatal, and frequentlyleads to lifelong pain and disability.

Agnes Pareyio helped found the Kenyan movement to end FGM“I was forcefully cut when I was 14 years,” says Kenyananti-FGM activist Agnes Pareyio. “Itried to resist; everybody was calling me a coward. There was a lot of peerpressure on me that forced me to prove to them that I was not a coward.  But I hated it. So, I grew up hating it andmade sure that not my daughter, not anybody who can listen to me, will undergoFGM.”

The village-by-villageeffort of education and persuasion that Pareyio and others like her in Somalia,Tanzania, Burkina Faso and Mali have taken on is the subject of "AfricaRising: The Grassroots Movement to End Female Genital Mutilation," made byPaula Heredia for Equality Now, a group that works to promote human rights forwomen.

The film opens with 14-year-oldMary Solio remembering the day she was cut. "My father decided to marry meoff. I told him no, because I wanted to continue with my education,“ Soliosays. “They beat me. They removed all my clothes and they beat me nakedly. Iran, but they got me on the way. I cry, but nobody was there in the forest.  I cried but I don't have anybody to turn to.They beat me the same day and they took me to the husband's home."

A Somali girl hospitalized after FGM, in "Africa Rising"At least 100 million African women and girls have undergone FGM, which involvesthe removal of all or part of the female genitalia. Sometimes the remaining flesh is stitched closed,a practice called infibulation, leaving only a tiny opening for urination andmenstruation, and making intercourse and childbirth painful and hazardous. FGMcan cause immediate hemorrhaging and death or a lifetime of pain, disabilityand severe emotional problems, doctors say.

Activists fight FGMby pointing out it is not practiced in most Islamic countries, and is notmentioned in the Koran.  In Somalia,where most girls are cut by the age of eight, the film shows anti-FGM activistHawa Aden Mohamed visiting a classroom. She tells the schoolgirls that Godcreated female organs for a purpose, and so removing them cannot beright. "People are just trying to change His creation," shesays.  The grassroots campaigns alsoinvolve reaching out to circumcisers, who are usually illiterate village women,to teach them that FGM is wrong, and to help them find other ways to earnmoney.

In 2000, two sistersin Kenya, Edna and Beatrice Kandie, were told by their father that they wouldsoon be circumcised. They sought help from human rights lawyer Ken Wafula,director of the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, who successfully sued tostop the procedure from taking place.

“At the beginning myfather was very hostile, because we took him to court,” Beatrice Kandie shyly tellsthe filmmakers. “It was the first time. We made history in Kenya by taking ourfather to court to stop us from being circumcised."
Former circumcisers at their co-operative mill in another scene from "Africa Rising" Although Kenya subsequentlyoutlawed FGM for girls under 18, the practice is still routine there. Girls nowsometimes run away from home to avoid it. Agnes Pareyio, a member of the Maasaitribe, founded a safe house for girls, where she teaches girls about othercultural traditions to prepare themselves for womanhood.And she takes the anti-FGM campaign fromvillage to village, explaining the law to parents and to circumcisers alike.

“We tell them, ‘Areyou aware that you are breaking the law, and can easily go to jail for that?”she said in an interview. “And at times we tell them, ‘Are you aware that youexpose your naked hands to people? You don’t know whether they have the HIVvirus, and it can easily be transmitted to you.’”

Pareyio was in NewYork recently to publicize the film. She described how she was considered crazywhen she began speaking out against FGM seven years ago. Her husband left her afterothers said she was trying to spoil their culture, and she raised her fourchildren alone.

Schoolgirls wearing anti-FGM headbands in "Africa Rising" “In the beginning,it was tough,” Pareyio said. “My life was in danger, because I was trying to breakthe silence about a culture that was deeply rooted among the people. Peoplebelieved in it and had never looked at it or even known the dangers, or wantedto talk about it. So, it was like I was crazy, because I was talking about theprivate part of a woman, which was a taboo in Africa. Nobody can even mentionthe part that I used to mention when teaching them. But I insisted, because Iknew having seen some communities who don’t perform it, I knew that this wasjust another way of oppressing our women.”

Now the subject isno longer taboo. “I’m happy now because at least everybody is talkingabout it openly, compared to those days,” she says. “These days I go to thefield, and say ‘Well, I’ve called you here because I want to talk about FGM.’So, we are moving towards stopping it.” Pareyio also invokes her Maasai culturein explaining why she does not let herself become discouraged by the decades ofstruggle that she sees ahead. “When yougo to war, always be faithful ,” she says. “I have faithin me that one day women in the Maasai community will be free from the cut."

SOURCE: Turkish Weekly

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DATE: 24/11/2009

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