I arrived with much anticipation to see the play Emotional Creature at the Baxter Theatre in Cape Town on Woman’s day.
 
I was profoundly touched to hear, see and feel the stories of so many young girls on our continent told in such a tender way. I cried and laughed with them as so many others in the audience did. I felt liberated with them for being able to say words out loud  that we as women could not say not so long ago. When they danced, I danced inside for all women. And so I asked for and have been given permission to quote a few of those precious words spoken out loud here in our very own Mother City. 
 
When girl 4 came onto the stage and she reached the top of the mountain exhausted, the audience went still. We could see and feel her innocence as she appealed to Engai for help.

"I ran away dear Engai, ran away from  my mother and father. I ran away from the cutter. I ran away from the razor, ran away from the screaming torturous pain. You must know how my sister screamed last year.

She couldn’t walk for days.

Maybe you will be mad at me but when I kneel here looking at you, at your majesty and power and I just can’t believe you would want my clitoris cut.

I just discovered it and all the things it can do and the way it can make me feel and it’s so powerful and fun and mine.

You taught us that cultivating the land is a terrible thing,  that the land is not ours to cultivate.  I looked up cultivate cause I am pretty smart in school and it means taming the land. 

Why if we are not allowed to tame the land, would you let them cultivate or tame me?  

You taught us to never ever cut down a tree, why would you let them cut me? 

You showed us not to break the land or dig into it, never to even bury our dead relatives there. Then how can you allow them to dig into me?   

Am I less than a tree?  How come we are one and equal with the earth and the animals and plants but girls are less than boys. How come you will let them cut and sell me and stop me from going to school? I’m sorry, but I think there is a mistake.

Maybe you took the day off or you weren’t paying attention. I need you to pay attention. You couldn’t have meant to cut off my clitoris. Forgive me for speaking back or acting like I know more than you, but I know my body. I know what feels necessary and right. I know what I was born with and I do not think we are made wrong. I cannot go home now. I have a whole village after my clitoris.

I cannot give it to them. I will not give it to them. I appeal to you dear Engai. I appeal to your justice and goodness to you to save my clitoris."

I Salute You Eve Ensler, Gina Shmukler, Cecile Lipworth, our wonderful local actresses and all at Vday for this precious gift to the young women of the world.  
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Since the Divine Lotus website went live and I shared a little of my story, I am a witness to people's responses to talking about this taboo subject.

I recognize that one of the challenges in raising awareness about female genital cutting is getting people to talk about the female genitalia. I face this challenge purposefully knowing it is part of what is needed in order to lift the veil of secrecy, not only about our vagina’s but especially about the subject of female genital cutting. 

In many cultures mentioning the female genitalia is strictly taboo.  FGC/FGM and the talking thereof carries an even bigger taboo around it. This taboo is deeply entrenched and even those of us who have never heard of the subject can feel and sense how riddled with superstition this is. In my opinion - this shroud that has been placed over us permeates our responses to hearing and talking about this subject.

Most of the time when I mention female genital cutting, it is followed by silence. People do not know how to respond or what to say.  Our voices instinctively start to whisper. We whisper that we did not even know it existed. We whisper that we are sure it is only happening in far away African countries. We whisper – lest we be heard talking out loud. We whisper because we are afraid.

I grew up never talking about my own genitalia. I knew from those around me that this was a taboo. That ‘good girls’ did not talk about our genitals. This taboo about owning the right to talk about what is good for us permeates our lives and stops us from expressing our wounding and from seeking support in doing so. It has taken me a long time to bridge this separation. To become comfortable talking about my own sacred yoni and all the deep feelings she holds for me.

 I lift the veil from above me - around me - under me, this veil that prevents me from talking about FGM.

My Yoni is a part of me. She has her own personality. She sheds and heals. She continually regenerates herself and my whole being. She burns a sacred fire. She holds my most potent pure power. 

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Law-makers, Police and Air Traffic Authorities combined efforts to take action against those who commit the crime of FGM in the UK during May 2014. They are leading the way in protecting young girls and educating their citizens about this secret practice and thus bringing the practice out in the open.

Operation Limelight was activated during the May 2014 in the UK. A 38-year-old woman is arrested at Heathrow on her return to the UK from Sierra Leone, for conspiracy to commit female genital mutilation. A 13 yr old Sierra Leonian girl travelling with the women was taken into the care of social services. The arrest follows Operation Limelight, a week-long initiative aimed at preventing and identifying cases of FGM in British airports. During the nationwide operation, officers were deployed in several airports across the country to raise awareness among passengers to key countries by handing out leaflets raising wariness that the practice is illegal in the UK even if carried out abroad. The police were also monitoring incoming flights from countries where the practice is rife. There have been four such operations in the last nine months, which have resulted in two arrests previously.

FGM survivor and lead campaigner in the UK Leyla Hussein told Channel 4 News that "this kind of initiative is very important because this might be the only time that a mother might get that information. It also sends out a very, very strong message that the Met Police are watching this very closely".

Doctor Phoebe Abe, a GP based in west London, has 56 patients who have been through FGM, including eight under the age of 16.

She told Channel 4 News: "They've got to talk to the schools, they've got to talk to the universities. Our children must start talking FGM. So we cannot just leave everything to the police: the police is doing the work, we have to implement it in the community."

FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985, but so far, there have been no prosecutions.

Imagine what will happen should our government take this kind of action against those who commit FGM here. Imagine the sense of protection young girls will start to feel if they know that we are fighting for them to be safe from FGM? Imagine...

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It is such a blessing to read your positive responses. Many visitors to the site are asking, ‘What can I do?’

There are currently no statistics available about what communities for whom cutting is a cultural practice, is doing to ensure their women and young girls are cut here in South Africa. Besides the Venda community who openly practices Female Genital Cutting, no one else is admitting to doing so here in our country.

We need health professionals who are willing to acknowledge that they assist patients when they come in for treatment after infection has set in. We need doctors at local clinics and hospitals to admit that they see patients coming into hospital seeking medical intervention after experiencing Fgm.

I believe the stories are amongst us. Whether it’s a family member who experienced it years back, or the lady who comes to cleaning your home. The stories are here…

In Papers prepared by Parliament for the Second Conference of the Pan African Parliament in October 2009, I quote ‘awareness and education campaigns should to be tailored to meet the needs of specific target audiences for example, health-care providers versus adolescent girls versus religious leaders. Information should be made accessible on the subject matter in various formats be it bill boards, posters or pamphlets. Notwithstanding that, given the behavioural and attitudinal change required to abandon the practice of FGM, what is also required is ongoing dialogue in safe spaces - where young girls and women are able to articulate themselves without fear of being ostracised or stigmatised - is crucial. The health and education sector along with communities share an equally important role in not just rendering the appropriate services, but also creating an enabling environment whereby FGM is recognised as a violation of human rights.’

With legislation in many countries outlawing the practice, many for whom it is firmly entrenched has gone into hiding and cutting girls even younger, so as to avoid prosecution.

It seems clear that educating communities about the far reaching physical consequences is key to helping them to understand what all the fuss is about. For many in rural communities who rely on ‘bride money’ for survival they do not understand and call the girls who choose not be cut thieves for robbing them of the bride money they would receive from the groom if procedure was followed and they were paid. In many of these communities the groom pays for the procedure before marriage.

With the women who have experienced FGM afraid to betray family values and cultural beliefs , the search for statistics is not easy.

I refuse to believe that this should stop any of us from pooling our resources in order to establish the prevalence of FGM here in South Africa.

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The global rise in campaigning against Female Genital Cutting continues as more communities, health professionals and governments become aware of the damaging after effects for those affected by it. News of the arrest of 38 women in Tanzania in December 2013 for performing illegal genital cuttings on a group of young girls  - to British law now making it compulsory for state hospitals to record all cases where genital cutting has been performed or where there is a history of it in the family, highlights successes in the drive towards better education and implementation for those within the movement.

Despite Female Genital Cutting being outlawed in 1998, it is still performed in some parts of Tanzania. It has been a crime in Britian since 1995. The Department of Health estimates that aprox 66 000 women in Britain and Wales are living with the consequences of FGM.

In February 2014 Waris Dirie stated ‘There is a war on our planet, bigger than all other wars. It is a war against little girls living in Africa, Asia, the US and Canada, Europe, Australia and South America. The name of the war is: FGM'

It is time South Africa. Time for us to establish how prevalent Female Genital Cutting or FGM is here in our country. We know that the people of Venda openly practices fgm. Why would there not be others doing so here?

During my research of the past few years I have spoken to medical staff at our local Children’s Hospital and they have confirmed my fears. Young girls are brought into our local hospitals suffering from the consequences of Female Genital Cutting. Doctors and staff are not required by law to record or report this!

We should be holding our health professionals accountable to record all cases coming into our hospitals and clinics. The South African Constitution protects the rights of young children. That includes the rights of young girls not to be subjected to harmfull cultural practices.

The Children’s Act under Section 12, “Social, Cultural and ‘Religious practices” states that “Female Genital Mutilation or the circumcision of female children is prohibited”.1 Under this Act provision for the protection from FGM is afforded to girls under the age of 18 years, whilst the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination in Chapter 2, Section 8 states that no person may unfairly discriminate against any person on the grounds of gender, including Female Genital Mutilation, indicating that young women and adults are also protected from this harmful practice quoted from the research papers.

It should be noted that South Africa’s Constitution is the primary legislative tool in the country and even though customary law and practices are recognised they do not take precedence over the Constitution.

What are the Somalian, Sudanese, Ethiopian and other refugee communities doing in order to uphold their cultural practices  while living in South Africa. We will only know the extent of the problem when all our health professionals are held to account to record the cases they are witness to.

Are ‘Cutting Parties’ being held here in our country? How will we know?

Legislation is in place to protect the rights of our young girls, the future mothers and daughters of Africa. We have representatives going to International conferences to represent us regarding this secret practice. Why is our government sending these representatives, spending vast amounts of money doing so? If not to ensure that the law is enforced and our young girls are protected? Why are there no posters and information packages available at our public hospitals and clinics in order to educate our citizens?

This is a Call to all our health professionals, doctors and staff at all our public hospitals and clinics to record the cases of young girls coming to be treated for complications from female genital cutting. I Call on Parliamentarians and other role players involved in the fight for the Rights of Children and women. Let us work together to educate our communities. Together we can implement measures to protect our young girls from Female Genital Cutting. They continue to be at risk if we all turn a blind eye!

(Quotes from Parliamentary Papers presented to The Second Conference of the Pan African Parliament in 2009: Waris Dirie quote from the Desertflower foundation:News 24 for the fgm news on Tanzania and British law)

 

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