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25. April 2019

Female genital mutilation: Pain, shame and silence

The women's rights organisation medica Liberia is currently working within the Feminist Forum of Liberia to ensure that female genital mutilation remains a statutory offence under the "Law against domestic violence”: the National Council of Chiefs and Elders is an association of traditional elders seeking to have it removed. The Women's Film Festival Dortmund | Cologne focused on female genital mutilation this year by showing the film "In Search…".

When we cut a woman's or girl's clitoris for the purpose of increasing male's sexual pleasure, we deny her sexual and reproductive health rights. In doing so, we inflict physical pain and trauma, and diminish her sexuality. We must instead protect the rights of women and girls from all forms of violence, including FGM, through banning and enforcement. (Caroline Bowah, medica Liberia)

At least 200 million women and girls in 30 countries have had their genitals cut according to the United Nations Children's Fund UNICEF in a report published in February 2018. 44 million of them are girls under 15. As with other forms of sexualised violence, there is a lack of official statistics and a high number of unreported cases. Most of those affected remain silent out of shame and in order to avoid being reminded of the pain.

Film about FGM: Courageously breaking the silence

"I wanted to make a film about African women and help other girls avoid the same fate. To do this, first I had to deal with my own trauma," explains the director Beryl Magoko. Her film "In Search…” tells of her own struggle with her decision whether to go ahead with an operation which strips away the scar and exposes the clitoris. In conversation with Sybille Fezer from medica mondiale, Beryl Magoko said she wanted to help other affected women and girls to break their silence on female genital mutilation. On April 11 and 12th, the Women's Film Festival Dortmund | Cologne showed the film “In Search…" as a joint event with the Cologne-based women's rights organisation.

“Female genital mutilation is about power and control over the female body”

In the film conversation Sybille Fezer, Executive Director at medica mondiale, reports on backward steps in the struggle against female genital mutilation, with Sierra Leone as an example. medica mondiale funds organisations in many countries that support women and girls who have been raped during war. One such organisation is medica Liberia. Its staff raise awareness in the country among village and community elders of the destructive consequences of female genital mutilation.

In Uganda, Sierra Leone and northern Iraq, partner organisations of medica mondiale work together with doctors and nurses, parents, teachers and traditional authority figures. The aim is to convince them that circumcision breaches the human right to physical integrity as well as making it more difficult for the women to exercise physical and sexual self-determination.

“Female genital mutilation is a form of sexualised violence. The issue is one of power and control over the female body,” explains Sybille Fezer. “This violence is an expression of deeply rooted misogynist structures. We are talking about nothing less than the human right of every woman to live free of violence. Politicians and all members of a society have to take action if we are to prevent violence against women in all of its different forms."

More on the issue of female genital mutilation:

Documentary film "In Search…" by Beryl Magoko & Jule Katinka Cramer

Trailer "In Search..."

Desert Flower Foundation

Facts and Figures UNICEF:
Female Genital Mutilation
What you need to know about female genital mutilation

Further information on female genital mutilation in Liberia:
Liberian Daily Observer: "CSO Group Wants Weah, Chief Zanzan Kawor End FGM"
Africa News: "Equality Now tasks Liberia on FGM measures after Sirleaf’s ban expires"