25 June 2013

Cutting the Rose

A guest blog by Amanda Epe Health 28 Too Many Volunteer, trainer/coach and writer/activist against FGM.

It was my father who told me first, speaking to his three young women daughters. I remember the sadness in his eyes and tone of his voice as he spoke; finally informing us of a most harrowing story. It was an enormously hard and bitter pill for us to swallow. I grew angry and dismayed, it was unbelievable, so implausible that I tossed it to the back of my mind; well at least I tried to. Not until many years after would I be drawing this story from the archives and researching by chatting with women from the community. Unfortunately light had been shed that it was a normal practice in our group of people. So normal that our women from Ijaw communities would even justify that it was harmless, that is the ones who dared to speak about it. I started to ask African migrant and British born women from other parts of Nigeria and Africa as a whole, but none of them knew or could identify with this practice in their kin.

I didn’t know what the practice entailed but just hearing how women and girls genitalia was cut in the name of culture shocked me sending shivers down my spine. Many years ago we were in a social gathering full of Ijaw people discussing Female Genital Mutilation FGM, when one man stood up vehemently, campaigning for the practice to continue. “We must keep our culture!” he protested in the heated debate. The metamorphosis of the seated pint-sized middle age man into a violent protesting creature hands in the air, was a memory I cannot forget. So dramatic and ferocious he was that he had turned the congenial house gathering into a parliamentary battle. Unable to be persuaded otherwise he said he would have this done to his daughters!

I had since been enlightened that women were the perpetrators of this cruel custom when I carried out social research studying for a master’s programme in education and health promotion. FGM was seen by mothers, grandmothers and women as a loving act, in order to secure a girl’s future for marriage, childbirth and other unsubstantiated beliefs. These operations have been traditionally known to be undertaken by grandmas and old village women all of which were cutters with no medical training and failing to use anaesthetic. This practice is part of my ancestral culture as an Ijaw woman. It has over and over again resurfaced from my subconscious, and it is overdue yet it is my time to talk more widely about the dangers towards health and in some cases death this barbaric practice can do.

Second generation migrant girls are not exempt, families who believe in this see no wrong. As mentioned above the pro-FGM little man I met in London would subject his daughters to torture to fulfil his culture. Girls in the U.K coming from Ijaw backgrounds, Niger Delta and Northern Nigeria, and other parts of Africa as well as Asia and Middle East are also at risk. As a second generation migrant I faced being in exile in U.K, however it was the sacrifice for an unnecessary evil. Yes I at times experienced being ostracised growing up; on the other hand if I was to be raised in Ijawland any family member could plan, then capture me and take me away for the rights of passage. A necessary evil! We traditionally believe in belonging to the whole community.

Many girls like I was during childhood and adolescent are unaware of FGM and are at risk if their parents or carers believe in this. In order to safeguard children more teachers should be trained and more children taught about FGM in Sex and Relationship Education SRE at schools.

Research and focused campaigning like that undertaken by 28 Too Many is vital to ending this harmful practice. We can all play a part and help in the fight against FGM. Maybe you can volunteer some time and your skills or make a donation to help this important work. Please contact us if you would like more information.