29 November 2016

FGM and The Red Elephant Foundation

Guest Blog from Kirthi Jayakumar, Founder of The Red Elephant Foundation. 

Tia was 10 years old when she was taken to a rather sullen middle-aged woman in her community for female circumcision. She was not anesthetized and the lady used an unsterilized razor blade to cut her. Tia cried loudly. Her mother slapped her across the face and threatened to hurt her if she kept crying. But instead she bit her mother's hand and screamed in protest for the rest of the procedure. Tia is now married, but she remains plagued by complications from being cut. It started with infections after the procedure.  And now that she is more susceptible to vaginal tears and wounds, it is nearly impossible for her to carry her own child.

Tia’s story took place in India but it could just have easily have taken place in other areas of Asia, in Africa  or any of the diaspora communities where FGM  takes place.  Sadly there are many stories about women like Tia, but Tia is not just any woman from the Bohri Muslim community, she is my good friend. As a journalist, I had often written about the social, psychological and physical toll of FGM. But when I learned that a close friend had gone through it too I decided to dedicate my life to fighting the practice and changing its perception as an acceptable cultural norm.  

At the Red Elephant Foundation, we actively engage in efforts to put an end to female genital mutilation. For the most part, information about FGM is distributed through research documents and briefing papers that speak about the crime and highlight global statistics. We knew that the approach to educating the Bohri community about FGM had to change. Through digital media-based advocacy, we present real stories of women who have survived FGM or who know of loved ones who have survived FGM or who work to end FGM. In this way, we help people in the community realize and understand the human face of those affected. We help them understand that it is not just about the sheer numbers, but that the individuals who experience FGM are real. We inspire people to take action.

But even as telling the story and creating awareness is one side of the story, and has a long-standing impact whose results can be gleaned in the future, the present still remains a bit of a dangerous place for many women who continue to face FGM. The consequences of FGM on the health, both  physical and psychological, are tremendous. There is a need for health care, concentrated assistance to repatriate the dangerous impact, and also, in many communities, a desperate need to help the women stand on their own feet if they choose to escape the dangerous treatment. With this in mind, we’ve set aside a dedicated segment on our digital tool, the GBV Help Map that specifically looks at addressing the needs of women who have either undergone, or are vulnerable to FGM.  

 While we are not there yet in terms of numbers – be it in the eradication of FGM or in the number of people we can shift the mindsets of – just yet, we must still brave on with these marginal gains that we aim for, because it is these little drops that make the ocean.