Have you ever read a media article about female genital cutting and cringed at the way the article was written? You know, you get that ‘Oh no, they haven’t used the word “primitive” and “backward” in the same sentence again have they?!’ Feeling.
We’re told the media thrives on sensationalism and that’s why it’s common for news articles to push a line that will attract the most readers. Bums on seats and all that.
But aren’t we getting a bit tired of the same old line? Surely it is time to extend our FGC vocabulary a little and find out more about what else there is to know about a practice that affects an estimated 130 million women and girls globally. Isn’t it time to redefine sensational?
There is in fact so much more to learn about FGC: there is a world of promising prevention practices; different approaches across nations, villages and communities; of advocacy; culture change; and innovation in engaging men and young people in prevention of the practice. Activists and community development workers are working with communities across the world and contributing to the global evidence base about what works best, for whom, and in what context.
Alternative rites of passage (ARP) are said to play a key prevention role in the Kenyan context for example. The Kenyan women’s organisation, Maendeleo Ya Wanawake, started ARP in 1996 as a program of counselling, training and education for girls, celebrated at the end with a ‘coming of age day’ of music, dancing and feasting. ARP has shown itself over time to be an effective strategy in a range of communities, provided the concept is understood and accepted locally by family and community decision-makers.
On a theoretical level, there are complex debates about how we understand and respond to FGC, raising critical questions about who speaks publicly about this issue, and the leadership role of women. If a determinant of FGC is gender inequity, then surely our efforts should promote the leadership of women who are affected by the practice. FGC activists and academics are thinking through these very questions: how does FGC relate to gender equity and what is the relationship of self-representation and self-advocacy by women to the prevention of the practice? And speaking of women, how might we support and harness women’s leadership in communities to meaningfully engage men and boys in prevention? What works and what makes things worse?
Other questions revolve around the more pedestrian issue of number-crunching: or determining exactly how many women in Australia are affected by FGC. Attempts have been made to come up with a figure, and we do now know the numbers of people who have migrated to Australia from countries where FGC is known to be practiced. But these data only draw half the picture because they don’t account for cultural and ethnic differences within countries, which in fact sends us looking in the wrong direction. Rigourous methodologies, incorporating number crunching with considered and knowledgeable community consultation, along with community-based research, are needed.