Friday, April 26, 2013

Alternative Rites of Passage and Declarations: Moving Beyond FGC - PICTURE OF THE WEEK

Maasai girls from the Africa School of Kenya celebrating Alternative Rites
The movement to end Female Genital Cutting - a long-held social norm widely practiced in Africa and some areas of Asia and the Middle East - is gaining momentum.  Despite cultural beliefs associated with the practice, public health experts agree that it causes a wide variety of adverse health outcomes.  These include infection,  hemorrhage from excessive bleeding, shock, chronic pain, recurrent urinary tract infection and painful urination, menstrual problems, and even infertility. It increases the risk of labor complications and newborn deaths.  There is psychological trauma, as well, and additional stigma attached to many of its side-effects.
However, in locales where nearly all women have been cut, these problems have not been connected to their original cause.  Despite education, local and international opposition, and outlawing the practice in scores of countries, it has endured. The United Nations 2012  resolution "Intensifying Global Efforts for the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilations", calls on all states to enact legislation banning FGM. The practice is now perceived as a human rights issue, and a form of violence against women; African states lead the initiative which culminated in the UN ban.  UNICEF has just released an update on the movement to abandon this practice, as there is still much to be done.
“FGM/C is a violation of a girl’s rights to health, well-being and self-determination,” says UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Geeta Rao Gupta. “What is clear from this report is that legislation alone is not enough. The challenge now is to let girls and women, boys and men speak out loudly and clearly and announce they want this harmful practice abandoned.”
Young women dance at a Declaration Celebration in The Gambia - TOSTAN
But how to eradicate the practice?  Tostan, an international NGO based in Senegal, has been enormously successful in contributing to the abandonment of FGC through its village-level Community Empowerment Program. Parents' worries that no man would marry an uncut daughter are addressed by partnering with neighboring villages who pledge their sons will only marry uncut brides.  Declaring Villages join together for festive regional convocations to celebrate their putting an end to this harmful practice.  

Over 6,500 communities from Djibouti, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal Somalia and The Gambia have publicly declared, announcing their new commitment through traditional forms of oratory, dance, music and storytelling.  Tostan is growing, and expanding their influence.  They have a formal, volunteer program, lasting a minimum of one year.  College/university students, recent grads, and MA and PhD candidates with French proficiency are especially encouraged to apply. 

In Kenya, an Alternative Rite of Passage was recently introduced for 52 young teenage Maasai village girls, including a chief's daughter.  The traditional two-day gathering celebrated their initiation into womanhood, with three tribal elders privately teaching the girls about human rights, education, and women's health.  The community realized the importance of providing elder women cutters not just respect, but also new livelihoods to replace their lost income going forward.  Part of the ARP was a ceremony presenting each of the former cutters with a goat, along with community recognition and appreciation for their willingness to renounce this practice.  

In Ethiopia, similar community-based education and discussion has resulted in a radical decline in the numbers of girls who are cut.  Brides proudly display jewelry announcing they are uncut, whole women.

Africa School of Kenya is raising money to continue the Alternative Rites of Passage.  Sponsoring one girl is $25, and a whole group's Alternative Ritual can be underwritten for $375.  

For the sake of my daughter from whose eyes beam a promising tomorrow and who brings seeds of change, I will continue to work at home and through the media to put an end to FGM. 

"A Future Without Female Genital Mutilation" - WorldPulse, by Halima Mohamed Abdel Rahman, Khartoum, Sudan

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