How can the power of art change hearts and minds against FGM?


10 June 2011

What can a Senegalese urban soul and hip-hop star do to help end FGM? Or groups of Women quilting or embroiding images of female genitalia do to raise awareness of FGM? See how art can change hearts and minds when articles and headlines no longer impact us in our over trauma/stimulated world…

Sister Fa knows in Africa, if you play in the open, people will come: ‘It’s the way to reach them, to bring them together’. She is using Senegalese urban music to help end FGM in the highest 12 of the 28 African countries where FGM is practised. Having been cut herself, she is now taking part in an ‘Education against Mutilation’ Campaign – using music to relate to young people.

The difficulty of NGOs staffed by people communities see as ‘foreigners’ saying ‘Don’t do FGM’, is that they can respond, ‘Why not, it’s our tradition, who are you to come and pressurise us – it’s our way of life’. As I witnessed in the Somali refugee camp in which I worked in 2006, if a 5 year old girl is not cut, everyone in the village knows. One girl I met, whose parents chose not to cut her, was stoned and blinded in one eye. Her parents told me ‘we cannot draw water from the well; my husband could not work in the market and her sister cannot go to school’. Sister Fa says, a girl not being at the village cutting ceremony will be ‘treated like an animal; she can’t get married, cook or pass water to someone to drink’.

Nafissato Diop, Co Ordinator of a Unicef project suggests allowing a ‘non-judgemental dialogue to be opened, so the community can discuss topics in a local context, gradually coming to voluntarily ending FGM’. This has happened in Kenya, where FGM has dropped from 32% to 27%, Ethiopia from 80% to 74% and in Egypt from 97% to 91%.

Sister Fa has couragesly spoken on Senegalese radio where she is threatened for ‘talking of these things’. She also hopes for more advocates in Europe, where she knows that, even in Berlin where she now lives, FGM is an issue with refugee populations, as it is in London. Let’s hope her music can make an impact on the next generation.

If hip hop is not your talent, have you ever thought of using quilting on embroidery to advocate against FGM? A few years ago a group of women took up the Yoni Quilt Challenge. Where one quilt is dedicated to FGM.

If you saw the movie a few years ago on the Women’s Institute or like me, met a group of women from the Mother’s Union Cardiff , you could be right to dispel any perceptions on them not having moved with the times!

The Women’s Institute recently wrote up a project called Women Reaching Women – whereby they linked participants in the UK with those in the developing world. The benefits included connectedness; authentic communication; powerful confidence; collective action and individual contribution. An example of how benefits such as these are rolled out in real projects, is the Shoreditch Sisters (a London WI branch) whose members have been embroidering images of female sex organs to raise awareness of FGM. The Persian colloquial term for FGM is ‘embroidery’ and there has been a campaign to ‘take up a needle and thread’ to create a piece of art to stand up for liberating girls from FGM. This is a true case of art imitating practice as the traditional method of seal wound after Type III FGM is to sew the flesh with cat gut, after pining with thorns. Whether in taking action or speaking out; performing music or producing embroidery – let us individually do whatever is needed to help raise awareness to end FGM.