Winnepeg Free Press
BANNED in Canada and under fire from international organizations, female genital cutting -- also known as female genital mutilation -- is impacting more and more new Canadians.
To move forward on the issue in Winnipeg, local researchers, at a talk on the weekend, said educators need to open their ears to being educated themselves.
On Saturday, at the final talk of a University of Manitoba series examining immigrant issues, representatives from the Sexuality Education and Resource Centre shared their experience with building Our Selves, Our Daughters, a community-driven program to address female genital cutting (FGC).
One thing they learned: Success for the program, which is ongoing, depended on "an invitation" from the ethnic communities affected by FGC. "We have to balance respecting women, respecting cultures. Sometimes, it feels like we're walking on a tightrope," said SERC co-ordinator Shereen Denetto.
There are no data on how many Canadian women are impacted by FGC, though SERC researchers believe there is a "high likelihood that many are affected in Winnipeg." The practice has been banned in Canada since 1997, but statistics show up to 98 per cent of women from parts of countries such as Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia are affected. In Winnipeg, SERC's outreach on FGC involved consulting with women and community leaders from ethnic communities impacted by the practice and letting them lead the discussions. That meant dropping Western-influenced notions about FGC, educators said, and providing women with information, encouragement and safe spaces to share their thoughts on sexuality and cultural traditions.
For instance, while some Western media portray the practice as outright misogynist, in most cultures FGC is a tradition passed between women who believe it is the best way to protect their children from harms they believe will occur if the children are not circumcised. Building trust with local new Canadian communities to discuss those issues without judgment, SERC researchers said, is crucial to unpacking some of these issues. "We've really learned the importance of invitation from the community," Denetto said. "You cannot come in as a mainstream agency and do this work (without that)."