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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Sarabah: A Female Rapper Wrestles With a Taboo Subject

January 11, 2012
The Huffington Post
Michal Shapiro

I don't often have the opportunity to write about a film that combines world music and social activism as closely as Sarabah, which will be making its television debut on Link TV, Sunday, January 15 at 11 pm ET/8 pm PT and will repeat on Friday, January 27 at 9 pm ET/6 pm PT. It is the story of Fatou Mandiang Diatta, dba Sister Fa.

Fatou is a driven woman. She was driven to rise to being one of the most recognized rappers in her homeland of Senegal, and now she is driven to stop the practice of Female Genital Cutting; a tactful term for the removal of the clitoris, or more, that is still part of life (and death) in Senegal today. Her music tour to put an end to this custom is the subject of the film, and it leaves few people unmoved. I've posted the trailer, and you can find more information about it here and at the Women Make Movies site.

I had heard Sister Fa's music on her excellent CD Tales from the Flipside of Paradise on Piranha records, and at the time suggested that she would make an excellent subject for part of a series of short films that Link TV was producing about New Music from the Muslim World. She was a good candidate in that we were hoping to find musicians who did not fall into the usual stereotypes, and being a successful female rapper in the male dominated society of Senegal was enough to put her in the running. But one meeting with the force that is Fatou convinced producer Steven Lawrence and Director Maria Gambale that her story could not be told within a 15 minute frame, and the decision was made (along with co-director Gloria Bremer) to create a full length documentary. That film, Sarabah, has gone on to win the Golden Butterfly Award in the Movies that Matter Film Festival.

And now you can see it for yourself, on Link TV. Check it out.

To read the full article on The Huffington Post website, click here

Thursday, January 5, 2012

FGM Campaign Gains Momentum in Central River Region (GAMBIA)

January 3, 2012
Daily Observer (Banjul)

The campaign to eradicate Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) has taken roots in The Gambia through raising awareness and building consciousness amongst the people. The Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices affecting the health of Women and Children (GAMCOTRAP) has recently completed a series of training and information campaign activities held in Janjangbureh, Sami Karantaba Tabokoto and Chamen Nainija, all in the Central River Region north.

About 200 women and men benefited from the workshops funded by the European Union / Non-State Actors project in The Gambia. Addressing participants in the various workshops held, the executive director of Gamcotrap, Dr. Isatou Touray informed participants that Gamcotrap promotes the rights of women and children and engage in social mobilisation to dispel the misconceptions associated with FGM and religion, as well as promote the dignity of women.

The training workshops also gave participants the opportunity to engage on issues of female sexuality and of gender-based violence. They were enlightened on the efforts The Gambia has made to promote the rights of women and children by ratifying the United Nations Conventions and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People's Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa as well as the national laws on women and children. It was however made clear that there is no specific law to protect girls from FGM at the moment but The Gambia has committed herself under Article 5 of the Women's Protocol to enact a specific law to protect girls and women from FGM.

In Janjangbureh, the chief of Upper Saloum, Malick Mbye said the recommendations from the Local Government Authorities including chiefs, Imams, ward councillors, women leaders and circumcisers calling for a law against female genital mutilation is supported because there is awareness in the region that the practice affects women's reproductive health. "We the chiefs would not have participated in these activities if they are not in the interest of our people," he emphasised.

Speaking on behalf of the circumcisers, Haja Tandi Yaffa, noted that even though FGM is deep-rooted, it is through the series of trainings that they became conscious of the effects it has on women and girls. Like most of her colleagues, they were made to belief that it was a religious injunction. Imam, Cherno Muhamadou Dem of Janjangbureh informed the participants that the practice of FGM is not Farda (obligation) nor Sunnah. He observed that people are now aware that there is no honour in the practice because it affects the health of women.

The vice chairman of Kuntaur Area Council and Ward Councillor for Janjangbureh, Ebrima Janko Foon called on parents to take responsibility to protect girls and women from the practice. The health official at the Janjangbureh Health Centre, Kumba Ceesay called the attention of the participants on the impact of FGM on maternal and infant health. She pledged to include FGM in their health talks during antenatal clinics with nursing mothers.

At Sami Karantaba Health Centre, the officer in charge of the health centre, Dodou Sonko informed participants that they are always faced with challenges to help women and children affected by the effects of FGM. He cited a recent case of a girl who died while on referral to a major hospital due to uncontrolled bleeding caused by the practice of FGM.

Speaking earlier at Karantaba Tabokoto in Sami District, Chief Alhagie Kassum Leigh reiterated that FGM is not a religious issue but a traditional practice. He further informed the participants that the chiefs in the region support the advocacy for a law to protect the rights of women and girls from FGM in The Gambia. One of the renowned circumcisers in Sami, Mbuleh Kandeh of Bayaba assured that she has taken the decision to stop the practice but appealed for support for an alternative livelihood.

At Chamen Nainija cluster, women of reproductive age and mainly from Fula communities from thirteen 13 villages participated in the training. Addressing the participants, Chief Alhaji Alasan Davis Cham called on the women to be aware of the impact of the practice on their reproductive health and that of their daughters. He highlighted that religion can no longer be used to justify the practice because people are now aware and the local authorities including all the chiefs of the region have given their public support to the campaign to stop FGM in the area.

To read the full article on the Daily Observer website, click here

PAKISTAN: Low awareness of hidden FGM/C practices

December 26, 2012
IRIN Asia

KARACHI, 26 December 2011 (IRIN) - In certain caf├ęs close to medical colleges in Pakistan, and of course within the institutions themselves, students studying gynaecology speak of some unexpected sights they have seen.

“Recently, we examined a woman who complained of pain in her genital region. We were shocked to see when we examined her that she had suffered some mutilation of her private parts. I have read about these practices but I didn’t know they took place here,” Zeba Khan, a 4th year medical student, told IRIN.

Though female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) takes place, the practice is hidden, hardly ever spoken of, barely known about. The country, for instance, is considered to be “free” of FGM/C, like a number of other Muslim majority countries in the region. Indeed, this view is widely held. “No such thing happens here,” Saadia Ahmed, a gynaecologist, told IRIN.

But there is evidence which suggests this widely held view may be inaccurate.

“I can still remember when it happened,” Zehra Ali*, 22, told IRIN. She said soon after her eighth birthday, her mother “gave me a big bowl of ice-cream” and then led her to a spare bedroom where an elderly woman spoke to her kindly, had her lie down on the bed and do “a terrible” thing. Zehra says a small part of her clitoris was quickly snipped off, that she felt “some pain” but mainly a strong sense of being “violated”. She said the episode, which she “never forgot”, causes her problems “now that I am married” and that she needed counselling before she was willing to consent to sex, “for psychological not physical reasons”.

Bohra community

Zehra belongs to the Bohra community, a sect of the majority Muslim population which numbers some 100,000, according to official figures, and is based mainly in the southern province of Sindh. The Bohras are among the few communities practising FGM/C in Pakistan.

Other groups which carry out the mutilation are groups with African or Arab origins, such as the ethnic Sheedi community which numbers several thousand, came to the country originally as slaves during the 19th and 20th centuries, and is based primarily in Sindh. There has been little research on the practice among these groups.

Zehra believes that even today at least 50-60 percent of Bohra women undergo circumcision, involving usually a symbolic snipping of the clitoris. “In the past there was more mutilation, and I think 80-90 percent of women suffered it. More awareness has helped reduce the practice,” she said.

“I have seen females who have suffered `khatna’ as female circumcision is called. Sometimes there is merely a symbolic snipping of some skin, but in some women - especially those who are not so young, there is somewhat more extensive cutting,” said a midwife (she preferred anonymity) in the Tando Muhammad Khan District of Sindh, who has attended to Sheedi women. She said she herself did not perform circumcisions.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), FGM/C “includes procedures that intentionally alter or injure female genital organs for non-medical reasons”.  It says an estimated 100-140 million girls and women worldwide are living with FGM/C, 92 million of them in Africa.

“Symbolic” cutting

Shershah Syed, a former president of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, who devotes his practice to serving deprived women, told the media he had come across cases in urban Pakistan where women have undergone the procedure.

“In Pakistan, with growing awareness [of the effects of FGM/C], they are now doing it merely symbolically, with only a bit of skin being removed. But even so, I find it to be in clear violation of human rights. There is absolutely no scientific evidence supporting any medical benefit of the procedure. In fact, it can lead to health complications,” said Syed.

The WHO lists the string of complications that can arise from the procedure, including repeated infections, cysts, infertility, higher childbirth complications and the need for repeated surgeries.

“In our community, this practice has taken place for generations. The girls nowadays have it done in sterile conditions. It is rarely spoken of. It is just something the women know about and do,” said Raazia*, 60, a member of the Bohra community and a grandmother. She says her granddaughters “will be safely circumcized.”

“The impact is not just on health, it is psychological too. Such practices leave deep scars, and in our country these have not been studied at all, because so little is known about the mutilation of women in this way,” said Aliya Rizvi, a psychologist.

*Not her real name

To read the full article on the IRIN website, click here