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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Female Genital Mutilation in Georgia, USA

March 15, 2010
By Julia Lalla-Maharajh

In La Grange, Georgia, a 35-year old mother has been arrested and is being held on charges of female genital mutilation. It was simply a matter of time. A senior director of the campaign group Avaaz once asked me to make the case for them to take up the issue of FGM. I tried, but they didn't feel able to. I sent an email reply: "Sadly, this will become an issue when a baby girl or infant dies from the cut somewhere in London or New York. Then the outcry will start and we will all wonder why we didn't do more."

We can and we should be doing more. But people shy away. It's too taboo. Female genital mutilation is one of the least researched, least resourced, least talked about issues that the world faces today. It is a gross abuse of human rights, of child rights, of health rights. Over 140 million women bear the consequences. 3 million girls in Africa alone are cut a year. This is not just an African problem -- it happens in Indonesia, Malaysia, Yemen, UAE, Kurdistan and of course, as we now know, in the US, Australia, and across the EU. This is a global problem and it is our problem.

And yet, we stand by. There are some valiant efforts in the field, some organizations doing brilliant work, yet the scale of their interventions are tiny. What will it take to make the world sit up and take notice of how we are failing our girls, our women? How we are taking control from them, taking away their right to their bodies, to their life? We don't even know the statistics of how many girls or women have died as a result of FGM.

Marietou Diarra's two daughters died after being cut. She is here, interviewed with Tostan director, Molly Melching at the Women in the World summit. If you watch, you will learn some of the complexities behind FGM: There's more. Tadeletch Shanko, who lives in Ethiopia and now campaigns against FGM with UNICEF had herself performed FGM on girls for 15 years and underwent the procedure herself as a girl, with devastating consequences.

"I lost seven of my nine children in childbirth" she said "Because of the scarring, I was not elastic enough. All seven of them suffocated inside my womb."

Neo-natal deaths associated with FGM are not attributed to the practice. Women who die in childbirth are not counted. In spite of having a direct impact on four of the Millennium Development Goals, it's not shouted from the rooftops. FGM is invisible. I don't know why. I don't know why our agencies are failing us so wholly. Yes, it is a taboo issue. But so was HIV -- a global pandemic that is funded to the tune of $13 billion a year (and still that is nowhere near enough). Guess what -- FGM is cheap. Ending it is a matter of social behavioural change and talking with communities, empowering women. It doesn't need expensive drugs, complicated interventions and exhortations for safe sex and condoms. It needs recognition, it needs the women on the ground to be supported. It needs resources. And yet, no one knows how much. There is not a global, costed, timetabled plan to end FGM.

Is it going to take that one child in the West to die for us to take notice? And how do we sit by and ignore the cries of more than 3,000,000 others?