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Female Genital Mutilation Must be Dismantled

By Abdul Suhood Komeh,
London, UK.

Firstly, Fatima Bio is entitled to her opinions, just like everyone else. She’s not a minister or MP. She cannot make laws by proposing, or voting for them.

Secondly, and very important, she does not represent the government. Therefore, her views in favour of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), or for that matter any other social arguments, are not government positions or policy.

Even when her opinions are subjectively pleasing or opposite, they still represent her perspective, how ever flawed or sound. She also has a right to choose the causes she champions. 

As far as Sierra Leone is concerned, the only opinion that matters on FGM and every other issue, that is remotely consequential, is that of her husband’s, the president. He’s got limitless powers and parliamentary party-representatives that are proving themselves automatons. Just as expected, they are programmed to do exactly as he says and wants. What ‘New Direction’? 

That said, the anger expressed at Fatima’s comments, especially by campaigners, is understandable and legitimate. At this point, it strains credulity that anyone, man or woman, could labour explaining any benefits in something that time has left as far behind and counter to empirical perspectives like FGM. Just last December (2018), it was reported that a girl of 10, bled to death in an FGM ritual in Sierra Leone. 10 years old! For what?
Together with its support structures, FGM must, and should be dismantled.

Let’s just forget the science for a second. Are we are actually saying that African women are born with defective genitals that need correcting? Or the men’s too?

The idea that a girl, born or of African descent, is not fully woman until her body, particularly the organ that best aligns with her gender identity at that point is modified, is revolting. It defeats any cultural importance and debases us that it is done without her consent or before she could reach the maturity to rationalise her decisions.

What does it say about us as a culture, that it’s acceptable for such an operation to have survived this long, and carried out with unhygienic and crude tools in makeshift tents, by unaccountable women? Majority of whom cannot even write their names in any language. Let alone access newly published papers on advances in surgery. It cannot get any more uncivilised.

Maybe Fatima deserves a degree of understanding. Not least because the view she espoused is not unique to her. It’s more than possible, hers is the majority amongst Sierra Leoneans. However, as uncompromising as her tone was, it might be genuine. Especially based on the limits of her understanding of the issue the interview revealed. Importantly, she demanded statistics. Which is a sign she could be receptive to a more informed insight and can be won.

Most troubling in all this palaver is not Fatima’s interview performance but the people that preposterously call themselves ‘Strategic Communications’ unit around her. They are meant to be professionals but turned out to be worst than disingenuous. A classic case of the out-of-touch being responsible for PR: shambolic disaster. 

They should have prepared her for one of the most critical issues around Africa. Way before the question was posed, inevitably. Clearly they didn’t. If they did, she could have either evaded the question or produced a subtle, if not diplomatic answer that may not have alienated her from a good chunk of Sierra Leoneans. Even more damaging is when the reaction from the interview got hostile, her PR people should have written a thoughtful statement, to mitigate the damage. They didn’t. Instead, they entrenched her deeper in outdated tropes on ‘African solutions for African problems’, cultural dictations and other exhausted jokes. As if the outcry was not from Sierra Leoneans but paid Western agitators.

If one of the functions of the Bondo society at the centre of FGM is to teach women how to be wives and mothers as the first lady’s spokesman defended, then that alone is reason to dissolve the damn thing. At this point, in 2019, any institution that exists to ascribe or affirm gender roles is sexist and past its time. Any suggestion that women should be taught motherhood and marriage ethics is grossly disrespectful and reductive. Fatima’s communications people ought to know that. They work for a woman!

Not all women want to be wives; not all women want to be mothers. And raising children cannot be women’s exclusive sphere. Or for that matter their sole social aspiration.

For example, the new mayor of Freetown is a woman. Early evidence is that she’s excellent at her job. She’s also a mother. Her name, which has the possibility of being very important in this debate is Yvonne Aki-Sawyer. Do the math, dinosaurs and dinosauresses!

Campaigners against FGM will eventually win this argument. They have one significant positive from Fatima Bio’s interview: Thanks to her high profile, unwittingly perhaps, she’s just given their movement, possibly the biggest publicity, and subsequently the most spirited debate since FGM was rightly identified as one of most neanderthal rites to have survived into the 21 century. Now that it has everyone’s attention, it must end.
Go Sarian, go Sarian Kamara!