by Rosemarie Doucette, an ELCA delegate to the 57th Commission on the Status of Women
There was an awesome energy last week at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women! Clearly times are changing for the better as issues of inequality, injustice and violence were brought to light with grace and power. Women across differences of faith, race, gender identity, ethnicity and education united in the effort to bring truth and justice to those places where they are most needed. I was very impressed with the progress made in Mauritania in the movement to end female genital mutilation. Putting all girls at risk for their physical health, the deeper psychological damage that is done is often harder to assess and there are few resources for addressing it. While this is a harmful practice, it is nonetheless an integral part of the tradition of many cultures so its eradication must be approached with sensitivity and options must be introduced.
I was encouraged by the work of speaker Mariem M’bareck of Mauritania who has worked extensively with both the religious community and health care providers in order to educate and mobilize people from within their own communities instead of alienating them through a campaign waged from outside of their culture. First Mariem met with a few Imams who established that the Koran does not require female genital mutilation of any female, of any age, for any circumstance. The Imams, respected as wise religious leaders, will educate the people in their communities so that over time the misunderstanding that female genital mutilation is a requirement of Islam might be corrected. The group of Imams who have made this commitment has grown from two to over 200. Health care providers will approach the eradication of female genital mutilation from a health standpoint, highlighting the extreme and lifetime health risks involved while teaching women and men that the reasons used to justify it are based on misconceptions, superstitions and myths.
Another piece of the situation is that the women who perform the cutting will be left without a livelihood. It is important that their financial and social needs be met by the community because they are most often uneducated and this will be a difficult thing to process, that their service to the community will no longer be needed.
Finally, and perhaps the most uplifting and easiest transformation to make following the eradication of female genital mutilation will be to provide young girls with new rituals to mark their passage from babies to young girls and from young girls to young women. For thousands of years the passage of boys to young adulthood has been marked by circumcision, preceded and followed by communal celebrations and privileges. Girls, on the other hand, were more likely to be cut in private and would have to spend even more time in healing. Their passage to womanhood was generally not celebrated in community. In the new light of hope, equality and human rights, communities where female genital mutilation is being eradicated are now replacing this practice with healthy ways of celebrating and marking this life passage, thus ensuring better physical and psychological health, and more social equality.