Woman reporter threatened for telling FGM story

Carolyn Ph.D.
Posted March 28, 2012 from United States
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Silencing begs lifting secrecy Notes from Liberian journalist Mae Azango’s international interviews on a secret trauma story and threats for telling it Edited by Carolyn Bennett

Female genital mutilation … Partial or complete removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs, for non-medical reasons Areas practiced Western, eastern, and north-eastern Africa, Middle East, Near East, Southeast Asia Number affected 135 million women and girls as of 1997 Age performed A few days after birth to age 15; occasionally in adulthood

“My [March 8, 2012] story,” Mae Azango said, “was about female genital cutting.”

School a mother stood against

The “Sande bush” is where these girls go. They call it a “bush school” where female genital mutilation is prerequisite for graduation. “I went and took pictures of these girls coming from the Sande bush,” Mae Azango said.

Azango knows of what she speaks because she barely escaped the blade herself. She said her father, whose origins were in Liberia’s north where genital mutilation is practiced, had insisted that the girls in her family go to the bush school but her mother had other ideas. She “did not agree for her girl children to go to the bush: ‘not in my sight!’” her mother had said. “If my mother had not stood strong, I would have been affected, therefore, I feel sorry for those who were forced into the Sande and cut.”

The cutting and its impact

“Four or five women hold her, a child; and another woman comes and cuts that child,” Mae Azango continued. “You grab a six, seven-year-old child. You cut her [and] that pain remains in her mind. It has a traumatic effect on the child.”

If she lives, and not all do live, the trauma remains in the child’s head into adulthood as “post traumatic stress disorder.” She probably withdraws into herself. Because of this mutilation and the long-term effect, “Women really suffer for it!”

Women must shine light on male-imposed secret, speak out, end women and girls’ suffering

“It is a secret that they are trying to hold,” an oath-imposed to silence. Many women suffer but neither an imam nor “even women’s groups have spoken about this.” Men in society are deciding that women be cut, Mae Azango says, but “who are they to decide what women should go through?” Men are the ones imposing this punishment on women. …

“It was the men’s idea, not the women’s idea, so we women are suffering from what the men want us to do because they feel this is a male-dominant society. …But I want women to stand up. … If we women do not talk over what affects us, who will listen to us?” Women “are feeling bad now because they are troubled and if nobody will talk for them, at least I am able to talk for them.”

On the run, Azango speaks out, urges other women to speak out

“I am getting a lot of threats,” she says. People are saying they “will catch you and carry you to the Sande bush and they will have you cut.… They said traditional women went to look for me… They went to my offices to look for me. … Before that, more women went around my house area looking, asking for me, asking for my daughter. I had to take my daughter out of there and ship her to a new destination because I do not know how far they are taking it. ” Azango said, in the face of mounting threats on her life, she has not slept at home and has “just been everywhere.”

Truth hurts but must be spoken. “I am getting all these threats [because] I am talking about what I am not supposed to talk about. … I am discussing a secret and, as a woman, I am supposed to keep this secret.” But shining light on this horror is precisely what women must do.

“The truth hurts,” Mae Azango says, “but it should be said. [This abuse of women and girls] should be spoken about.”

Sources and notes “A Liberian journalist in hiding,” CBC Dispatches interviews Journalist Mae Azango, in hiding in Liberia, a reporter with the daily newspaper FrontPage Africa, and the website New Narratives, a development project supporting independent media in Africa.March 25, 2012, http://www.cbc.ca/dispatches/episode/2012/03/21/mar-22-25/

“NN Journalist Mae Azango’s Interview with Radio France Internationale,” March 26, 2012, by New Narratives: “Liberian journalist urges women to speak out on excision … Liberian journalist Mae Azango has been forced into hiding after publishing an article in the Liberian daily Front Page Africa on the practice of female genital cutting or excision in the country”(by Laura Angela Bagnetto: Azango, a New Narratives fellow talks to RFI’s Laura-Angela Bagnetto about her experience), http://www.newnarratives.org/featured/nn-journalist-mae-azangos-intervie...

Wikipedia notes on FGM

Female genital mutilation … Partial or complete removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs, for non-medical reasons Areas practiced Western, eastern, and north-eastern Africa, Middle East, Near East, Southeast Asia Number affected 135 million women and girls as of 1997 Age performed A few days after birth to age 15; occasionally in adulthood

Types I and II

Type I is the removal of the clitoral hood (Type Ia); or the partial or total removal of the clitoris, a clitoridectomy (Type Ib).

Type II, often called excision, is partial or total removal of the clitoris and the inner labia or outer labia. Type IIa is removal of the inner labia only; Type IIb, partial or total removal of the clitoris and the inner labia; and Type IIc, partial or total removal of the clitoris, and the inner and outer labia.

Type III Type III, commonly called infibulation or pharaonic circumcision, is the removal of all external genitalia.

Type IV A variety of other procedures are collectively known as Type IV, which the WHO defines as ‘all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, for example, pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterization.’

This ranges from ritual nicking of the clitoris—the main practice in Indonesia—to stretching the clitoris or labia, burning or scarring the genitals, or introducing harmful substances into the vagina to tighten it.[2] It also includes hymenotomy, the removal of a hymen regarded as too thick, and gishiri cutting, a practice in which the vagina's anterior wall is cut with a knife to enlarge it http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Female_genital_mutilation

World Health Organization (WHO) notes on FGM

WHO estimates that between 100 and 140 million girls and women worldwide have been subjected to one of the first three types of female genital mutilation. Estimates based on the most recent prevalence data indicate that 91,5 million girls and women above 9 years old in Africa are currently living with the consequences of female genital mutilation. There are an estimated 3 million girls in Africa at risk of undergoing female genital mutilation every year. http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/topics/fgm/fgm_trends/en/index.html

Female genital mutilation comprises all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. It has no health benefits and harms girls and women in many ways.

It involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue, and hence interferes with the natural function of girls’ bodies and women’s bodies. The practice causes severe pain and has several immediate and long-term health consequences, including difficulties in childbirth also causing dangers to the child. http://www.who.int/topics/female_genital_mutilation/en/index.html

Countries where female genital mutilation has been documented

Listed below are countries in which female genital mutilation of Types I, II, III and ‘nicking’ Type IV has been documented as a traditional practice.

Prevalence is derived from national survey data (the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) published by Macro, or the Multiple Cluster Indicator Surveys (MICS), published by UNICEF).

Country Year Estimated prevalence of female genital mutilation in girls and women 15 – 49 years (%) Benin 2006 12.9 Burkina Faso 2006 72.5 Cameroon 2004 1.4 Central African Republic 2008 25.7 Chad 2004 44.9 Côte d’Ivoire 2006 36.4 Djibouti 2006 93.1 Egypt 2008 91.1 Eritrea 2002 88.7 Ethiopia 2005 74.3 Gambia 2005/6 78.3 Ghana 2006 3.8 Guinea 2005 95.6 Guinea-Bissau 2006 44.5 Kenya 2008/9 27.1 Liberia 2007 58.2 Mali 2006 85.2 Mauritania 2007 72.2 Niger 2006 2.2 Nigeria 2008 29.6 Senegal 2005 28.2 Sierra Leone 2006 94 Somalia 2006 97.9 Sudan, northern (approximately 80% of total population in survey) 2000 90 Togo 2006 5.8 Uganda 2006 0.8 United Republic of Tanzania 2004 14.6 Yemen 2003 38.2http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/topics/fgm/prevalence/en/index.html

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