by Tobe Levin
“During training, I would say out loud what others were merely thinking. For example, the day that white gynecologist [said], ‘I don’t understand my colleagues making [such a fuss] about excision. It’s harassment! I always tell them to mind their own business when it comes to African clitorises.’
It’s so much easier to say if you still have yours.”
Khady in Blood Stains: A Child of Africa Reclaims Her Human Rights.
Among efforts to end female genital mutilation (FGM), voices to the left of the Atlantic appear muted, tentative. The North American reaction is a far cry from declarations heard in Africa and Europe, loud and decisive, which insist on male accountability, law enforcement and a multi-pronged educational attack on a custom that cements inequality between men and women, and separates women from girls.
Evidence of U.S. “otherness” appeared on April 26, 2010, and provoked a storm of worldwide indignation. The American Academy of Pediatrics diluted unequivocal guidelines to distinguish between “harmful” and not harmful “rites” and urged changing U.S. law to permit “outreach” to “communities” by offering a clitoral “nick.”
What could have inspired this reversal Might academia be behind it, specifically anthropologists condoning amputation of girls’ genitals Recent literature emerging from the U.S. took that tack. In Transcultural Bodies. Female Genital Cutting in Global Context, for instance, editors Hernlund and Shell-Duncan attack advocacy and admit complicity.
Cultural-relativist approaches that support the practice legitimize double standards. As Comfort Ottah assures us in the film Warrior Marks, FGM is “not culture. It’s torture. And these girls suffer for life.”
When challenged by ablation of children’s vulvas, liberals equivocate. Yes, some acts are wrong: rape; acid; abduction; child “marriage.” But take so-called “female circumcision,” the euphemistic “genital cutting,” or, worse yet, the practice ennobled as “surgeries,” and you find Africa and Europe far more confident than the U.S. in their ethical positioning. Admittedly, unlike Africa or Europe, the United States has a history of chattel slavery, making it harder to expose facts that can be twisted to denigrate black people.
Embarrassed silence, however, is inadmissible when weighed against an urgent need to speak. For this reason, I launched UnCUT/VOICES PRESS in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, where I live and teach. It is likely the first publisher to focus solely on female genital mutilation. Aware that too few titles on FGM in French, German and other languages are being translated into English, I regretted that their vehemence was lost.
Take Khady, for instance: her memoir Mutile came out in 2005, sold nearly 100,000 copies in France, 20,000 to 30,000 in Russia and Japan, and quickly became available in more than a dozen languages. Four years later she still had not appeared in English. Why not Because she is zealous and passionate about eradicating FGM and dares to reveal the truth about brutality, impotence, and grievous assaults on a child. In a sense, UnCUT/VOICES was born to transmit in English Khady’s rage.
Important as books are, however, they join other tools to end FGM. UnCUT/VOICES is creating a multi-media platform to disseminate autobiographies, short fiction, poetry, and plays, as well as research, legislation and movement artifacts like paintings, posters and leaflets. It will give voice to victims, artists, policy-makers, academics and others with an interest in the subject whose work finds no home in the established press.
UnCUT/VOICES espouses an ecumenical, democratic approach including women,men, old and young; encourages participation of all ethnicities that practice FGM; and combines professional managerial methods with modern technology. Book readings in the U.S. will introduce the writers personally to American audiences. Each book purchase also supports a vetted project against FGM. As an English-language publisher based in Germany, UnCUT/VOICES Press provides access to otherwise inaccessible, significant or rare material aimed at ending an egregious practice.
Our first book, being released soon in the U.S., Blood Stains. A Child of Africa Reclaims Her Human Rights by Khady with Marie-Thrse Cuny (trans. Tobe Levin), is a memoir of growing up in a traditional family in Senegal. Khady suffered genital mutilation at age 7, and at 13 was married off to an abusive man who moved her to France where she bore five children. She eventually blew the whistle on unequal gender relations in the Diaspora and is now Europe’s leading activist against female genital mutilation and forced marriage.
As poet and author Marge Piercy wrote, “Blood Stains is a weapon directed against those who claim that trying to eradicate (FGM) is paternalistic.” Scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr., said, “What we think of as the unspeakable pain and suffering of FGM must be shouted and given voice, relentlessly. Khady’s account of this all too common practice is wrenching….”
Other forthcoming titles areUndoing FGM. Pierre Foldes, the Surgeon Who Restores the Clitoris by Hubert Prolongeau (trans. Tobe Levin), about a pioneer urologist who discovered how to return sensation to victims of clitoridectomy; ‘If I Had Only Known ‘ Confessions of an Exciser by Linda Weil-Curiel and Natacha Henry (trans. Tobe Levin) about Weil-Curiel, a prosecutor, who is joined by Hawa Grou, a formerly imprisoned exciser, in the fight to stop FGM; and Beyond the Dance: Voices of Women on Female Genital Mutilation, edited by Violet Barungi and Hilda Twongyeirwe, with testimonies and poems about female genital mutilation originally published in Uganda.
November 5, 2010
Tobe Levin is an activist, translator and professor at the University of Maryland UC in Europe and the University of Frankfurt. She is an Associate of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University and co-founder of FORWARD Germany. Contact her at [email protected]. Levin and Khady Koita will be reading from Blood Stains on November 8 at Brandeis; November 10 at Harvard; November 11 at Monmouth University, and November 13 at Bluestockings Bookstore in New York. Copies of Blood Stains may be ordered by check for $29.90 plus $4 costs payable to UnCUT/ VOICES Press, c/o Rebecca Sue Levin, 7 Maryland Ave., West Long Branch, NJ.
Also see Health Inequality: Gates Foundation Bans Abortion by Marcy Bloom
Also see A Prayer for the Girl-Child by Suzanne Stutman