‘Historical context’ can often act as a device to excuse or justify. Some might use it to argue that we cannot judge days gone by through our own standards.
However, the BBC’s Call the Midwife will soon try to avoid these pitfalls, in it’s look at FGM in the context of Somali women in 1960’s East London, in the upcoming series.
In an interview on yesterday’s Woman’s Hour (BBC R4) the creator of the TV show, Heidi Thomas, discusses how FGM would have been understood and responded to by 1960’s Britain. A clinical, rather than a moral approach is said to be taken by the staff.
This is predicted by the creators to “ruffle some feathers” in the audience.
But a bleak exposure of the medical harm may be no bad thing, if it highlights the extreme pain that can be incurred by women who have been cut, specifically throughout their pregnancy, childbirth and post-natal condition.
If Heidi Thomas is right about how Call the Midwife acts as a conversation starter, this could be an important moment for FGM in the national conscience. While the approach by 1960’s Britain may be hard to swallow, the way this programme is able to lift the curtain on so many ‘taboo’ subjects, for today’s audiences, is incredibly important.
The gentleness and softness of the period-costumes and Queen’s-English nurses allows a subtle introduction of the difficulties which are a feature of the health and social lives of so many women. This clever layering of content in Call the Midwife therefore has the potential to be excellent way to raise both awareness and compassion to UK viewers. Like so many other problems face directly by women, (and ultimately by society as a whole) the hidden nature of the practice of FGM – as affecting the most intimate nature of women and girls, and the way practicing communities can keep it secret within the UK – is half the battle.
BEYOND FGM’s work in Pokot has shown that so much progress can be made once families and friends start to really think and talk about what FGM means for women, their families and their communities.
You can listen to the Woman’s Hour interview with Heidi Thomas here:
Alternative Rites of Passage ceremonies are the central way that Beyond FGM, in partnership with Kepsteno Rotwo, seeks to help women and girls escape the knife. At the same time, it is important to help those for whom it is too late; the women and girls who have already been cut.
Everlyn Cheyech, who is a student nurse/midwife and one of our group members, recently came to the rescue of a young girl who had been cut. As a result she was bleeding, almost to death. The girl had been brought to the health centre where Everlyn works. While her wounds had been cared for at the centre, her haemoglobin level of 3 was not duly acknowledged by other staff, and she was in the process of being discharged.
At this point Everlyn stepped in, and arranged for the girl to be taken 80 km to the Government District Hospital. Here, she was given the care she needed, including blood transfusions and antibiotics. Thanks to Everlyn’s timely actions, this girl survived, and is now on the road to recovery. Nonetheless, she will carry the physical and mental scars of her cutting for the rest of her life.
Beyond FGM visited the County Commissioner last week to discuss this case, which is one of many. The team also visited the girl, who remains in hospital care. Unfortunately, such is the trauma she has been through, the girl refuses to give information about her experience. Her most frequent response is “no” and she is unable to give details of the event itself, such as where the cutting happened, or who was with her. It is now thought that she absconded from the hospital before police were able to speak with her about what happened. Despite it’s prevalence, FGM is a crime in Kenya.
BUY A BRICK
It is for girls who live in fear like this, that our rescue centre is being built. You can read more about this project, and buy a brick to support it’s progress athttp://beyondfgm.co.uk/buy-a-brick/
On 23rd November Cath joined the grassroots team in Kenya to begin the annual Alternative Rites of Passage (ARP) ceremonies for 2016.
Since then, she and the team have been hard at work across the region, bringing ARP to new areas, and of course strengthening their existing use. So far the they have been to
An Outreach Sensitisation Programme was begun here on 28th November. This is a very remote village, with local estimates of FGM prevalence close to 100%. Promisingly, Beyond FGM and Kepsteno Rotwo had a great reception despite the prevalence of cutting here. Let’s hope such good reactions will provide a strong base for ARP in the future.
This girl in Takaywa captures the spirit of ‘Abandon the Knife’, speaking out to her community as a role model. She has never been cut and is determined to keep it that way.
SAMICH, CHERANGANI HILLS
This is another very rural village, high up in the mountains. Samich is playing host to the team this week. They are hoping that around 150 girls will be able to participate in the ARP. Best of luck for another fantastic week of workshops with plenty of singing and dancing! They are so vital in deepening community acceptance of ARP, empowering women and girls to reject FGM.
Beyond FGM and the Kepsteno Rotwo team will continue to travel region around Pokot over the next couple of weeks.
Thank you Cath for your warm welcome, it is great to be able to contribute to this amazing team at Beyond FGM.
Some of you may have noticed that the Guardian documentary “Abandon the Knife” isn’t quite working on the home page. So here is a re-posted link to the film, which I highly recommend watching as an insight into the work done by Kepsteno Rotwo (Abandon the Knife) who are supported by Cath and the team at Beyond FGM.
It is all too easy to forget the constant effort it takes to achieve real change when we are presented with fantastic results that the Alternative Rite of Passage Ceremonies have produced. Watching this film is a reminder of the daily struggles of Nancy and Gertrude, and girls like them in Pokot, and all around the world. It also shows that community support, be it for Nancy’s strength and natural leadership, or Gertrude’s quiet but steadfast resistance, can make all the difference in creating collective acceptance of their freedom to be in charge of their own lives.
Great news that we have another new member to our team, Anna, who has offered vital assistance with admin.
I would like to officially welcome Anna on board and say how extremely grateful we are to her for this much needed support and practical help. I am a firm believer in team work and we all have a part to play in ending FGM.
There is a wonderful African proverb: “If you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far go together”.
I will leave it to Anna to introduce herself as she begins posting!
Off to Kenya next week for our annual Alternative Rite of Passage Ceremony (ARP).
Apologies for lack of news updates on website, too much reliance on Facebook and multiple other excuses!!!!
Our group on the ground in Pokot are busy preparing for this year’s main activity, the Alternative Rite of Passage ceremony (ARP).
We are also planning to visit several remote villages to conduct sensitisation/awareness raising around issues of FGM.
We are very happy to have a new member on board, Mr. Bernard Kabete. Bernard is an amazing teacher, facilitator and all round brilliant communicator. He is a Pokot by tribe which means he is a “local” and therefore is fluent in Pokot language. Vital in terms of bringing the anti FGM message to remote communities whose only language is their mother tongue, Pokot.
Please visit our Facebook page to see photos and news of the wonderful Public Abandonment Ceremony held in Ortum on February 6th 2016, World Zero Tolerance to FGM Day. A group of 20 reformed circumcisers laid down their knives in a symbolic gesture of publicly declaring they will no longer practice female genital mutilation (FGM). The occasion gained much media attention being broadcast on all major Kenyan T.V. channels, plus radio and newspaper coverage.
Meantime we have been busy fund raising with another Coast to Coast cycle ride taking place. Well done to all those taking part in this challenging event and many thanks to all who contributed. Special thanks to Sarah Leach who organised it all.
Work on the proposed Rescue Centre/Safe House is ongoing. I hope to have latest news and pics when I return in New Year along with news of this year’s ARP.
Many thanks for taking time to read this and continued interest and support.
Another successful Alternative Rite of Passage (ARP) ceremony was held in a new village, Nyang’aita in Masol district.
Masol is a remote part of West Pokot bordering Turkana County, a huge desert.
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) prevalence in this area is almost 100%. We at Beyond FGM and Kepsteno Rotwo were the first people ever to visit Masol to talk about FGM. People were genuinely unaware of the negative health consequences of FGM or that it is now illegal in Kenya.
We were warmly welcomed by the community with almost 200 participants in 4 days of seminars and workshops followed by a big public Alternative ceremony for the girls which acknowledges to the community at large that these girls/young women have now graduated to adult status and will therefore not be always considered a child which carries much stigmatization. Hopefully more girls will attend school in the future but of course there is the issue of school fees. The people of Masol are largely nomadic. They are marginalised and poverty stricken which makes finding school fees a big challenge!
We had a full day of training with the men , including the youth, a full day with the women and 2 days with the girls.
Miraculously after around one week of us being in Nyang’aita a 20 strong committee has been formed to end FGM from within their community!
We shall try to support the community in the coming months by visiting, offering moral support and enlisting a team to join our Community Based Organisation (CBO), Kepsteno Rotwo meaning abandon the knife.