Last night, I was listening to a program on BBC, wherein a journalist, Tulip Mazumdar interviewed people from both Kenya and Sierra Leone about Female Genital Mutilation (otherwise known as Female Genital Cutting or Female Genital Circumcision).
As I listened to her interview, I could not help but hear a note of extreme anger in the journalist’s voice as she questioned a female cutter or sowei in Freetown. The woman explained her work and how she was one of the most trusted female cutters in Freetown. When Mazumdar asked her to explain how the procedure went, she exclaimed in shock and declined to tell her the exact details of the process. The Bondo is a secret society ,and they never share any details on how cutting is done-this is widely known in Sierra Leone.
A couple of issues stood out to me, which were a bit unsettling ,but the one I want to focus on here is respect. Respect for subjects being interviewed especially if they are from a different culture ,nationality race, background,or have a contrary opinion. Mazumdar clearly had an anti-FGM position,which I also share. However, if one must seek answers, if one must understand,if one must dig and get to the root of why people do the things they do in the name of culture and tradition, it makes no sense to be combative when trying to dig deeper. The journalist’s perspective was that this was a horrible procedure, and how could this woman possibly find joy in doing such a ‘terrifying’ act ,making young women and girls undergo such pain. However, the sowei had her perspective as well, and that perspective, even though it might be hard to comprehend or agree with ,should be given respect.
I have had many dialogues about FGM and I have friends who have been cut. I was never cut, and I do not agree with the process of cutting, but I know one thing for sure- the other side of FGM,the supporters, have had it especially with foreign activists and foreign media,because they feel they are not even really heard in the first place-they are immediately seen as barbaric backward people who do not know any better, and all dignity is taken away from them. And when that happens, it becomes hard for both sides to listen to each other, because those who support FGM think the anti-FGMers are being condescending, so they become defensive and unwilling to listen. In the fight against FGM, it is okay to have a strong stance against it,but know that it is always from your perspective,your context,your background,and that’s not always the only one that counts . You can have your perspective, but alway be willing to listen…and give respect to other views,however hard that might be.