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Female Genital Cutting: Would choice change everything?

Introducing Me

Over the years I have come to a limited knowledge of female genital cutting (FGC) and its role in Bondo Society—Sierra Leone’s secret society for women—much as a fog lifts from a city harbor. Slowly, reluctantly and never completely. I come to this issue as an outsider many times over but most importantly by belonging to the only ethnic group in Sierra Leone that does not practice FGC as a rite of passage from girlhood to womanhood. I grew up in Nigeria and this also distanced me from the knowledge of just how common and pervasive a practice it is in my country. The only way I have been able to learn more about FGC in Sierra Leone has been through books and the willingness of other women to share their knowledge and stories. Recently, over the course of a week, nine courageous and inspiring Sierra Leonean women challenged me by sharing the experiences of family members, friends and some of their very own with female genital cutting as part of their initiation into Bondo Society.

The result has been that what was once a simple black and white issue for me is now multicolored and multilayered. Where there once stood a clear conviction now lies a morass of new emotions that I still struggle to identify. Despite this upheaval, one value that still stands out like a lighthouse on a beach, guiding the ship of my conflicted emotions through to safer waters is choice. In fact if anything, these conversations have served to crystalize the importance of this value within the context of any debate about female genital cutting.

Choice

More specifically, by choice I mean a meaningful choice that arises from an understanding of the benefits and risks associated with any given action. For all of us, the fight for the freedom to choose what is or is not done to our bodies is very personal. This fundamentally human and justifiable demand that we make of one another comes to us when we are young and beginning to navigate the boundaries of our identities. It evolves throughout our adult years. Whole societies have engaged in this battle to set boundaries and rules around what can happen to the bodies of the members “within” and most importantly about who gets to decide the parameters of those rules. We’ve seen this debate rage on in many movements including the civil rights, colonial independence or feminist movements.

In many ways we all know the pain of having our choice and therefore humanity stripped from us. We’ve felt it when people deny us the option of freely giving our energy, money and bodies without manipulation or coercion. There is something inherently violent—even if not always physically violent—about experiences that we define as happening against our will or without our express consent. The distinction we give experiences based on the presence or absence of meaningful consent is what makes rape and sex completely different events despite the appearance of sharing the same physical act. When it comes to FGC I have come to believe that the debate revolves around more than the physical act of cutting a young woman’s genitals and expands to the varied contexts within which it occurs.

What most disturbs those who support and oppose its practice alike is this notion of choice and meaningful consent. On the one hand those who oppose it charge that the girls and young women who often undergo this practice rarely have a choice or way of giving meaningful consent to what is happening to their still developing bodies. On the other hand those who support it resist a wholesale demonization of the practice in a way that denies the real choice of communities—and even consenting members within those communities—to treat and ascribe meaning to their own bodies as they see fit.

Given how my conversations with the women began, it makes perfect sense that the most poignant lesson I have come away with is this notion of choice and its importance in any conversation about female genital cutting. That’s because each conversation began with me giving each woman a choice.

Their Stories. My Story.

“What do you call it?” was one of the first questions I asked. Their ages ranged from the mid-20s to mid-40s and their answers opened up worlds of knowledge, vast and deep. By inviting them to choose for themselves how they would name the practice I hoped they would take charge and lead me down paths I could not go myself because of my own limitations. I expected and heard “female genital circumcision” and “female genital mutilation”. I was reminded of the existence of “female genital cutting” and was once again struck by its frank banality. Its simplicity and directness has the ability to name while simultaneously leaving room for others to use a different label that more accurately reflects their own reality. It is for this reason that I use ‘cutting’. I had not expected to hear “an abomination” but understood its use in the midst of a story about betrayal and trauma. I was intrigued by a story of pride and a desire to boldly challenge what appears to be a global consensus that this practice must end. Each woman had a strong viewpoint and they were not all the same.

Before diving into a study of female genital cutting in Sierra Leone it is important to know certain things. In Sierra Leone, 3.5 million girls and women, one of the highest concentrations at 88%, have undergone the practice. While FGC is practiced across 29 countries throughout Africa and the Middle East there are variations in how it is practiced. There are four major types with the most common one practiced in Sierra Leone being Type II or excision which is partial or total removal of the clitoris and labia minora.

In Sierra Leone the added complexity of a secret society (Bondo) as the context within which FGC takes place further sets the country apart. It is this pledge to secrecy that many development agencies hold responsible for Sierra Leone’s much slower progress to end the practice. It is another reason why the country has earned the reputation and nickname of being ground zero for anti-FGC campaign efforts.

Furthermore, if you would gain an understanding of FGC in Sierra Leone you must understand its meaning and symbolism. This is what one woman told me as she shared her own story. FGC must be understood as a rite of passage without which a young woman is not considered suitable for marriage or eligible to sit at the decision-making table of adult women. It should not be understood as teaching women to be sexually submissive but rather as a subversive act to teach them to control their bodies and be bonded to other women—especially older women—in deference. She pointed out that it is difficult to fully translate all the symbolism of one culture to another without reinterpretation and loss of meaning. Furthermore the presence of Islam in many communities where this is practiced reshapes our understanding. Religious prescriptions require that female sexual empowerment and control be publicly reinterpreted as submissiveness. Meanwhile, she assured me, there exists behind closed doors a culturally rich world of female empowerment. Her own initiation experience, which she voluntarily underwent as an adult, challenges those that are often used as examples for global public debate. She spoke of it as a positive and culturally enlightening rite of passage. She made it clear that she is not alone in this regard and knows of many other women who also share the same sense of pride about its meaning and role in their cultural heritage.

However, many of the other women who I spoke with did not share an understanding of their experiences as being about female empowerment and bonding. For them it was a violent, disempowering and isolating experience—further compounded by the fact that they were sworn to secrecy. They did not experience it as consenting adults but as ignorant and often frightened children.

One woman said “I was 6 or 7 years old when it happened and I call it mutilation. I didn’t understand what was happening. For years I was scared to talk about it because we’re sworn to secrecy and told that we and our families will be cursed by the “Bondo debul (devil)” if we do.”

Yet another shared, “I was 12 years old and tricked. I had no idea what was going to happen to me. For months afterwards I wouldn’t speak to my mother or anyone because I was so angry that they knew what it was and encouraged me to go. On the day it happened I was grabbed and dragged into a room. Stripped naked and a woman sat on me covering my mouth and nose. I couldn’t breathe and struggled to get free. I thought I was going to die and then they spread my legs and cut. I just keep asking why? Why? Why? Why?”

Many of the stories they shared were of either violent or equally disorienting experiences that showed that the young girls who were going through the initiation did not grasp what was happening to their bodies. Their trauma was as much about the physical pain as it was the violent or bewildering context within which it occurred. For them there was little to no meaning beyond the trauma and pain. No culturally rich accompanying ceremonies. No reason. No “why”. Where some could articulate what they came to know as reasons for the practice the messages were that it was to prevent them from becoming promiscuous women of ill repute in addition to ensuring their hygienic cleanliness.

Despite these conflicted explanations of FGC’s meaning in Sierra Leone, I noticed a common thread of agreement among the women, regardless of where they stood on the issue. There was agreement that the youngest girls—those who barely understood their bodies—needed to be protected and given room to grow and give meaningful consent. Nobody raised objections to an adult woman opting to voluntarily participate in an initiation ceremony that involved genital cutting. This made it clear to me that their objections were not simply against FGC itself but that age and context made all the difference in how they interpreted it.

One woman articulated the complexity of the issue well with a simple statement. “So what if you are for it or against it” she said. “This is a much more complicated issue than that. Mutilation is such a finite term. You can’t come back from it. It boxes women in and stigmatizes their bodies more so than it stigmatizes the act itself. What does it matter what your position is when real girls—the ones most affected by this—are rarely asked what they think or brought into the discussion?”

These conversations raised more questions for me than they answered. However they made one thing very clear. When it comes to FGC we’re often not just arguing about the practice itself but about the context within which it occurs. We are interpreting it differently depending on the presence or absence of violence and the presence or absence of choice. Most importantly we are talking about the inability of the youngest girls to give any meaningful consent to what is about to happen to their young and still developing bodies. We are talking about their relative powerlessness when compared to that of older women who have privileges that age and experience affords them.

This brings us back to choice. When it comes to FGC the most important question is not whether we are for it or against it. What we should ask is this. Do the young women undergoing FGC have the tools available to make a meaningful choice about what happens to their bodies? More importantly, who has the power to choose and who doesn’t?

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous digital media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.

Comments

Aminah's picture

A very important area to address

"the presence or absence of meaningful consent is what makes rape and sex completely different events despite the appearance of sharing the same physical act"

That statement alone speaks for it all I suppose. It's difficult to believe what goes on in some communities under various names. and the trauma that leaves behind would be enormous.
The physical mutilation without consent is one thing, and as you have described, the way it is carried out is rather shocking.

My grandma used to talk about this somewhat - but back then I was too young to understand what it was.
As far as I can tell from the limited conversations I had with other elderly people, the practice is thankfully non-existent in the Maldives now.

Salaam
Aminah

joy Spencer's picture

Thank you

Aminah,

Thank you for your response and for taking the time to join me on this journey of tackling a very complex issue. I had no idea that this was once practiced in Maldives so you've opened my eyes in that one comment. I'm curious now to know just HOW it was practiced there. As I touched on, but could not go into much detail in my article, there are at least 4 major categorized types with varied degrees of cutting. Do you know "why" it was practiced in Maldives and perhaps why it slowly discontinued? Very interesting and thanks for raising it.

Joy

Mukut's picture

Bold Voice

You have an articulate and an extremely bold voice. A voice that refuses to be silent, under any circumstance. It is unfortunate to know that such dehumanizing treatment of 'genital cutting' is still prevalent.

But, you are the hope. Continue to speak about the unheard, silenced ones.

Great work !
Love,

Mukut Ray

joy Spencer's picture

Thank you

Thanks for reading Mukut and thanks for your comment.

Nechesa's picture

Wow Joy,

I've never read an article that framed the FGM/FGC issue this way. Thank you for showing us some of the many complexities surrounding the act. You had some powerful quotes in your story that helped me understand why the topic is complex.

Now I want to read an exposé on that secret society.

Nechesa

joy Spencer's picture

Thanks!

Thanks Nechesa,

I'm still learning and unpacking a lot so I'm glad you read something that was different. I continue to have very interesting conversations about this with people who are interested or sharing their personal experiences. One thing that is resonating with me more is that the moment that violence comes into a discussion about something that communities ascribe as part of their culture then in that moment all bets are off. Doesn't violence falls outside the realm of cultural protection? Or another way of saying it may be that something that might otherwise be lawful or neutral loses that position of neutrality when it becomes coercive, violent or when it is directed at children who because of their developmental limitations should not be asked to make such weighty decisions or have them thrust upon them. On certain things they should be left alone and their innocence preserved.

Still thinking.....

Joy

Nechesa's picture

Still Thinking...

I wonder what this issue would look like if it was only allowed after women became adults and only after they volunteered to do so. The fact that there's a secret society of women who perpetuate the practice indicates to me they would not allow it. I'm stuck on this secret society. I wonder how much of the practice is still prevalent because they perpetuate it and how much of it is because men require it?

I wonder what the relationship is between the women of the secret society AND the men who require it.

This topic really has me thinking...

joy Spencer's picture

Men's role

Nechesa,

I can't honestly say that I got a sense that in the Sierra Leonean context that this is something that comes to women as strong messaging for social acceptance from men. It seems like a woman to woman thing. But again that is just the sense I got from those who I spoke with. This is an internal issue to the degree that women are really in charge on this one. Sierra Leone's context like every context is unique. This conversation would change drastically it was just older women volunteering to participate. That is because it would almost categorically have evolved into something else if girls were completely removed from the mix. I think it would probably become a non-issue on the global scene. The presence of younger and younger girls is really want makes this such a hot button issue.

Nechesa's picture

Thought Provoking!

I see. I wonder if they lower the age in which girls are cut because they believe the girls would run away or refuse it if they were older. Seems like this is a way the women in these secret societies exert control over others but for what purpose? What do they gain from it? I can't understand why women believe this practice is so important and why they would adhere to it so strongly if men aren't insisting on it. Seems like there is a cycle of trauma women are passing on to each other from generation to generation or maybe it's a way to subdue girls generally? This is a bit perplexing.

As you can tell, your article is really thought-proking which is great. It has the wheels in my head spinning. I just keep thinking about those poor young girls.

Thanks again for shedding light on this issue, Joy.

Nechesa

joy Spencer's picture

Keep reading!

Thanks Nechesa and I'm so glad I've got you thinking! I hope you'll continue to learn more and provide a safe space for continued dialogue.

Ashwalt's picture

The role of Soweis

Thanks so much for a wonderfully written article on this extremely difficult subject. I lived in Sierra Leone for a year and worked with a local NGO run entirely by Sierra Leoneans - AMNet - that is working on an age and consent campaign (18 yrs) for FGC, and has made positive ground in a few chiefdoms. Their focus in addressing this complex issue very similar to what you are considering here - education, maturity, dialogue, and choice. In order to get community buy-in for age and consent, the support of the soweis (FGC practitioners) must be secured because they do play such an important role within the Bondo society. However, the actual practice of FGC is their livelihood and they make a good amount of money for each cutting. One of the main obstacles for this NGO has been providing the soweis with alternative sources of income so that they are financially able to get behind this idea of choice - otherwise, what is their incentive to change?

Anyway, great, thought provoking article. Good to see both sides of the story presented.

joy Spencer's picture

Is labiaplasty the same as FGC?

Nechesa,

I also wanted to share something else that came out in these conversations. What is the difference between what we label as FGC/FGM when we are speaking about what is going on in African countries and labiaplasty for which many Western women go to their doctors? Are we instituting a double standard and lifting up one community's value against another? Is it right to say a young woman who undergoes it in Sierra Leone is having FGM while a young woman in America is having labiaplasty? This question definitely gave me pause and put a different spin on the entire conversation. But again in the end I came to my own conclusion on it and that is the difference is age and meaningful consent and choice. I think that if we are comparing consenting women across cultures we should have the same standard of course. But comparing girls and women is like comparing apples and oranges on this topic. We can't compare what happens to girls in one culture versus what is happening with women in another culture. Girls to girls and woman to woman. Presence or absence of choice and consent and presence or absence of violence and coercion. I think this helps me to think about this more clearly. Hope it helps you as well.

Joy

joy Spencer's picture

Article

Zoepiliafas's picture

You raise an interesting point

Nechesa,

I think you raise an interesting point. I wonder what the age a woman is considered an adult in Sierra Leone.

I am curious to learn more about if there are any organizations that are raising the knowledge base to support Joy's perspective of an informed choice.

Zoe Piliafas

Voices of Our Future Community Manager
World Pulse

joy Spencer's picture

Girls or Women?

Zoe,

You raise a great question. I think there are a lot of things going on and the main thing is that a traditional practice is being challenged in the context of a new national order and identity. Furthermore, external and foreign voices are also adding their views to the mix. I will have to do more studying on this to learn about it but from one of my conversations I think that the original age of transition was closer to puberty. After the ceremony girls were eligible to marry. When this was happening in a historical context where a series of societies that were largely uniform in their beliefs and understandings about girlhood/womanhood I think there was a clearer demarcation. However in today's context the induction of younger girls might be about more than ushering girls into womanhood and about additionally about preserving girls within a certain schema of cultural values. Many families no longer solely raise their daughters in the village. Families are dispersed. Some in the villages and some in towns and some in major cities. Furthermore some families are split internationally as some members have traveled to other parts of the world to find better pastures. How do you keep all these different groups and communities part of the whole? Maybe there isn't time to wait until girls get to a later age and maybe it's more convenient to get it done earlier before more external influence dissuades girls from respecting and waiting to be a part of their own culture. Maybe these are some of the questions that come into play to explain why the age might be dropping in Sierra Leone. This fragmentation of communities as a result of voluntary and forced migration (on forced I'm referring to our decade long civil war in the 1990s). These are just some other things to consider as possible explanations.

What age is a girl considered a woman in Sierra Leone? I guess it depends on who you ask. We have a society that has multiple competing values. We have both a traditional heritage and culture as well as an imported Western legal, cultural and political heritage. This is the legacy of most colonized countries. Depending on who you ask it's probably puberty, mid teens, late teens, early 20s or even later. Great question!

BraveHeart's picture

Tears of Silence

I am sorry to know that such acts are still going in this world, even though some Arab tribes in some Arab countries still do that to their little girls, in Egypt and Sudan as an example, and yet they look at it as an act of honor to protect the girl and her dignity and honor. I strongly believe that this act is inhumane and it causes severe damage to the girl emotionally, psychologically and socially for the rest of her life. Our Organization is willing to take an action, and proceed with this issue to the United Nations in order to issue a resolution considers any country allows such inhumane act in its borders as a country of human rights abuse and to consider this act to be a terror crime punishable by law. We need your support in regards to this issue, we need your stories, we need your signatures when needed.

Mohammed
President, AMOPHRI / HWL

bitani's picture

sad

Dear Joy,

This topic is very important and relates directly to the basic right of a good health. It is sad that despite the relatively considerable number of pieces on female genital mutilation, it is still practiced in some communities, particularly in Africa.

I assume it was a very difficult job to write about such a topic in a relatively conservative culture as i inferred. I hope one sex education and awareness will be spread one day here at my country and at yours, for its education that saves a girl and not harming her body!

best regards,
Bayan

"Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else."
—Judy Garland

jap21's picture

Hi Joy

Awesome outcome! You did it. You managed to make me think twice before judging, you made me aware of how important it is to fight for the right to choose.

Go Joy!

Love,

Jackie

Jacqueline Patiño FundActiva
Tarija - Bolivia
South America
www.jap21.wordpress.com

joy Spencer's picture

Thank you!

Thank you Jackie! You really helped me distill it down to one point so thanks for your great editorial support! I'm glad I got you thinking twice! Mission accomplished!

Sawida's picture

Very well done!!

Kudos to you Joy for taking this on and going well beyond the good/bad dialogue to seeing things from multiple vantage points. I appreciate the following: “What does it matter what your position is when real girls—the ones most affected by this—are rarely asked what they think or brought into the discussion?" This question really drives the importance of how choice and context go hand in hand, and that no matter one's side/position there are real minds and bodies in the equation.

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you. -Kahlil Gibran

joy Spencer's picture

Thank you

Sawida,

Thanks for your response and support! I too was really struck by the quote you mentioned when I heard it. It really gave me pause and made me reflect on my own judgements and how I look at and talk about this issue. The harder work is to create space for those who are most affected to speak and define. I hope I have done that in a little way through this article. I'm still challenging myself to do it better.

Joy

pelamutunzi's picture

choice

yes fgc should be about choice. in zimbabwe its the same with circumcision a child makes a choice after counselling. here it shows that they are just taking advantage of the age if its something they want and identify with let them do it when they are more informed and can take decisions and safety precautions.

we may be powerless to stop an injustice but let there never be a time we fail to protest.
regards
pela

joy Spencer's picture

Choice after counselling???

Pela,

Thanks for your response. Can you tell me about what you describe happens in Zimbabwe? How old is this child that gets counseling? What are they being told and how can they make an informed choice given their young age?

Very curious,

Joy

Wendyiscalm's picture

I had no knowledge of this

Hi Joy,

Wow! Joy, I had no idea about this. None. You have educated me and given me a burst of belief in the human spirit through your words and your huge heart. Thank you..

Ubuntu(I am who I am because of who we are together),

Wendy

Wendy Stebbins
Founder/CEO
I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.

Greengirl's picture

Well done Joy!

I have read so many articles about FGM and FGC, but to say the least, your article shed a much different and very objective light on the issue. Little wonder why you and Nechesa had such an engaging and interesting conversation. Like Nechesa, I have a lot of questions bubbling in my head particularly about the said Bondo Society and Bondo debul [Devil(?)]. It baffles my mind how a group of women will commit to traumatizing innocent, voiceless girls in the name of an unfounded cultural or religious practice.

I wonder too if any research has been carried out to ascertain the levels or extent of promiscuity and hygiene among those who have gone through the rituals of genital cutting/mutilation and those who did not. This line of thought is connected to the ideological beliefs of the protagonist of FGC/FGM that "it prevents women from becoming promiscuous or of ill repute in addition to ensuring their hygienic cleanliness".

I have too many questions I would have loved to as those women, like: In what ways does FGC/FGM teach a woman or girl to control her body? And in what ways do they think the act empowers a woman/girl? I could go on and on. Now I am all the more getting more curious! Haha!

The piece is worth reading over and over again! Well done!

Greengirl

joy Spencer's picture

Furthermore...

this entire practice is about what a society believes about how girls become women. It's an entire worldview. Even my suggestion in this article about "choice" betrays my own different world view. When I talk about choice I make it seem like this is a sorority or club of some sort. Something that you can opt in or out of because you want to be part of a club. This is however bigger than that. Going through this initiation defines whether you are in or out of the society as an adult woman at all! Not in or out of a club. So it's important to remember that that's what we're talking--a complete redefinition of a world view about what is means to be a woman versus a girl. For some, suggesting that a girl not go through Bondo till later or not go through it at all is like suggesting that she opt out of womanhood completely. The question to answer for a society that practices it may be "If a girl does not go through this rite of passage, how does she become, or how do we know that she is a woman?" Maybe ultimately that's what we are talking about. How societies distinguish girls from women. Some do it by age automatically. Some have a rite of passage ceremony. Some don't even consider the notion.

Greengirl's picture

Reasoning and Thinking along!

Your piece is thought provoking and I am still reasoning and thinking along. Wow!

joy Spencer's picture

me too!

Thanks Greengirl! Glad it got you thinking...I'm also still thinking and reasoning.....It's good to get different perspectives.

joy Spencer's picture

Still thinking....

Hi Greengirl,

Thanks for your comments. From my understanding the primary purpose is to symbolize a girls usherance into womanhood. The surrounding ceremonies are meant to support this and the cutting is only a part of a larger occurrence. The recent focus on the cutting is both as a result of the observance of external parties and some fragmentation that has happened in Sierra Leone because of our decades long civil war. Communities are dispersed now in a way that they were not before so there is some intranational migration that takes place--often from cities back to villages to initiate girls. I imagine that this might be a dislocating experience for some. However the long and short of it is that this is primarily a rite of passage from girlhood to womanhood. Without which you are not considered an adult woman or a whole woman. A perpetual child in a sense.

On controlling the body I got conflicting messages in my interviews. On the one hand it's about a woman being in control of her body and nobody else. This is what women are taught in the ceremony. Control is about self-control and not man control. On the other hand others said they were taught it was to prevent them from being sexually wild so the control was not about them controlling themselves but about taking away something that would lead them astray. I'm sure a set of women who have gone through this could sit down, go back and forth and given different views. Or not at all since none of this is supposed to be discussed publicly anyway and definitely not with outsiders. The only reason why some people are speaking is because they feel that the global narrative is inaccurate and they have to set the record straight.

This is a tricky issue at least in my mind when it comes to the Sierra Leone context. I get and respect culture. I also get and respect the right of communities to have their own secret communities if they so desire. I think however that when it comes to children and young girls the world agrees that we are all allowed to speak "out of turn", get in people's faces, challenge and accept challenge. When it comes to children all societies can expect that they will be challenged on how those children are treated. Regardless of the cultural norms. This is especially true when adult women who recount their experiences as children tell stories of violence and coercion. Violence and coercion are spoken in universal languages that we all understand regardless of our cultural background. No culture escapes being challenged on this. I think there is a way that we can challenge ourselves and our cultures to be more thoughtful not simply about our customs but about HOW those customs are carried out and carried forth.

Y's picture

A brave and powerful article,

A brave and powerful article, Joy. Thank you or enlightening and informing me.

As a mother of a son born into a Christian culture in the United States of America, I have often asked myself why I allowed my son to be circumcised. The only justification that seems consistent in my country is a command for Jewish males in ancient times. The father of my son insisted on this procedure as part of his heritage, even though neither of us is Jewish. I mindlessly went with tradition.

"Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you."

I brought my children up with this quote from Gibran uppermost in my mind. This was possible only after was divorced from their father. I have chosen isolation from my people and their culture rather than continuing to walk mindlessly in the direction of tradition. My grown children still suffer from having parents who live by two divergent sets of values.

Too many parents and other leaders want eternal control, even over the unborn generations. You have bravely asked the most important questions plaguing all discussions that have religious and traditional overtones. I don't know the answers, but we certainly must be brave enough to face the full spectrum of issues raised by the questions.

Blessings and gratitude.
Yvette

Yvette

joy Spencer's picture

Thank you

Yvette,

Thank you for your comment. This was brought up in my discussions with the ladies. Male circumcision and the notion that when it comes to children, we have a double standard between boys and girls. Thanks for bringing it up as it is something to think about.

Joy

Y's picture

You have a mind that seeks

You have a mind that seeks balanced answers. I'd like to hear more from you.

Yvette

Here's a different view point from someone who left a comment on my personal FB page about this article. I think it will be of interest to all.

" I usually turn the page or close the webpage when I see the abbreviation FGM. Journalists and other writers continue to beat a dead horse when they cover this issue.
As a native Sierra Leonean, Bondo was something that I knew happened, though I was not supposed to, since I never took part in the society. My paternal grandmother was one of the Soway (head women who performed the ritual). I am not sure how, but my sister and I some would say got lucky, as most would say, for not having undergone it ever.
After doing some research in high school for my junior year paper on the subject, I had a better understanding of the practice. The more knowledge I gained, the more I respected the cultural aspect of it. Bondo is the rite of passage and welcome to womanhood, just like how in Latin America a Quinceañera is hosted for girls when they turn 15.
Most who write about FGM say that the practice is based on ignorance and control of women. I think that as a society, Westerners need to learn more and have a conversation with women who are part of this society to remove the negative connotation from it.
This article is refreshing in that it mentions choice and education. I believe that while some forms of the practice is inhumane, depending on the country of practice, girls should be given more time to understand what it is and given an option."

Sawida's picture

Testing

Joy, just testing if there is a comment quota, i.e. to see if one can still comment on the article.

Karoline's picture

Such an interesting angle!

This is such a tough topic, and you've provided such a comprehensive overview of the different sides to it. I like the angle you chose - it's one we don't think about often. I work in Somalia, where over 98% of women have undergone FGM/FGC, and where, as far as I understand, it is not a choice. I think that they way you've presented this practice - which is so culturally ingrained, is a really important one - to show both sides.I found your article incredibly inspiring, with a viewpoint that I think we need to hear more often!

joy Spencer's picture

Thank you!

Karoline,

Thank you for your comment! I'm glad you found something interesting and most importantly NEW in what I wrote. That's what I aim to do. Challenge some previous notions in myself and with others in this great WorldPulse Community. I think it helps us to see the world differently, empathize with others and hopefully come to better solutions. I hope you'll share this article and keep the conversation going. I don't know much about FGM/FGC in Somalia other than what I've seen in the news. In fact I think much of the public discourse about FGC in general comes out of how the world has come to know of it through Somalia and other East African countries. I'd like to learn more about this too. On my part, I hope that I've at least hit the tip of the iceberg of showing how complex an issue this is. I'm still being challenged and look forward to continuing my journey of enlightenment with you and others.

Best,

Joy

Maura Bogue's picture

Great article

I like how by revealing your own travel from a black and white view on FGC help the reader make the same trip. It's also great how you define choice and state why you use "cutting." Since the frontline journal enables you to include your own voice, maybe you could also include a few more statements about what you think.

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