Female circumcision – women must have the right to choose – says Dr. Fuambai Sia Ahmadu

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 8 February 2015

Fuambai Sia Ahmadu, PhDRecently, a senior minister in the Koroma government of Sierra Leone – the Minister of Gender and Social Welfare – Moijueh Kaikai, said unequivocally that female circumcision will not be abolished, echoing the views of most politicians,and perhaps that of millions of people up and down the country. (Photo: Female Rights Activist – Dr. Fuambai Sia Ahmadu).

And as the global debate continues intensely, there is a consensus emerging between those calling for banning of the practice and those defending the right of women to choose.

This emerging consensus is based on the general acceptance that female circumcision should be out of bounds for children.

But what is not clear is the determination as to the acceptable age at which consent can be deemed to have been given by a young woman. Hence the principle of consent and the capacity to give such consent, cannot be swept under the carpet by either side of the debate, as a blanket ban seems simply impractical and against the tenets of civil liberty.

Sierra Leone Telegraph’s Washington correspondent Dennis Kabatto caught up with Sierra Leonean-American medical anthropologist and female rights activist -Dr. Fuambai Sia Ahmadu, who is calling for an end to what she describes as Zero Tolerance Propaganda Campaign. This is what she told Dennis Kabbatto.

DK: Dr. Fuambai Sia Ahmadu, you recently participated in the BBC television Hardtalk debate. How did that come about? 

Dr Fuambai Sia Ahmadu - left founder of African Women are Free to Choose debate - Nimco Ali-right - co-founder of Daughters of Eve on BBC Hardtalk (2)I was invited by the producers of Hardtalk to take part in a discussion on what I refer to as female circumcision, alongside Nimco Ali, a campaigner against what she and other opponents call FGM. (Photo: Fuambai – left, and Nimco – right). 

It was a very intense debate, but I think enlightening for a lot of viewers who never once thought there was another side to “FGM”.

DK: How will the Zero Tolerance for FGM Act of 2015 impact the traditional practice of female circumcision in America?

Traditional female circumcision is virtually unheard of today in America.  Anti-FGM activists manufacture the most outrageous statistics on the risk of FGM in the U.S, as well as unfounded claims regarding an underground trafficking of girls from the U.S to Africa for “vacation cutting”.

Mainstream media outlets clearly do not feel obligated to do simple fact checking or due diligence when it comes to such reports.

Twenty plus years ago, there were some African immigrant women who were keen on maintaining this aspect of their culture, and few were able to financially and logistically take their daughters to their home countries in Africa for female initiation or female circumcision. This is what happened in my case, but it was a rare occurrence in our communities even then.  

DK: Although FGM is banned in the United States, a new CDC report released in January says the number of women and girls in USA at risk of FGM have tripled over the last 25 years. Is that a victory for ‘African Women Are Free to Choose (AWAFC)’?

The recent CDC report that over 500,000 girls are at risk of FGM in the US is completely and I believe deliberately misleading.  The purpose is to provide for the anti-FGM NGO – Equality Now, the data it needs to bolster its lobbying efforts to pass the Zero Tolerance for Anti-FGM Act of 2015. This will guarantee allocation of funds and resources towards Director Shelby Quast’s inflated income and other activities in the U.S.  In other words, ‘Equality Now’ wants money and will stop at nothing to get it. 

All the experts I know, submitted their concerns about the methods being used by CDC to calculate FGM risk and the initial report’s gross exaggeration of these figures.  

The numbers used by the CDC are based on African women, who are already circumcised, the prevalence of the practice in their countries of origin and the erroneous assumption that they will circumcise their daughters when they immigrate to the US.

There is no evidence to substantiate the assumptions that are made in the report.  Further, this report is ultimately attributing a priori criminality to certain groups of African women, and advocating for a dangerous form of racial or ethnic profiling, targeting African and Muslim communities.  

We intend to make our concerns about this CDC report known to anti-FGM activists, the mainstream media, policymakers and all relevant stakeholders in the U.S administration as well as within our own communities.  

I am not sure what you mean by whether this is a victory of AWAFC.  We are not here to spread female circumcision in the US or anywhere in the world. Our key mission is to create awareness about the negative psychosocial and psychosexual impact of harmful anti-FGM campaigns, legislation and global policies.  

AWAFC is also concerned with creating dialogue on ways to preserve the rights of all affected adult women and adolescent girls to their own bodies, to self-determination and to equality with other adult women and adolescent girls worldwide. 

DK: What is your reaction to the Gambia’s recent ban of FGM?  What are the implications for people who practice the tradition in that country? 

Yahya-Jammeh

I believe President Yayah Jammeh (Photo) had his reasons for taking such a surprise and potentially unpopular decision, in a country where the vast majority of women are circumcised and celebrate this tradition in large, open initiation ceremonies.  

President Jammeh is a shrewd and savvy quasi dictator.  He is well aware that Gambian women in western countries can apply for and receive automatic asylum on gender based violence claims, with respect to FGM.  

This recent executive decision has effectively closed the door to his most vocal critics and opponents in the UK and US. I also lean on believing his sincerity, when he says this practice is not sanctioned by Islam and that he is genuinely concerned about the health implications for girls and women.

There’s a lot of ignorance and misinformation about the varied forms of female circumcision in relation to Islam, as well as well purported health and sexual outcomes.  Most people, like President Jammeh, are regrettably misled by the media and activist led anti-FGM propaganda.

AWAFC was created to end this insidious disinformation and to hold the media and anti-FGM activists accountable for what they print, say and do.     

As far as implications for the practice – an important Senegambian study funded by UNICEF clearly indicated that the law has little effect on the practice because it is driven underground.  

A Gambian friend recently told me that what we will see is an end to the open celebrations (similar to what is happening now in Kenya), but the operations will continue.

This most certainly means that girls will be circumcised at younger and younger ages, and that their health and lives will be at the mercy of greedy quacks instead of highly trained traditional circumcisers or medical practitioners. 

DK: UNICEF estimates 24 out of 29 countries where FGM is practiced have passed laws against it. Do you think it would be outlawed in Sierra Leone?  

Absolutely not and we will certainly lobby hard against this new form of neocolonialism in Sierra Leone. What is the Government of Sierra Leone (GoSL) going to do, lock up 80% of the population of women?  

Are the predominantly male policemen going to arrest their grandmothers, mothers, sisters, wives and so on? 

Bondo2The Minister of Gender and Social Welfare, Hon. Moijueh Kaikai, stated unequivocally to a group of Soweis (the women leaders in charge of traditional female initiation and circumcision) that Bondo will not be banned in Sierra Leone.

Bondo is the local term for female circumcision.  However, the GoSL appears to be ambivalent about its position and intentions, but my hope is President Ernest Bai Koroma will continue to listen to the voices of grassroots women who make up the bulk of voters in the country.

We are officially launching AWAFC in Freetown very soon and we intend to work closely with GoSL on a way forward that will advance and protect the rights of all women and girls on both sides of this issue.

Western orchestrated anti-FGM laws have had no impact on a practice that dates back thousands of years. We have seen that in those countries  in Africa that have passed such laws.  

While our African governments are busy succumbing to pressure from western women to outlaw our traditional female genital aesthetic practices, western countries have developed a flourishing female genital cosmetic surgery industry, using our own operations as the aesthetic standard.

And, instead of fighting to defend the rights of our mothers and grandmothers, many of us who are western educated have given carte blanche for them to be stripped, degraded and punished by and for the sake of the very white women whose own mothers and daughters are now freely opting for the same procedures.

 I have always said, Sierra Leone is the ground zero where modern western feminism meets the power of ancient Bondo society.  As you can see, I’ve placed my bets on Bondo.

You can watch the BBC Hardtalk debate here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mV6UfEaZHBE 

11 Comments

  1. Thank you very much for this very important debate. The issue of female circumcision is one that many of us here in Sierra Leone have been thinking about the best way of changing its practice, without violating the right of any adult to self determination and self expression.

    But I lost interest in disgust, once the international community and their paid African feminist foot-soldiers abroad hijacked the agenda to gain recognition and funding, by constructing a new and derogatory name for the practice – Female Genital Mutilation.

    How dishonest, demeaning and damaging to millions of women in Africa.

    I do not know of any woman who has been mutilated by the practice. Yes, some women have been left scared by poorly trained operatives just like in medical surgery where several doctors are performing poor surgery. But to say that the majority of women are mutilated is dishonest.

    For me what I think is sad and tragic about this issue and the way it is being pushed by the UN and western governments, is that in the not too distant future millions of women will be branded and given the status of ‘Genital Mutilated’ on their health records and possibly passports.

    Theses women will be psychologically scared not by the practice they have gone through, but by the new status they will be given on their health records and also in their communities in western countries.

    The term FGM is insulting and was a big mistake to have been constructed if this was about a debate to change or even eradicate the practice.

    Why demonise those that have been circumcised without their consent? Millions of children will now grow up with the demonised FGM badge.

    It would not have taken anything away from the debate had the anti-female circumcision crusaders used the proper term – ‘female circumcision’ just like ‘male circumcision’ to promote their agenda and try to educate and win over those conducting the practice in Africa.

    But I am afraid by constructing and pushing out the word FGM, they are demonising those they should be winning over. You cannot insult people and hope by doing so they will listen to what you have to say and change their ways.

    This kind of negative psychology worked in the 16th and 17th century and even 18th century, to propagate slavery and colonisation, when Africans were told they are apes and work horses, good for nothing else race, made to serve others and not themselves.

    Look at how long it has taken Black people to regain and rebuild their confidence since then, and finding their way in the world through equal partnership? And still finding it very difficult.

    But this approach of demonising Africans will not work today. Change in Africa is of course needed. But will only come through education, awareness raising and eradication of poverty – not through insults.

  2. I cannot write much at the moment because it’s my bed time, but let me say this to you Fuambai: You are extraordinary, and do keep going.

    Western education has not tampered with who you are. It means you know what your identity is. You have not dived into the ocean and surface as a fish.

    I take my hat off to you. I hope to write some more in a day or two.

    A big thank you to Sierra Leone Telegraph for keeping Sierra Leoneans engaged with each other. That’s why it has a growing readership.

  3. I have read Fuambai Ahmadu’s 313-page thesis on Rites and Wrongs: An Insider/Outsider Reflects on Power and Excision. What a huge mess! She had her clitoris anesthetized in the Bondo bush before excised or being cut.

    Certainly, the majority will agree with me that her experience of FGM is completely different from those who had it done on them raw, violently or without the use of any anesthetics. How painful it is indeed.

    If Fuambai Ahmadu is really serious about FGM, then let her redo it or re-initiated without anesthetics and have the complete removal of the clitoral glans and clitoral hood.

    Maybe she can understand why the wide cry against this foul play in our day and age. Other than that, I am done with her. Thank you very much, and God bless.

  4. Banning anything on religious grounds is a No No. Why adopt the strategy of religious monsters like ISIS and Boko Haram?

    I think African governments should be encouraged to work sensitively with women’s groups to introduce laws that prevents children from circumcision.

    But adults must be allowed to do what they want to do with their private organs. Why should anyone tell me what I must do or not do to my private body part?

    Religious groups in salone are demanding an outright banning of abortion. This extremism is no different from calling for banning of female circumcision.

    Women must have the right to decide what happens to their body. Why should anyone question or be concerned about my decision to remove my body parts? This is perversion.

  5. Dr Amadu’s resolve to vigorously campaign against any ban of FGM must be met with an equal determination to see the practice banned, so that this is seen as an issue of concern to Sierra Leoneans and not Western propaganda.

    Why anyone else should have the right to cut of organs which are created for a purpose is beyond me.

    We need to put aside some aspects of culture which are quintessentially backward and FGM is foremost of these.

  6. I really do not care about what adults do to or with their body parts just as long as it does not involve children.

    The banning of circumcision or any form of cosmetic surgery must tantamount to an infringement of human rights.
    In western countries no one talks about banning the removal or alteration of body parts of consenting adults.

    So why tell African people what they should do with their body parts. This is imperialism.

    My neighbour here in London after watching their 14 year old son growing up and displaying female tendencies have taken the poor boy to a clinic where they have removed his penis and create a virgina. The poor boy has painfully gone through what in the west is called gender reassignment.

    Is the boy old enough to understand the decision taken by his parents to cut off his penis?

    Is the boy old enough to give his consent? Will this boy commit suicide later in life when he realises that he is a man after all and has feelings for women but cannot have sex because of his so called gender reassingment?

    There are many men walking the streets of London who were born female but have legally had their vagina cut off to make way for a penis.

    Is this not wrong if we are to use the same logic that westerners are imposing on Africans?
    I hate the fact that millions of people all over the world are dying of alcohol yet no one is talking about banning such poisonous substance which not only kills but destroys families.

    Cigarette is killing millions every year but no one talks about banning smoking why?

    The answer is simple. No western government will have the guts to talk about banning a poisonous substance that is produced by an industry that create jobs and pays taxes to government.

    If female circumcision was a western practice provided by big business for a fee and the bondo soweis are paying their taxes to government no one will talk of banning it.

    Instead they will have a civilised debate without insulting anyone and may pass a law excluding children from the practice.
    I fully sympathise with the views of African women who demand that western countries must back off their affairs and let africans themselves decide their way of life just as long as children are not involved in the practice.

    Once again I ask the question. Was my white next door neighbour right in taking their 14 year old son to a clinic to have his penis remove because according to them he was behaving like a girl?

    Why is so called gender reassingment ok for white people but bondo is bad for Africans with the proviso that children are not involved?

  7. Circumcision of any type is just very painful. I went through boys circumcision in my village in Sierra Leone at early age of my life. Upon having my ability to read and write through education, I discovered that the very terminology of “Circumcision” is a Jewish tradition.

    But my question always is “Are Sierra Leoneans who practice circumcision of their boys’ Jewish” The answer lies in spiritual interpretation which remains with the Almighty God to interpret.

    Coming now to female circumcision, it is just not a good thing for taking off the most sexual pleasure from girls especially against their wish.

    It is about time for all adults in Sierra Leone to take off the mask of shame to arrive at the point of human reality that there is no pleasure in life more than sex which is all hidden in the genital feelings of human beings (male or female). Female genital mutilation is just very cruel and must stop. PERIOD!

  8. Fuambai Ahmadu: Your piece on FGM can be likened to the allegory of the cave, wherein the effect of education and the lack of it in your nature is very visible. I find this your support for FGM not only preposterous, disgraceful but also very contemptuous.

    For female genital cutting, of any kind or form, is abhorrent. As a Christian, there is absolutely no scriptural reference from the Bible that validates it. Let me know in case there is any verse from God’s word that agrees with you on FGM. I can categorically say that there is absolutely none!

    Please stop being religiously syncretic on this subject, and dissociate yourself from it completely. In addition, I ask that you put a hold on all your prop up on this horrible traditional practice which has affected millions of our family members, including the African people.

    Lastly, FGM is of the Bondo Devil being masqueraded in the photo above . And I bind it in the name of Jesus. Amen.

  9. Cutting male and female genitals are similar:

    1) They are unnecessary, extremely painful, and traumatic.
    2) They can have adverse sexual and psychological effects.
    3) They are generally done by force on children.
    4) They are generally supported by local medical doctors.
    5) Pertinent biological facts are not generally known where procedures are practiced.
    6) They are defended with reasons such as tradition, religion, aesthetics, cleanliness, and health.
    7) The rationale has currently or historically been connected to controlling sexual pleasure.
    8) They are often believed to have no effect on normal sexual functioning.
    9) They are generally accepted and supported by those who have been subjected to them.
    10) Those who are cut (male and female) have a compulsion to repeat their trauma on their children.
    11) The choice may be motivated by underlying psychosexual reasons.
    12) Critical public discussion is generally taboo where the procedures are practiced.
    13) They can result in serious complications that can lead to death.
    14) The adverse effects are hidden by repression and denial.
    15) Dozens of potentially harmful physiological, emotional, behavioral, sexual, and social effects on individuals and societies have never been studied.
    16) On a qualitative level, cutting the genitals of male and female children are the same. The harm starts with the first cut, any cut.
    17) The decision is generally controlled by men, though women may be supportive.
    18) They violate the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (both male and female).
    19) They generally exist together (male and female circumcision).
    20) To stop one, we must stop both. Then we may better develop toward our individual and social potential.

    • Boys died from circumcision too, it makes my blood boil that everybody talks about FGM but same people don’t give a flying sh!t about MGM, at least FGM was made illegal in most places but male circumcision is not even considered a bad thing let alone illegal.

      Both FGM and MGM do same thing is cuts healthy tissue from un-consenting individual, if you were to cut clitoral hood and labia in a medical setting to baby girl would that make it OK?

      She will have less smegma less UTI etc. She will not remember the pain etc, same bullshit reasons for male circumcision.

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