After 30 Days of Darkness: Is there any light after all?
In Africa diseases, poverty and hunger have brought gross darkness in the lives of human beings whom when given equal opportunities around the world perform in the same way academically and professionally with others in the developed world. On the date of April 26th 2010, the continent of Africa experienced a shocking type of “darkness” because the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) released a policy document that allowed for what the world health organization calls type (IV) FGM which involves all procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area to satisfy cultural requirements. Woman of Paradise teamed up with organizations to mobilize hundreds of supporters from around the world to sign a petition that pressured the AAP to retract the policy. On the date of May 26th 2010 the AAP succumbed to our pressure and retracted the policy.
It is very important that we bring to light the “real” impact of that policy statement to avoid a repeat of the same. An account given by our field officers in Kenya reveals the turmoil that many young women have endured due to the ripple effect of this policy statement. Many young women and girls who had previously said “NO” to FGM got confused because the questions that have always lingered in their minds regarding their abandonment of FGM got an answer from the AAP’s new policy. Our advocacy campaign was crippled because we could not use our approach that focuses more on totally eliminating the practice. Disturbing questions by girls were our biggest hurdle, most of them inquired if the kind of FGM allowed by the AAP would have the “Lapan” (a famous ritual performed in East Pokot). Girls argued that because the AAP’s policy document allowed type (IV) FGM in USA, they might as well have it done in the village. They felt that the world was finally accepting their “culture” and it was better for them to go through their kind of FGM because the “Lapan” ritual could be performed.
One such case is revealed through the life of Leah, who was the most promising young woman in our advocacy campaign. She had attended our advocacy conference where she was taken through a rigorous session of learning about the dangers of FGM. After completing the program, she was certified and we took a photo of her as she received her certificate. She embraced her education and even graduated high school opting to defy FGM as her cultural rite of passage into womanhood. Leah lived a normal life without going through FGM; she got married, started a family and got her first child. After having her second baby in April 2010, she found out about the fact that type (IV) FGM could be performed in the USA. The AAP’s policy statement encouraged her to secretly arrange for a ceremony. She went through the worst kind of FGM (type 3) which involves mutilating and stitching all her reproductive parts. She is now secluded for 2 months because culture requires her to heal in secret. We cannot access Leah or see her again, our hopes have been shattered and all we have left with us is her certification pictures. We have lost a role model for other girls in the program and as a result of that, the East Pokot area in Kenya encountered 23 secret mutilations during the month when the AAP’s policy was active.
Did the AAP know that endorsing type (IV) FGM in the USA could not prevent the worst type of FGM? Nobody can show up in the village with a “nick” performed by a doctor in the USA and fail to face the wrath of culture which would involve taking her through FGM all over again. The AAP’s Policy was actually subjecting a girl to two types of FGM and not what they claimed as “protecting women from a worse type of FGM”. Communities that perform FGM do not recognize any kind of FGM without rituals. Was the AAP going to provide rituals in American hospitals? Communities substitute formal education for girls with cultural rituals preparing them for marriage after which they are married off to polygamous old men for a fee referred to as “bride price”. After 30 days of darkness, we do not see any light.