Last week, local Kenyan and international print and online media were filled with photos showing Pokot girls undergoing FGM. The photos, taken by Reuters photojournalist Siegfried Modola, document how four Pokot girls underwent the practice, including the practitioners, the actual cutting, and the ceremonies that accompany the tradition.
These photos indicate that we have much that still needs to be done.
First, the photos show us that FGM continues to be practiced, even as we engage in advocacy against it. We still need to research and inform communities about the risks associated with the practice. We need to allow them to come into conversation with us; allow the communities to take active roles in addressing the practice in their communities. We need to recognize the cultural place of FGM in order to become effective advocates against the practice.
Second, displaying the photos in international media may inform people about the practices, but the comments of outrage that usually follow these photos do not bring an end to the practice. In fact, they might do more harm than good. International media reporting on African issues often reduce the complexity within the continent in order to reach a wider lay-person audience. What’s more, Africa is often “a country” rather than a continent of 54 countries, each with its diversity of peoples and cultures. FGM in Africa is one such issue, and media often describes it as a barbaric, outdated practice, rather than identifying the context of such cultural practices. Uninformed readers will think FGM is practiced in all African countries, and that all African women are suffering under this ordeal. Indeed, they would fail to know that FGM is nonexistent in much of Southern Africa.
ACCAF aims to address the aforementioned concerns by researching and documenting the best interventions that might be used, while recognizing the cultural contexts in which these communities are embedded. Our work must go beyond sharing photos and reports with the world, to recognizing that the individuals who practice FGM are human, and our engagement with them must keep their humanity at the centre. And if we are to bring FGM to an end within one generation, we must continue to engage all stakeholders, including the women and men in these communities. We must understand the faces and phases of FGM, the women who undergo the practice, the types of the cut, and the trajectory of advocacy against FGM.