Some thoughts on fighting FGM

Michael Gove has finally agreed to write to schools in England about FGM after the recent campaign led by 17 year old Fahma Mohamed. I recently read Alice Walker’s novel ‘Possessing the Secret of Joy’, 1992, and will attempt to discuss some of the horrors of FGM, and thoughts on fighting it, through a reading of this powerful text.

Possessing focuses on a fictional African tribe, Olinka. The fictional element enables Walker to explore the results of the most extreme form of female circumcision, infibulation, enacted upon her protagonist Tashi without blaming any one real tribe. Thus, Walker can be as outspoken as she likes, heavily criticising Olinkans’ reasons for female genital mutilation (FGM) and rallying for collective responsibility to stop it. Olinkans ‘validate’ their reasons for FGM by using religious myths and presenting the procedure as initiation into adulthood and eligibility for marriage. Particularly, Olinkans use the tale of God and the termite hill, which represents female sexual organs, to affirm God’s wish for FGM and naturalise male control over female sexuality. This is because God mastered the earth by “[cutting] down the termite hill, and [having] intercourse with the excised earth”. Therefore, in the eyes of the Olinkans, as God has initiated it, FGM is justifiable and an eternal phenomenon. In this way, as the writer Gourdine has noted, Walker positions FGM as “a brutal ritual so tied to culture and tradition that for thousands of years women have been powerless to stop it”.  Continue reading

‘Wadjda’, the first Saudi Arabian film created by a female Saudi film director

Wadjda, directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour, is a film that should immediately attract our attention. It is the first to be made entirely in Saudi Arabia. It is also the first of the nation’s films to be created by a female film director. These exciting breakthroughs of Arabian film traditions and taboos are mirrored in the subject matter. The exploration of the relationship between place, gender, and (self) expression plays a prominent part in negotiating barriers both within the script and within the real life making of the film.

Immediately, Wadjda is depicted as a rebellious schoolgirl, pushing at any boundaries that come her way. She has an entrepreneurial streak of selling homemade friendship bracelets and being apparently indispensable to those around her. Indeed, throughout the film she is seen carrying the messages of others’ in order to make money. However, she stands out not just because of her high spirits and enthusiasm for life, but because she is a high spirited and enthusiastic girl living in Saudi Arabia.

The other girls in her class all wear the appropriated black footwear and cover their heads with black scarves. Not Wadjda. She wears Converses to school, and is often seen trailing around the city with her scarf (if she actually has it with her) floating along behind in the breeze.

The film meanders through Wadjda’s life both at home and at school. This young girl negotiating a sense of place for herself within a domestic setting and social society each containing tensions between custom, tradition and religion. Two female characters, Wadjda’s mother and headmistress, embody and condone certain oppressive traditions. This is striking because it reminds us as viewers that women as well as men reinforce traditional values, and that women largely carry out the repression of other women. This indicates just how hard it is for young girls to break out of this constricting cycle, as likely role models are insisting on their ‘silence’ and submissiveness.  Continue reading