“Three women held me down as the midwife performed the surgery. They were all our neighbours. My mother and grandmother stood at the corner of the room. I cried for them to help me and stop those women, but when my cries got louder, my mother joined the other women and shouted at me to ‘shut up, do you want to be an immoral girl? Do you not want to get married?’. I was shocked then shame filled me. Thirty years have passed since that day, but I still remember it like it was yesterday.”
Many years ago, in a hospital in East Africa, I saw a father carrying his daughter in his arms and with tears streaming down his face onto his blood-drenched shirt, he called for help. His daughter, also drenched in blood, lay motionless in his arms after she was subjected to the brutal cutting of her genitals. No one was able to save the girl. She died. Last week, a 12-year old girl died after an FGM procedure in Egypt. Between then and now, hundreds of girls died, and millions became what we call “survivors” of FGM.
Within the walls of the Canadian parliament, we have fought to pass the law criminalizing female genital cutting and mutilation in 1997, and we continued to fight since then to see actual implementation but to this day, there is not one prosecution. We have also updated the citizenship guide to drop a reference condemning the practice. While the current guide does condemn the practice, this was not the end goal. Words in laws and guides are not enough to end the brutal practice.
As part of Canada’s Feminist policy, we are actively working in countries that practice FGM as part of a long heritage, preceding even Christianity and Islam, and I commend these efforts with all my heart. But what have we done here at home? There are 200 million FGM survivors worldwide, and more than three million girls at risk each year. Some of those survivors and some of those girls at risk are right here in Canada. Shockingly, there are no official statistics so that we can understand the scope of the problem.
Almost ten years ago, in 2011, an informal analysis of the Canadian Census indicated there may be upward of 80,000 survivors of FGM in Canada. Last year, Government documents released to journalists under the Freedom of Information Act show that thousands of Canadian girls may be at risk. No other analysis, information, or official statistics exist, and no government department is mandated to investigate or find solutions.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting is one of the most brutal acts of violence against women and girls, yet the silence engulfing it is deafening. I have been calling for years on the government to take steps to ensure that FGM survivors who have immigrated to Canada are provided with appropriate health and natal care. Also, that these women are educated about the health complications that accompany it, the trauma and the psychological impact, as well as the laws surrounding the practice. We need to make sure that these women are well cared for, and that they do not subject their daughters to this brutality.
We must do more. First, we must recognize that this is a Canadian issue. We must have a plan to eradicate the practice, and not be comfortable with words of condemnation. The government, health officials, teachers, civil society, and community leaders must work together to deal with this. How can we pride ourselves in our feminism and our strong women’s rights values, and be actionless about the cutting of girls?