Victim and criminal: stories from Black women who have been stigmatised by the anti-FGM narrative
February 6th marks the 17th anniversary of the United Nation’s International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation. (FGM).
The ambitious anti-FGM movement that ensued and which actively operates in the UK and internationally, claims to have made great strides in helping to reduce the incidence of this harmful, traditional practice worldwide. Whilst that reduction is welcome, legislative initiatives, policies, surveillance, awareness – raising, and the drive to prosecute have resulted in some Black and Minority Ethnic Communities (BAME) in the UK being specifically targeted and feeling their effects disproportionately.
On Saturday, 8 February 2020, Hidden Voices UK, hosted a theatrical performance called “Judging without Knowing” at Oxford House in Bethnal Green, East London, followed by a panel and open discussion with over 70 people who attended. It was organised in partnership with Women’s Inclusive Team, TALO, Queen of Sheba International, and Acta Community Theatre Bristol.
The event was one of a number of responses to the 17th anniversary of the UN’s 6 February International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), and a ground-breaking one
‘Judging Without Knowing Us’
‘Judging Without Knowing Us’ is an original play written and performed by Bristol Somali women. It tells the hitherto unspoken story of women with daughter considered at risk of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C), and showcases the damage caused by the current obsession with the practice.
The play, was created entirely by Somali women working with actors from Acta Community Theatre, Bristol. It highlights the damage caused by a now common narrative that surrounds FGM in the UK – a combination of victimhood, stigma and criminalisation.
The play depicts how anti-FGC initiatives and interventions in families suspected of carrying out the practice affects them, and encourages the audience to imagine the trauma they experience purely because on their ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
The dominant narrative to date has been one of victimhood, trauma and stigma. But the strong women at the heart of the play, women from the communities who frequently bear the brunt of the narrative that seeks to pre-emptively criminalise them, come out fighting.
The performance puts mothers and daughters at the heart of the issue and shows how women who were “victims of FGM” (mothers who were cut as children, almost all in Somalia in the last century are now primitively criminalised by the assumption that they will have their daughters or granddaughters cut
There was also an open and rich discussion between the panellists and many well-informed members of the multi-ethnic audience, including women from FGM-affected communities, researchers, health professionals and advocates involved in addressing FGM in diverse ways. It became clear that women and their families and communities are being harassed by “safeguarding”, which is seriously harmful to children when it is not required or justified.