Female genital mutilation is never 'minor'

A recent Economist editorial says some forms of FGM that cause no long-lasting damage should be permitted, but I know that the hurt lasts

One month after the Economist justified some forms of female genital mutilation (FGM), I still feel horrified.

“Instead of trying to stamp FGM out entirely,” reads the editorial, “governments should ban the worst forms, permit those that cause no long-lasting harm and try to persuade parents to choose the least nasty version, or none at all. However distasteful, it is better to have a symbolic nick from a trained health worker than to be butchered in a back room by a village elder. If health workers also advised parents that even minor rituals are unnecessary, progress towards eradication could continue.”

I am appalled by their comments. This approach would help dominate women, insult their suffering and justify the subordination of their rights. By supporting the absurd idea of a compromise between culture and law, proposing to tolerate what they call a “least nasty version” of FGM, the Economist lets millions of girls down. What can be “least nasty” about FGM?

“Since my childhood, this deep wound in my body never healed,” confided Nawal El Saadawi in her book, A Daughter of Isis. Worldwide, 200 million women and girls understand what Nawal El Saadawi means because they also felt the blade of a practitioner cut their flesh. I’m one of them.

I was between five and six years old. My childhood was interrupted abruptly and my relationship with my mother – who took me to the lady who cut me without any explanation – exploded. But she did not have the power to say no, and now we are still trying to reconnect and slowly pick up the pieces of our broken relationship.

Today I’m 36. I can confirm that we never heal and that in the best case, we can only get better. Medicalised FGM - where a form of cutting is carried out in medical environs rather than at home or with village elders - is increasingly being applied in Egypt. It changes nothing except it tries to absolve proponents of FGM.

Assita Kanko
Assita Kanko Photograph: Assita Kanko

In June 2013, Soheir Mohamed Ibrahim died in Egypt after she was cut by a doctor. She was only 13. She was, unfortunately, not the only one. In June this year, another girl – aged 17 – died during the cut despite it being performed by a gynaecologist. Her name was Mayar Mohamed Mousa. Her father is a surgeon and her mother is a nurse.

Whatever the circumstances, it remains a crime with serious consequences – immediate and/or longterm – for the victim. The goal is to make these women the servants of a man, deprived of pleasure. The physical, psychological and socio-economic drawbacks are widely underestimated.What the the Economist advocates is nothing but complicity and incitement to maintain our chains because we are girls.

No compromise is desirable or justifiable because there is no such thing as “light FGM”. The cultural relativism which they clearly demonstrate through their writing is unbearable. The fact that they have the intellectual or medical background to know better is as amazing as hopeless. This choice is pure cowardice, and a betrayal of medicine, science and law. It is also a disregard for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights because in their eyes, we are not born free and equal in law.

I salute all those who have the courage to fight every day, despite the unfathomable selfishness of people like the supporters of this so called light FGM.

Any kind of FGM must stop. That is all.

• This article was amended on 22 and 25 July 2016 to better reflect the Economist’s editorial. An earlier version suggested incorrectly that the Economist supported clitoridectomy. The Economist has asked us to clarify that this is not the case.

Assita Kanko is an author and politician, now based in Brussels, who was born and raised in Burkina Faso. Follow @Assita_Kanko on Twitter.

Join our community of development professionals and humanitarians. Follow@GuardianGDP on Twitter. Join the conversation with the hashtag #SheMatters.

Assita Kanko

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Letter to my daughter: my hopes for 2017
A year ago anti-FGM campaigner Leyla Hussein wrote to her teenage daughter about her hopes for her generation in 2016. She had no idea what was to follow

Leyla Hussein

01, Feb, 2017 @10:30 AM

Article image
What working as an FGM counsellor taught me about female sexuality
Counselling sessions with FGM survivors have led Leyla Hussein to think about the pressure the girls face in relation to their virginity

Leyla Hussein

17, Aug, 2016 @6:00 AM

Article image
Anti-FGM campaigner Leyla Hussein: the women who made me
Leyla Hussein lists the women who made her the outspoken human rights activist she is today

Leyla Hussein

29, Jun, 2016 @7:00 AM

Article image
Ending female genital mutilation, one household at a time

For major social change, you have to educate and motivate communities to act differently. One Senegalese chief achieved just that. The NGO he worked with shares the lessons learned

Gannon Gillespie

22, Aug, 2013 @10:02 AM

Article image
Letter to my daughter: what is it like to be a girl in 2016?
Psychotherapist and anti-FGM campaigner shares her hopes and fears for all girls around the globe this year in a letter to her 13-year-old daughter

Leyla Hussein

03, Feb, 2016 @7:00 AM

Article image
How the Gambia banned female ​genital ​mutilation
President Yahya Jammeh’s move to outlaw FGM is the success of pressure from local activists and the Guardian’s global campaign to end the practice

Maggie O'Kane

24, Nov, 2015 @6:29 PM

Female genital mutilation: end it | Editorial
Editorial: There are authorities with the power to intervene who are reluctant to confront what has in the past been seen as a cultural issue


05, Feb, 2014 @11:41 PM

Article image
Female genital mutilation: the UK must act now | Carlene Firmin
Carlene Firmin: With an estimated 20,000 girls at risk in the UK, teachers and health professionals must be on alert over female genital mutilation

Carlene Firmin

26, Mar, 2013 @1:00 PM

Law clear on female genital mutilation | @guardianletters
Letters: The law is clear that no offence of female genital mutilation is committed by an approved person who performs a surgical operation which is necessary for the patient's physical or mental health

28, Mar, 2014 @9:00 PM

Article image
What men can do to stop female genital mutilation | Katharine Whitehorn

As pressure grows to end the horror of FGM, it's becoming clear that the last word may lie with potential husbands, says Katharine Whitehorn

Katharine Whitehorn

03, Mar, 2014 @11:00 AM