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

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