This past Saturday, the Support Group for FGM survivors of Global Woman P.E.A.C.E. Foundation (GWPF) took their message to the community where they hold their support group workshops. The group meets in the Tenleytown area of Washington, D.C. GWPF listens to their survivors and acts on their needs and concerns. So when the survivors asked to reach out to the community, the organization adhered to them. It was at their June Support Group workshop when the survivors came up with the idea to go into the community and speak to the people. They wanted to mobilize their group, and talk to the people in the area about what FGM is and what the end of FGM means to them as survivors. Some survivors believe that a lot more should be done to raise awareness and educate the American public.
The question is does the American public want to be aware of and educated on FGM? During the outreach last Saturday by the GWPF representatives, it was clear that they were not welcomed with wide open arms. However they were not deterred; if anything, they gained more courage, determination, and momentum as they continued to approach passersby. According to Wikipedia, advocacy aims to influence decisions on social systems, institutions, the economy and politicians through activities by individuals or groups. It is a known fact that advocacy can be challenging yet rewarding. Of course it depends on the cause for which one advocates; who the target audience is; the familiarity of the audience to the cause; the dedication and commitment of the advocate; the goals to be achieved through advocacy, etc.
Last Saturday, a 9-year old boy exhibited the qualities of a young advocate. He had accompanied his grandmother to the outreach activity with much enthusiasm. But nobody had expected what transpired in his first pitch to a young lady. With no prior coaching, young Terrence approached a lady and said, “Excuse me, may I have a moment of your time?” Once he had her attention, he proceeded with his unrehearsed pitch, by telling her the meaning of FGM, how harmful it is to many little girls, and how much he wants it to stop. Then he ended with this phrase, “And Congress is on our side to end it.” Whether it was his pitch or the fact that he was a 9-year old, he had his target audience hooked. Her response was, “You are a little activist! I expect to see you on TV in the future.” She took the flyer he offered her, thanked him and wished him the best. Young Terrence was encouraged, and was inspired to keep approaching others.
The adult representatives received several obstacles in their approach; they found that most people were too hurried, preferred not to stop and listen, were impatient, and somewhat discourteous. But there were others who offered their attention; they said that they had heard of FGM, and shared their concerns. Some were of the impression that FGM only happened in Africa. An East African man they encountered said the practice had stopped, due to laws that had been passed in most African countries. He was baffled to learn that even though laws had been passed in most countries, little girls were still being violated, due to perpetrators breaking the laws. “Therefore the practice of FGM is still being practiced”, he was told. Furthermore, he had no idea that it was being practiced right here in the United States.
Why is there such a lack of interest in FGM in the United States, compared to countries in Europe, and other parts of the world? The fact of the matter is that most Americans rely solely on what the news media show on television, write in the newspaper, or what they hear through advertisements. There is a major lack of FGM interest within the American news media. Think about it, how many times have you turned on the news, and you came across a story about FGM? The many times can be counted with fingers remaining on your second hand. Even when the FBI made their big FGM arrests a couple of years ago in Michigan, there was not a blow up in the news media about it. It is either that there is a denial that FGM exists in America, or it is due to lack of information and education of FGM, or perhaps, all of the above. It is of utmost importance that the news media in America raise awareness, and capture the attention of their audiences. This is what Wikipedia also says in regards to advocacy: “Advocacy can include many activities that a person or organization undertakes, including media campaigns, public speaking, commissioning and publishing research or conducting exit poll or the filing of an amicus brief.” Notice ‘media campaigns’ is the first on that list. FGM advocates have used public speaking for many years as part of their work against the practice. They have also engaged in extensive research and publications on the practice.
But when FGM is compared to other women’s issues and harmful practices against women, there is hardly a fare comparison. Everyone in the U.S. knows what domestic violence is; they know what sex trafficking is; what sexual assault is; and what sexual harassment is. They are fully aware of the existence of those violations against women and girls here in the U.S. However when you stop someone on the street and ask, “Have you heard of something called female genital mutilation?” With the exception of a few, you will get a blank stare. Granted, strides have been made and things are a little better than a decade ago, but the U.S. is still far behind the rest of the world when it comes to FGM.
It is incumbent upon FGM advocates and activists to educate and inform the American public of female genital mutilation. Since anyone who advocates against a harmful practice or act is assumed to be passionate and against that practice or act, then FGM advocates must be aggressive in educating the public. In other words, advocacy against FGM must never slow down or stop. Had advocates against voter suppression for women in the early 20th Century eased off or slowed down or even stopped, women would not have the opportunity to go to the poles today and exercise their rightful civic duties. What if Dr. Martin Luther King and his companions had given up and stopped pursuing the civil rights movement? People of color today would not have equal rights in the 21st Century. You might be saying, “We’ve got the picture or the message.” Hopefully you do get it because those examples were intentionally meant to give you the picture or the message.
GWPF and their survivor support group hope to continue their community outreach, in spite of the reluctance to listen by people in the community. It is hoped that you will be inspired to join them, or even invite them to your own community. Perhaps young 9-year old Terrence’s story will be your inspiration. Or you might just get angry enough when you think of the little girls that are at risk in this country of this odiously dreadful practice.
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