Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Meeting Author Rita Williams Garcia- 2#YABooksOnFGM

This is the  second  of a series of 3 interviews I had with YA authors who wrote about Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

This week's guest is Rita Williams Garcia author of No Laughter here (Amistad 2004).

No Laughter here sees  Akilah and Victoria who is from Nigeria, who happen to be best friends and whose friendhip seems suddenly lost forever after a summer vacation. When school closes Victoria goes back to Nigeria to spend her holidays , this is what Akilha thinks. But the reality is different. Only after some time Akilah will know the real reason why Victoria went home that summer and why she had lost her laughter. Moving, inspiring.  It is also a courageous book because Rita Williams Garcia gives voice also to those who supports FGM or at least justify within cultural relativism. This has surely been a challenging book to write, backing the outrage for the practice and providing a space of confrontation. 




VALENTINA MMAKA - Rita you’ve wrote No laughter here, a YA novel which is about teens entering womanhood and FGM. How did you think about this story? Why Female Genital Mutilation?
RITA WILLIAMS GARCIA - Even though technically No Laughter Here is labeled as YA, it is at its heart a younger story.  I couldn’t imagine writing Akilah and Victoria as older characters once I learned most females are cut as children.  When I learned of the rite as a young woman long before No Laughter Here, I always knew I’d write about FGM.  I also knew I wasn’t ready to write it as a young twenty-something.  About a dozen years later, I attended a forum at the Sheraton in New York City on the subject.  It was hosted by author Alice Walker, who had recently written Possessing the Secret of Joy. The chapter in NLH titled “Ayodele,” meaning “joy has come home” in Yoruba, is a small shout out to Walker’s novel.  Gloria Steinem also spoken at that conference, as had a woman from South Africa, women’s health professionals and numerous activists.  I listened to them speak on the abuses and rights of women, but I heard no mention of circumcised girls or babies.  If someone spoke on those realities, I missed it.  I wanted to know more about young girls and FGM, however with a full-time job, grad school, two small children and a husband frequently away for work, the timing was wrong for me to delve deeper—and this would need time and devotion.  Maybe two or three years later I was at a baby shower where my then 8 year-old daughter developed a fast friendship with another 8 year-old who was half Nigerian.  I watched the two whisper and giggle like they’d known each other all their lives.  I remember enjoying this sight of what makes girls truly girls and just like that, it occurred to me: Not all eight year-old girls are laughing and sharing fun secrets.  I’d found my way into Akilah and Victoria’s story and I set out to tell it. The protagonists of the story are two girls friends, Akhila and Victoria. Victoria comes from a country where FGM is practiced. The time Victoria returns from holiday, spent in her own country, Nigeria,  things change between the two friends and this because Victoria underwent the ritual cut. You say she has lost her laughter.  How did you empathize with the fact that a similar experience occurred to Victoria would have brought a change in her relationship with her best friend?
True friendship between girls is a unique bond.  Friendship between two truly connected friends is long-lasting.  You share everything and constantly pour your likes, loves, hates, fears, and secrets back and forth into each other to confirm your likeness and trust.  I imagined these girls teased each other about everything and found the same things funny.  Conversely, I knew the two would rally for one another and find the same things horrific.  When Victoria no longer brings herself completely to their friendship, her one true friend, Akilah, can only feel confusion, anger, and loss.  Friendship bereavement can be profound for children, especially when coupled with confusion and unexpected change.  Although Akilah didn’t undergo the cut, she, like Victoria loses her laughter because she is missing Victoria, who has become a part of own herself.  Akilah cannot help but feel empathy for Victoria.

VALENTINA MMAKA - I found very interesting and compelling that you brought to the reader also the other side of the issue, the side of who practice FGM. So Mrs Saunders, the girls’ teacher, is sympathetic towards Victoria ‘s experience. Actually she is the only audible voice that sympathize with her experience. What was you real intention on portraying such a character? 
RITA WILLIAMS GARCIA - Even a practice as inhumane as FGM must be understood.  We don’t have to agree but we should understand what is behind it.  To just say, “No More” or “No” doesn’t work effectively if we don’t understand why it exists on cultural, gender identity, psychological, and economic levels.  We must understand the thoughts and feelings of the people before we can suggest alternatives or even move to eradicate.  To truly be effective, teaching or mandating alternatives should align with the psychology and culture of the practicing people.   For the record, I am against the cut or any other form of ritual mutilation.  It is important to not just push my own agenda or beliefs, but to also show the reader the other point of view, or in this case, to at least strongly hint at it.  While I was writing, I didn’t believe Victoria’s family would sit down and explain it to her or to Akilah; custom trumps children’s rights and it was too personal and none of Akilah’s business (from the family’s perspective). I made use of her teacher, who’d asked the students earlier in the story how far did they travel over the summer?  In other words, “What did you see or experience that was different from your familiar?  What did you learn about the world?”  I felt Ms. Saunders would have the experience, world view and sensitivity to talk to an angry Akilah about FGM.  I also knew she’d understand that Akilah wouldn’t keep an open mind because FGM wasn’t an abstract or foreign ritual—it had profoundly and permanently harmed her friend.  Still, I had to put it out there for Akilah and the reader to consider.  If not now, perhaps later when the subject, or a similar subject appeared.

VALENTINA MMAKA - Don’t you think that FGM should be discussed out of cultural relativism and if so, how would it be the best way to do so?
RITA WILLIAMS GARCIA - It’s hard for me to separate FGM from culture, gender and psychology.  They’re all entangled.    But as subject matter, yes, I believe FGM can be discussed beyond culture.  A willingness to have the discussion must come first, and is without a doubt, the greatest obstacle.  If there’s a gathering of interested parties, then any thoughtful and open discussion can be had.  I usually start by breaking down the terms: female, genital, and mutilation and go from there.

VALENTINA MMAKA - When the book came out did you have difficulties in being on media, in libraries, in school visits because of the topic?
RITA WILLIAMS GARCIA - Forgive me if I laugh.  The only media coverage for NLH included a few book reviews and an online discussion of whether the book was appropriate for school aged children.  One book review deemed this book about fifth graders appropriate for juniors in high school.  (Had they read the book?)  The publisher sent the book to a known feminist and anti-FGM advocate who then sent a scathing letter about how the book was filled with lies and that they (Harpercollins/Amistad) should not publish it.  Was there trouble in schools and bookstores?  You can’t have trouble if the book isn’t on the shelf.   There were order cancellations once decision-makers learned the subject matter of the book.  I’ve had a few school invitations rescinded.  If I was invited to a school to do a workshop, upon occasion I was told I could not use NLH as a basis for the workshop.  This wasn’t always the case, but I was never shocked or outraged when it happened. I knew there would be pushback and forms of censorship.  I didn’t care at the time.  The book found its allies primarily available through libraries and many librarians made displays so readers could find the book. 
What was the feedback from your young readers?
Thank goodness for young readers.  They handled the subject matter well and many were stirred to activism. My first reader was my friend’s twelve year-old daughter who went on to make FGM her seventh grade school project.  My first letter was from another twelve year-old who, after having read the book, told her mother to stop what she was doing and to read the book, so they could talk.  I’ve had letters from boys who talked about their own circumcisions.  A lot of these letters relayed personal stories that I was entrusted with.  It was huge!  They wanted more information.  At the time I kept a text file with titles of books (The Fattening Hut, No Condition is Permanent, Desert Flower, Who Fears Death), films like Kim Longinotto’s The Day I Will Never Forget, and web sites like Waris Dirie’s foundation.  The young readers I heard from connected with a human struggle and not with the sexually taboo subject that adults immediately associate with FGM.  I received an email from an 8th grade student who invited me to her class to talk about NLH.  I said I would come if it was all right with her teacher.  Shortly, thereafter, I was in her classroom where she shared that she had been circumcised as a baby.  She didn’t quite put the pieces together until she read NLH.  Her classroom applauded her.  A few of the boys shared stories—one, whose family was from a practicing country that fled to the US to escape FGM for his sisters.  I’ve received many letters for this book, and made a few appearances to speak about NLH, but this was the experience that had made writing No Laughter Here worth every book return.  Let me also note that I did get letters from readers who didn’t understand what the book was about.  These included a letter from a 16 year-old female, and one from two eighth grade girls. 

VALENTINA MMAKA - Why do you think publisher are not open to publish YA novels on FGM?
RITA WILLIAMS AFRICA - Publishers are reticent to publish a book on this subject for young people—teen or younger—because the market won’t bear it.  Well, so far.  I’m hoping a writer will come along and compel the market with a story on this subject that can’t be denied.  I’m hoping we can keep an open mind and care to know about the plight of people who might seem distant from us, but are not at all.  We all want the right to our own bodies, don’t we?

VALENTINA MMAKA - Sometimes authors and teachers   fear to “touch” topics like sexuality though sexuality is often misrepresented on media, tv etc…what could be the relevance of books in providing “spaces” to raise an equal dialogue?
RITA WILLIAMS GARCIA -Remember that for adults, FGM is an impossible subject to broach.  I am used to being met with blinders, pained faces, and covered ears, whereas children will ask questions.  Children make faces and noises, but once we start talking, they find the subject relatable in many ways.  I gauge the audience and tend to not give more than I think they can handle.  That goes for adults as well, although, adults are harder to talk to. And mention “clitoris?” Young people who might know the term will snicker or turn red, but adults flee.
A few things must be in place for schools to have a safe space to have dialogues about topics with sexual content.  The school must have the support of the community—not so easily won, but well worth it.  The discussion leader or teacher must feel comfortable in leading or guiding the discussion.  Just as people in FGM practicing countries deal with issues of shame if they try to circumvent the brutality of the ritual, people who are charged to talk about it must also deal with issues of shame and discomfort.  I believe it also boils down to consent.  No one should be forced to read my book or any other book with sensitive or sexual content.  Safe space must be a safe space, free of judgement.  By the same token, no one should be barred from reading the content or exploring it.

VALENTINA MMAKA - I spoke to many educators in different parts of the world and some told me that talking about FGM in school would raise a new form of discrimination. How would you reply to this?
I’m not sure which form of discrimination these educators refer to.  Is that if we speak on female genital mutilation, then we must also speak on foreskin circumcision performed on males?  If a discussion on male circumcision arises as a result of reading books about FGM, then let the discussion commence!  Or are they mean who can participate in the readings and discussion?  If that’s the case, make participation elective.  Offer a selection of books that speak on human rights issues to choose from.  I always knew my book was special and that it would have to find its reader.  I didn’t expect it to have meaning for everyone.  My point is that the reader who shows interest and seeks this book and wants to know about its subject matter should not be denied access.

VALENTINA MMAKA  - What can we authors do to encourage parents teachers, publishers to open their schedule  to more diverse books and topics so that young readers might be able to find mirrors and windows to quote Zetta Elliott?
RITA WILLIAMS GARCIA - We have to recognize what our roles are.  Everyone has one or two roles to play in fostering a society that expects and includes diverse books.  Authors must do what we are primarily charged to do.  We must write good books.  Books so compelling their stories cannot be denied or hidden from view.  Publishers must stop underestimating the marketplace.  My dear friend and colleague, Coe Booth, was met with pushback from book buyers in different parts of the country because they felt their primarily white teens wouldn’t read fiction about a young black kid growing up in the Bronx (Tyrell).  Her editor from Scholastic got on the phone with these book buyers and convinced them otherwise.  Her books are doing quite well in these markets.  So, publishers must not only publish, they must push.  Parents and grandparents should simply mix it up a bit when they’re stocking their children’s home libraries.  At the heart of a book is always a story and a reader waiting to read it.  Schools are under siege.  Teachers are always digging in their own pockets to bring books in the classroom.  If schools aren’t up against financial hardships, they are dealing with time and testing.  Arts and music are scrapped from the budget and/or the schedule.  If books are next, then what are we preparing our children for?  How will they experience the inner lives of people who don’t live in their neighborhoods?  How will they experience commonality that can only come from stepping into the consciousness of another?  No solutions or suggestions here.  We just need books.  Diverse books.  Good books.

VALENTINA MMAKA - Being an activist and a writer not coming from FGM practicing communities, sometimes I had the feeling that I had to justify myself because we touch topics that do not relate to our live directly. Did you ever had a similar feeling, perception from outside?   
RITA WILLIAMS GARCIA - Good question!  How can I not feel this?  I knew I was stepping into this territory uninvited.  I had to do it anyway.  I knew I couldn’t simply represent my own sense of outrage.  I had to know more before I began.  Not merely the factual information, but the point of view that makes such a practice vital to a people.  For this small story, I listened to women across the spectrum to try to grasp why women would perpetuate a practice that would end in death, hospitalization—if available, irreparable psychological trauma, the inability to reproduce, urinate, menstruate or to fully engage her sexuality.  Whether I agreed or not, I felt I had the responsibility to present the possibility of a different point of view.  I also thought it would be helpful and necessary to deal with attitudes between Africans and African-Americans just to have that discussion of perceptions and realities.  I grew up during a time when claiming your African heritage was vital to our struggle for identity period.  People renamed themselves, wore African prints and learned Swahili.  And then I befriended a few Africans in college and learned that I was an American.  Rude awakening, for sure, but enlightening.  But on the subject of entering this subject uninvited, an outsider with no direct personal stake in this plight, I entered as I’ve been taught to enter a place.  With respect.

No Laughter here was published first in 2004 and I believe that 11 years later it should be read and taught, now that even young readers might know more about FGM and human rights issues. 

Rita Williams Garcia is the author of several award winning novels. Known for her realistic  portrayal of teen of color, Williams Garcia's work has been recognized by the Coretta Scott King Award, Pen Norma Klein, Americal Library Association among others. 


You can find Riuta Williams Garcia here

Monday, 20 July 2015

Meeting Author Emma Craigie - 1 #YABooksOnFGM

This is the first of a series of 3 interviews I had with YA authors who wrote about Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

Emma Craigie
The first writer is EMMA CRAIGIE,  author of What We Never Said (Short Books 2015) a YA Novel. 


VALENTINA MMAKA - Emma you are a teacher and writer, how did you chose to write about FGM? Did you know about the practice before?
EMMA CRAIGIE - I had heard of FGM but I knew very little about it.  I was researching a different book when I came across the students of Integrate Bristol and their campaign against FGM and I was very impressed by them and convinced by their campaign. I was also very interested in the complexity of their situation as many of the students are from communities where FGM is practiced and in a very sophisticated way they were arguing against the tradition in the context of child abuse and violence against women.  They were really clear that they were not criticizing their communities’ traditions more generally, and were very clear why they were making a stand against FGM.

VALENTINA MMAKA - What was never said is a YA novel, I guess one of the first if not the first addressed to YA readers about this topic in UK. Why according to you there so little on book shelves talking about issues like FGM?
EMMA CRAIGE - Commercially FGM is a very difficult subject for publishers.  Many readers instinctively recoil from the subject, which is not to say that they do not care, but they don’t want to focus on it…  The crime writer Ruth Rendell’s crime novel about FGM was the worst selling of all her books.   I have a very supportive publisher – they know it will be hard work to sell What Was Never Said. 

VALENTINA MMAKA - In your novel you tell the story of a teen girl, Zahra, newly arrived to Bristol from Somalia, who has a small sister and who has lost an elder sister because of the cut. The day three old Somali women visit her family, she recognize one of them as the cutter, and decide to run away for a while to protect herself and her sister. There are many girls who run away from home to avoid being cut, if Zahra would have been in Somalia, do you think she would have the same courage she had in UK to take that journey far from home to save her life? Being in a foreign country helped her to take that decision?
EMMA CRAIGIE - I would think so, it has to be easier to run away in a politically stable country.

VALENTINA MMAKA - Through your novel you depict how FGM even in the diaspora is mainly a woman’s issue, in fact there’s a point in the book where Zahra’s father tells his wife that she “mustn’t hurt these girls””. From your researches how do men in the context of diaspora, perceive and are involved in perpetuating the practice?
EMMA CRAIGIE - One of the things that initially surprised me was the extent to which women who have suffered from FGM themselves continue the tradition, which must reflect the extraordinary strength of the cultural myths about the benefits of the practice.   I think the character of the mother in the book shows the inner conflict, presumably often unconscious, which this perpetuation must involve. It seems to me that in the diaspora, aware of western condemnation, men have very much tried to disassociate themselves from FGM.  In the novel I tried to reflect this, as you say, in the words of the father, while at the same time – through the actions (not words) - of the two taxi drivers, I tried to show how the fundamental threat of male violence lies behind the tradition.

VALENTINA MMAKA - Did you struggle, while writing this novel, to hold some judgmental critics towards the practice?
EMMA CRAIGIE - Very much so.  I was very aware that the book was a novel, not a treatise, and needed to hold the attention of a teenage reader who would not want a lecture.  I think it is crucial in fiction to give the reader the space to do their own thinking and judging.  Ultimately that is more powerful.  I did find this difficult.  There were various moments when characters – particularly Yas, Zahra’s cousin – launched into speeches about the horrors of FGM which I later cut back as they sounded too much like campaign literature, and not like real dialogue.

VALENTINA MMAKA - Where do you expect this book will bring you? Will you present your book in schools when they open in September?
EMMA CRAIGIE- My first school event is next week and I’m booking events for the coming school year.  I’m also about to do a talk to a society of called the Guild of Townswomen, whose members are aged between 60-90.  They have been campaigning against FGM for the last two years.  Although the novel is not aimed at this age group it is really encouraging to be invited to speak to such an unexpected audience.

VALENTINA MMAKA - During my artistic journey and while working on my book I met several educators in different countries telling me that talking about FGM in schools might raise new forms of discriminations, as a writer and educator yourself what do you think about this?
EMMA CRAIGIE - Yes, this is a real worry and an issue I have tried to address on my blog. My particular concern is that FGM is practiced in communities which already suffer discrimination, and it is easy to see how raising awareness of FGM could simply add to the prejudiced perception that these are violent communities.   I think this makes it very important that educators are clear about the origins and spread of the practice; how it pre-dates and is not endorsed by Islam; how it is not limited to any one country / community. On the other hand I think it is crucially important that educators do not use this challenge as a reason not to raise awareness about FGM, because the girls who are at risk of FGM need us to do everything we can to protect them and the key to that is educating the next generation.

VALENTINA MMAKA - What would you say to teachers and educators to encourage them opening up on issues like FGM and early marriage within the school curriculum? Being an educator, do you believe that topics like human rights, early marriage and FGM should be mandatory part of the school curriculum   in the diaspora and in FGM countries?
EMMA CRAIGIE - I definitely think that it is really important that all these issues are addressed in schools throughout the world.

VALENTINA MMAKA - Though the book has been published recently, have you already had feedback from readers?
EMMA CRAIGIE - I’ve been lucky enough to have some lovely feedback from readers and some great reviews from young readers as well as adults.  I was particularly pleased by a review for the Guardian by a 16 year old journalist called June Eric-Udorie.

VALENTINA MMAKA - I’m inviting authors to address a message to publishers to be more sensitive and ready to publish diversity in books for children and YA, what’s the importance of having books which provide mirror and windows on issues which normally are not under the spotlight or if they are, they are in a stereotyped way?
EMMA CRAIGIE - This is a very big issue.  I completely agree that there is a desperate need for more diversity in children’s and YA publishing.  Certainly in Britain this is in a context of an industry where both publishers and published authors are disproportionately white.  Myself included.  I think the whole culture of the industry needs to change, with increased diversity in every area, from who gets internships upwards. In terms of the importance of books about sensitive subjects I do feel that the big publishers need to take a lead.  Ironically it is so often small publishers like mine who take risks – yet small publishers are often financially very fragile and many have collapsed since the introduction of Amazon and ebooks.  On a more positive note, I think there are potentially huge rewards for publishers who do take risks. My message to publishers would be:  Our world is increasingly diverse and there is a massive audience of readers out there who are interested in an ever broader range of subjects from an ever broader range of writers.

I hope teachers and educators in the UK  will read Emma Craigie's book and consider inviting her to talk to their students.

You can find Emma Craigie here



The Interview is also part of my Book: The Cut.Global Voices for Change breaking silence on FGM (Edizioni dell'Arco 2015).

Thursday, 9 July 2015

WHAT WAS NEVER SAID

"I want everyone to tell people the story of my beautiful big sister, and why she died. I want everyone to understand why this has to stop". 
These are the ending lines of What was never saida YA novel by Emma Craigie (Shortbooks 2015). Reading them won't compromise the read of the novel which is a honest account on how a 15 years girl, Zahra, starts a journey challenging traditional ancient beliefs and identity.
What was never said tells the story of 15 year's old Zahra, a Somali immigrant who now lives with her little sister Samsam and her parents in Bristol- UK and struggles to fit in her new life in a foreign country.  Her identity is challenged the day three Somali women show up at her home. She suddenly recognize one of the women being the “cutter”, the woman who performs Female Genital Mutilation:"her black clothes, her narrow face and the yellow whites of her eyes . This raises her protective instinct to find a way to leave home with her small sister Samsam to escape that crucial experience who killed their elder sister Rahma.
Emma Craigie, goes back and forth in Zahra 's life from /to Somalia and UK trying to depict her emotional landscape which in the end results to be so realistic and most of all, true. 
Zahra has a mature strong sense of life, she doesn't question much about the tradition nor she criticizes her mother, she just knows that FGM is wrong since her sister passed away from its consequences. She recognizes the right thing to do. Even Zahra's mother seems vulnerable finding herself on a crossroad between following the tradition of initiating girls and the fear of losing another daughter. Interesting enough the figure of  Zahra's father who seems to reject FGM telling his wife: "you musn't hurt these girls".
Metaphorically Rahma has saved Zahra's and Samsam's lives. By realeasing and sharing the untold story of her big sister, Zahra is now free from the tradition because she managed to challenge the taboo with courage and self determination.
What was never said  is the core of a  conversation mother and daughter never had before about FGM. Zahra became aware that it was time to break the silence and talk about it openly. 

What was never said is an important YA novel that encourages to talk about FGM within the family, within the community, within a space that is not judgmental but open to confront and raise a public dialogue. 
I hope many teachers will pick up the book and share it with their students. 


WHY THERE ARE NO YA NOVELS ON FGM?

Unfortunately we don't see many YA books talking about FGM, there's a huge gap which has to be filled considering that FGM has a global impact. 140 million of women have undergone FGM, 86 millions of girls are at risk in the next 15 years. It's impossible to deny the impact of this practice in our societies, we have to become familiar with the idea that is not someone else's problem, but our own problem since it is recognized as a crime and abuse against children and women. 
FGM is our next door's problem, we all live in multicultural and heterogeneous societies and it is very common to have friends, students, schoolmates, neighbors, colleagues who come from FGM practicing countries who have already undergone FGM or might be at risk to be cut.  
The main problem is the "secrecy" in which FGM is hidden. Is not part of a global public dialogue. Considered as a taboo in most of the practicing societies, FGM has to be released from its shell,  discussed and shared. 

Emma Craigie
Here an extract of my interview with Emma Craigie. For full interview stay tuned.

VALENTINA MMAKA - What was never said is a YA novel, I guess one of the first if not the first, addressed to YA readers about this topic in UK. Why according to you there so little on book shelves talking about issues like FGM?
EMMA CRAIGIE - Commercially FGM is a very difficult subject for publishers.  Many readers instinctively recoil from the subject, which is not to say that they do not care, but they don’t want to focus on it…  The crime writer Ruth Rendell’s crime novel about FGM was the worst selling of all her books.   I have a very supportive publisher – they know it will be hard work to sell What Was Never Said.

VALENTINA MMAKA - I’m inviting authors to address a message to publishers to be more sensitive and ready to publish diversity in books for children and YA,what’s the importance of having books which provide mirror and windows, to quote feminist author Zetta Elliott, on issues which normally are not under the spotlight or if they are, they are in a stereotyped way?
EMMA CRAIGIE - This is a very big issue.  I completely agree that there is a desperate need for more diversity in children’s and YA publishing.  Certainly in Britain this is in a context of an industry where both publishers and published authors are disproportionately white.  Myself included.  I think the whole culture of the industry needs to change, with increased diversity in every area, from who gets internships upwards. In terms of the importance of books about sensitive subjects I do feel that the big publishers need to take a lead.  Ironically it is so often small publishers like mine who take risks – yet small publishers are often financially very fragile and many have collapsed since the introduction of Amazon and e-books.  On a more positive note, I think there are potentially huge rewards for publishers who do take risks. My message to publishers would be:  Our world is increasingly diverse and there is a massive audience of readers out there who are interested in an ever broader range of subjects from an ever broader range of writers.

Emma Craigie is a teacher and writer author of Chocolate Cake with Hitler (Short Book 2010),  Who was King Henry VIII (Short Books 2006), What was never said (Short books 2015). She lives in Somerset/UK.

Well done Emma Caigie and Shortbooks to offer a great opportunity to YA readers (and not only) to  challenge all the prejudices and stereotypes which usually label FGM. 

For those readers who are interested in YA novels on FGM here four more important titles:

Hougton Mifflin & Co. 2005

Rita Williams-Garcia
Amistad 2009

Margaret Nyarango
Amazon 2011

Raymond Ladebo
Fight for Life
Amazon



Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Protecting girls from FGM by violating other human rights?

The 15th of June I stumbled upon this article published on Global Post in which the Prime Minister of UK, David Cameron, in order to protect girls at risk of FGM has decided that the best strategy is to "take away passports from immigrants" who are willing to go back to their own countries during summer holiday.
The closing of school, in many countries, coincides also with what is called "vacation cutting". Girls who reach the "right" age,  belonging to communities from FGM practing countries travel home to be cut, what is considered a mandatory ritual for girls to fit cultural, traditional and religious beliefs. 

UK expressed its position against FGM almost 30 years ago, but only since  2003 it has been illegal. 

Female Genital Mutilation is a violation of human rights, it violates the rights of children and women. Girls and women who are subjected to FGM are condemned to live a life with severe psycho -physical consequences without mentioning the high risk of death. 
It's a global issue and it is estimated that 86 millions of girls are still at risk to be cut  in the next 15 years. 

Each country should have a law against FGM. However the exhistence of the law should pass through a cultural and education transformation of the society and not only in the countries of immigration but simoultaneously in the countries of origin.
Within the communities who support the practice,  FGM is perceived as a cultural, traditional, religious must for every girl... in order to reach a point in which the law against FGM is correctly perceived it's inevitable to provide everyone (not only immigrants) with proper access to information, training, educational programs, accessible professionale  services (health care, laws), safe shared spaces in which talking about FGM becomes a norm, part of a public dialogue with no stigmatization or discrimination. 

About Cameron's decision to fight FGM taking away immigrant's passports I totally desagree...
Holding a passport means that you have a status, being citizien of your country. Holding a passport is the right of every human being, having the chance to move on the map of the world is a human right. Taking away a passport from immigrants who are suspected to cut their daughters it is again another violation of human rights. How do you fight a violation of human rights by violating other human rights?
Are we sure that those immigrants who will be taken away their passport would not find an underground  way to perform FGM on their girls?
How do you prove evidence of a suspect?
Are you sure that all those "suspected" immigrants would really cut their daughters? And if not?
Are we sure that ending FGM in UK will mean that the FGM practicing countries from which immigrants in UK come from,  will be free of this practice as well?
Is Cameron's strategy the only possible one?
Last summer, during the Girl's Summit, Cameron decided that every social worker, doctor, nurse and teacher will be provived with a training kit to tackle FGM and aquire skills about the issue, it was indeed a good move though still lacking of reality.  Now  to reinforce  this urgent need to protect at-risk girls has gone beyond limits.  Not because girls shouldn't be protected at all costs but not by removing their parent's passports. This shows that still there's something missing by UK political institutions in terms of understanding the whole problem from its roots. 

There are so many social categories who might be suspected to have intention to do harm, do we remove from them, on the basis of a suspect, their passports? (And I'm taking about UK citizens).
An let me speculate more: if a Kenyan citizen or an Ethiopian or Somalian, or Gambian citizen apply for a UK working visa  or residence permit for him/her and family will he/she be asked to prove that he has not daughters who one day might be conducted back home during summer holidays to be cut? (just because they come from FGM practicing areas?) And if he/she has, what will the UK embassy do? Will not issue those visas and permits?

At least Spain has made up another way to tackle FGM on immigrants girls,  a more feasible way in which parents who intend to travel back home, are asked to sign a declaration promising that their girls will not be subject to FGM, as part of the national protocol on the practice. Parents who refuse to sign that declaration, at that point only, will be reported to child protection services. 


Sunday, 7 June 2015

Abbracciamondo

So i' m back from Abbracciamondo Festival. It has been such a nice experience for many reasons:
Dancer, Guerina Zanardini, Me, Jali Diebate, Silvia Turelli, Simona Bertoni

I performed with the awesome artist Jali Diabate, who is a master kora player from the Casamance region, in Senegal and comes from an ancient family of jalis (musicians and storytellers). He played his KORA enchanting the audience.

Jali Diabate and his Kora
On stage


We performed, Jali and I, having on stage the dancers of the Dance School Danz-Azzurra, directed by wonderful Guerina Zanardini, who expressed and shared their emotions on FGM through the body language.

with Guerina Zanaridni

Not to mention that we had a gorgeous venue: the cloister of a former convent with a nice fountain and two huge magnolia trees. This special space, not having a traditional stage,  gave us the chance to be close to the audience and interact in the end.



reharseals
The Cut

Balance

Emotions

Acrobats

Bodies talk
When everything started
exchanging ideas

Men and Women together in the fight


Final words

Thank's to the organizers of the Festival, Silvia Turelli, Simona Bertoni and all the rest of the team who made possible this event to raise awareness on Female Genital Mutilation in the internationally well known area of   Val Camonica.

The audience was surprised and shocked to hear about what FGM, I was very happy at the end knowing that through THE CUT, Jali Diabate and I made possible a unique moment of empathy.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Overwhelmed!

THE CUT | Edizioni dell'Arco | 2015
When my publisher accepted to publish a book about Female Genital Mutilation I was over thrilled. I started working on FGM in the late 90s, but it's only in 2011 that I focused on the subject through the magnificent women who have been part of the Gugu Women Lab, the collective I formed in  Cape Town in 2011. I didn't know - we didn't know - where our work would have brought us.  I'm proud to say that it has brought us very far, producing a performance which toured some european countries, organising workshops in schools and now the book and more to come after summer.

It's quiet difficult to publish a book on FGM as the subjects evolves day by day so it seems is never fully updated but I accept it... I can say more... I wish the day in which this book will have to be re written, saying that FGM no longer exhist, will come soon!

I had marvellous collaborators: activists, survivors, artists, religious leaders, midwives, nurses, doctors, lawyers, educators who contributed in figuring out the different aspects and realities about FGM in the world.
And if this wasn't enough I got overwhelmed of messages of esteem and appreciation for my work. I share some of them here also for my Publisher Mauro Baffico, who has believed in this project and has chosen a lovely cover which received a huge positive feedback!
No words to thank you all.






Malika Ndlovu - Poet 

Congrats on getting this far with the project sister Valentina! May the way continue to open.
  
Sayydah Garrett – Activist

I'm so excited for you, Valentina!!  I'm honored to have contributed in any way to your wonderful project!! Thank you for all you do in the fight against FGM!

Gbenga Adesanya  - screenwriter and writer

While I appreciate this, what you are doing is not a request for help in making the world better, it is a mountain top call to us all to live this one moment well, and make sure we leave it well for many coming after us.
In my own space, I have quietly followed your passion and diligence to the struggles you have committed yourself at this critical time of human existence, and I dare say, that though the issues are ever staggering and intimidating, you are a champion in waking us all up.
I do not have a loud voice to sing your praise, but this tiny voice will join with others, and will become loud enough to say thank you for fighting the fight. I wish you many more successes in many more struggles.

Mario d’ Offizi - Writer 

Congrats Valentina. Well done!! I checked out your website...awesome work you're doing...and with dedication!

Meena Kandasamy – poet and writer

This is brilliant. Can't wait to read the English version. And the cover just totally rocks.

Rah Busby – writer and activist

Well Done Valentina heart emoticon I love the cover and wish you all best with sending her out into the world. Much Respect and Congratulations

Hibo Wardere – Activist

Huge congratulations my wonderful friend, looking forward in reading it.

Insia Dariwala – Filmaker

Congratulations Valentina… would love to read it and love the cover

Priya Goswami – Filmaker

Congrats! And a very intelligent cover indeed

Dorcus Parit – Educator and Activist

Congratulations!!!! Cool Good Work



And again 
Thank you my wonderful friends and fellows who have been part of my life for the past year: Adey, Hibo, Sayydah, Tony, Samuel, Gbenga, Juliet, Godfrey, George, Edna, Khadija, Hilary, Reina, Rena, Tasleem, Arifa, Priya, Insia, Beryl, Fatou, Sayon, Bafing, Russell, Aarefa, Reetika, Danish, Saiffedine, Rah, Patricia, Pat, Zetta, Malika, Sya, Dorcus, Lao, Funmilayo,  Tahar, Diana, Comfort, Nwachukwu, Philippe, Zanele, Haregu, Ewoma, Douodu, Mariama, Wanjiru, Jane, Chantal, Ayana, Nozi, Imane, Tembisa, Haregu, Amina, Naledi, Nawal, Mauro, Florin Aisha, Shali and all those who have expressed appreciation on social media.... too many to name them all. 
Asante Sana! Ngiyabonga!