The 'Cutting Season': To End FGM (And Other Violence Against Women) We Need The Men On-Side

The 'Cutting Season': To End FGM (And Other Violence Against Women) We Need The Men On-Side

Human Rights Day, 10 December, was the final date of the United Nations 16 Days of Action Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign - and also the effective start of the horrifying 'cutting season', when in some traditional communities girls undergo female genital mutilation (FGM).

To stop violence against women requires active engagement by men worldwide who have not yet acknowledged harmful practices in their own communities, alongside the many men who wouldn't ever permit violence to their wives, daughters, or other women and girls.

In contemporary manifestations this harm includes everything from cruel words which destroy female confidence and autonomy, to crass intrusion into matters physiological and sexual: the denial for instance of access to family planning and abortion.

In traditional communities abuse may be even more overt. Male control are often exercised via the idea that women, even young girls, are simply 'baby machines', fed and nurtured only until sold by fathers to other men as 'pure' - read: 'virgin' - commodities ready to produce the next generation of sons or ('regrettably') daughters.

That autocratic way lies everything from flat refusal to 'waste' money on girls' education, through to the barbarities of bride price, so-called 'honour' killings (every month in Britain) and my own specific focus, female genital mutilation / FGM (perhaps 140+ thousand affected women and girls in the UK alone; 200 million world-wide).

Researching for my book, Female Mutilation, I learnt how men engage in promoting gender equality and preventing harm to women and girls.

Via Twitter, in Kenya I discovered Evanson Njeru, Gerald Lepariyo, Samuel Leadismo and Tony Mwebia, all determined that their sisters, daughters and neighbours should get an education and never, ever undergo FGM. In Uganda there was Ahabwe Mugerwa Michael, organising the wonderful 'barefoot grannies' to take health and EndFGM messages into the bush. In Minneapolis, USA Ahmed Hassan works hard to stop FGM in Somalian communities.

Likewise, we have Kameel Ahmady on whose book In the Name of Tradition on FGM in Iran I was lucky to collaborate, and the surgeon Pierre Foldes in Paris, who undertakes pro bono reconstruction of damaged genitalia for women who seek it. Plus, amongst others, Dexter Dias QC and Karl Turner MP in the UK, emphasising that FGM is a gross abuse of human rights....

But what can the rest of us do to challenge the damage to women, girls and also thereby to our wider societies? How can men tackle these issues without appearing either less 'manly' or indeed over-bearing?

Here are a few ideas:

* Open your eyes. Much of the behaviour which hurts women and girls arises from accepted routines and customs. Do you even know it's there? Will you respond well if you see a woman or girl being compromised or threatened? How can you best challenge embedded ideas and traditions?

* This is personal. It's about you as a man, and as a human being. How will you cope if others dismiss your belief that all of us deserve equal care and respect? How can you support ending violence against women, to prevent grave harm and to demonstrate these beliefs?

* These are not challenges only for men. Nonetheless, we know that child sexual abuse, usually by men, remains a vile scourge. Men perpetrate around 90% of domestic violence in Britain (half in the presence of children). Still FGM and so-called 'honour' violence are found in the UK as well as in many other parts of the world.

Already some men (wherever they are across the globe) demand an end to gendered, and indeed other, violence.

The pending year-end 'cutting season' adds grim emphasis to this imperative. If men everywhere are vigilant and determined and speak out unflinchingly, FGM could become history right now.

As another contributor to my book, the valiant Qamar Naseem of Blue Veins in Pakistan, says:

Male chauvinism is a cocoon from which men must emerge. Everyone is happier when girls and boys, men and women, coexist in peace.

~ ~ ~

Hilary Burrage is author of Eradicating Female Genital Mutilation: A UK Perspective (Routledge, 2015) and

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