Reporting on the unthinkable: Ancient, multicultural roots of female genital mutilation

It's hard to imagine a topic that would be harder for journalists to write about than female genital mutilation (FGM).

In some parts of the world it is a procedure with deep cultural and even religious meaning. For others, it may be a way to keep young women attached to a tribe or a family structure that is truly patriarchal. Yet there are women who insist that it is an act that is totally necessary, if women are to be trusted, accepted and in any way empowered in certain cultures.

There is no question that there is a religious element to the FGM story, even though this rite "pre-dates both Christianity and Islam, and is commended in the core texts of neither faith," according to a disturbing, but fascinating, think piece at the website of The Media Project, the organization that supports GetReligion. 

The author of this reported essay is journalist and media-literacy pro Jenny Taylor, best known was the founder of Lapido Media in England.

How high are the stakes in this ongoing crisis? Taylor notes:

As many as one-third of girls in areas of Sudan where there are no antibiotics will die, according to another report. The complications range from haemorrhage to tetanus, blocked urethras and infertility.

A key figure in the essay is anti-FGM activist 55-year-old Ann-Marie Wilson, the founder of 28TooMany. The name is a reference to number of countries that had not banned this rite, at the time Wilson began her work.

How old is this ritual? This first paragraph contains a detail that I had never heard before:

Wilson, a doctor of psychology and a midwife who trained in Pakistan, recently completed a paper on the origins of FGM, claiming that the mummies in the British Museum show clear signs of FGM.
"The Sudanese blame the Egyptians; the Egyptians blame the Sudanese," she says wryly, adding that what was clear was that it was a black on black slave practice, which Muslims then carried around the rest of the ummah.
It is certainly most prevalent among Muslim communities in Africa, although Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian religious scholar based in Qatar says it is not obligatory. He has ruled that it is allowed on the basis of ‘hadith’ or sayings of the Prophet, nonetheless, and says ... "whoever finds it serving the interest of his daughters should do it, and I personally support this under the current circumstances in the modern world."
Christians also practice it where Christianity is just "an overlay of traditional religion," according to sources in Sierra Leone, where 89.6 per cent of all women have been "cut."

  One more stunning fact:

... The West is slow to tackle [FGM] for fear of being accused of racism. Not one single prosecution against it in UK has succeeded, despite a new law in 1985, updated in 2003.
Ann-Marie has two thousand supporters praying for her and her work. That’s because, as Bowenson Phillips puts it, unless the spiritual warfare dimension is understood, nothing will change. "The root of the problem is beyond just the physical; the root is spiritual and religious and that can only be approached in love." 

Read it all. Reporters and editors will want to file the information and the sources, for future reporting projects on this issue.

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