National Conference Raises Awareness Over Continuation Of Female Genital Mutilation
3 million girls – including thousands from the U.S. – are victimized annually
Girls from the U.S. are being subjected to illegal genital mutilation, despite the devastating consequences, a senior at Richard R. Green high school in New York City states.
NEW YORK, May 29, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) involves partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other non-medical injury to the female genital organs. FGM is carried out for cultural and religious traditions, but is internationally recognized as a violation of the human rights of girls and women.
Nana Sylla, a high school senior is spearheading a campaign to highlight the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) through a national conference to be held at the New York Academy of Medicine in New York City on June 16, 2012, to highlight the impact on victims and to provoke local and international discussion on the issue as a means towards eradication.
The event is organized by the Campaign Against Female Genital Mutilation (CAGeM) an international nonprofit organization and is supported by the Future Project along with various community groups in New York. There will be an FGM art exhibition and organizations from all over the world working against FGM will showcase their work in an organization exhibition. The conference is open to the public but requires free registration on the CAGeM website at: www.cagem.org/voice.
Speakers from the medical and legal professions, local communities, religious scholars, human rights experts, will provide different perspectives on the human impact of FGM. A key feature of the conference is testimonies from the victims of FGM, who tell of the mental and physical anguish caused by the procedure and the lasting damage FGM inflicts.
"What makes this conference so important is that leadership on this critical health issue is emerging from the women and communities directly affected," said Jo Ivey Boufford, M.D., President, The New York Academy of Medicine. "This is the critical engine of change on this matter and NYAM is honored to host these brave and powerful champions."
A speaker at the conference will be Mae Azango, the courageous Liberian reporter who did the first reporting in her country on the health risks of FGM earlier this year. "The promised punishment for speaking out, according to women FrontPage Africa asked to interview on the subject, is death," Azango wrote. Azango faced death threats against herself and her daughter and the pair was forced into hiding. After sustained international pressure, the Liberian government and traditional leaders came out for the first time publicly to denounce the practice and shut down the traditional societies that practice it. Azango has done a range of important reporting that has forced government to act on subjects including police abuse of rape victims, a lack of safe houses for incest victims and the broken commitments of foreign mining companies to the Liberian people. She writes Liberia's first column on maternal health matters, gleaned from her own experiences as a teenage mother.
Sylla stated: "FGM creates massive health problems for women experiencing it. While illegal, FGM is a highly sensitive cultural issue that is rarely discussed in the everyday media and so not enough light is shed on the consequences of the procedure to reduce the practice. This is one of the reasons why FGM still occurs. Most parents who allow their daughters to have this procedure sincerely believe that it is in their daughters' best interests – it is seen as more hygienic and protecting them from false accusations that can lead them to never being able to marry and have a family. We don't want to blame – we want to inform. I sincerely believe that when our communities are made aware of the devastating consequences of FGM they will see that it is in their daughters' 'best interests' NOT to practice FGM."
Iyeba Maclayton, a program coordinator for CAGeM, said, "In February of this year, the U.S. secretary of State Hilary Clinton said 'Even in the United States we are fighting this practice. FGM/C became a federal crime in the United States in 1997, but the procedure persists in some communities. The U.S. Government is working with practitioners in the health and legal community to educate groups about the negative consequences of FGM/C.' Unfortunately, since this statement was made on the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation, no progress has been made and repeated requests for action from the U.S. government have fallen on deaf ears. There are still girls who are mutilated in the U.S. and European countries, and also Australia, while other girls are taken abroad to Africa, the Middle East, or practicing countries in Asia in the summer holidays and mutilated."
Sylla added: "This conference aims to raise a higher level of public awareness of FGM and to allow the voices of women, who either have been a victim of FGM or are at risk of undergoing the procedure, to be heard. In addition, the conference aims to build a lasting dialogue between the communities who practice FGM and religious scholars, health care professionals and the local authorities. The time has come to move forward and face the reality. FGM is a painful reality and we need to educate ourselves and those whom we live with, so that FGM will never be practiced again."
About speaking out in the U.S., Soraya Mire, a Somali-born activist who endured the procedure as a child and will be speaking at the conference states, "What I liked about here is you could speak out what you feel. You could let your anger out and no one is going to put you in jail. Back home, you talk about anything that denounces the culture or the government, whatever, you're in jail, or you'll be tortured, or something horrible will happen to your family. Here . . . I just knew, my God, I could do something, you know?"
Annette Courad a pediatric nurse and volunteer for CAGeM said: "Young girls in the U.S. come to me and say: "we don't understand why they are doing this to us. We feel betrayed by our loved ones." Courad also said, "A lot of young girls don't know the types and differences of FGM. Some of them don't even know that they've had it done or that other girls don't look the same way."
Aisha Yusuf, a survivor of FGM and volunteer for CAGeM, said: "Different people have tried to raise FGM awareness but nothing like this has ever been done before in New York where large FGM-practicing communities are based. Having this conference at the New York Academy of Medicine where representatives from different sectors are under the same roof to make dialogue and to educate in order to eradicate FGM is revolutionary for us. Our community need not shy away from the fact that we need to be educated."
Another CAGeM volunteer, Eman Ahmed said: "This conference will give an opportunity for victims of FGM to voice their deepest feelings about the inhumane act that was committed against them. These women were never given a choice when it came to FGM. They had their rights and dignity taken away in the name of culture, tradition and at times religion. Many victims of FGM who confront their families about the issue get responses that are usually dismissive and most do not receive a simple acknowledgment that what was done to them was wrong. This conference will give victims of FGM a voice that was taken away from them. A voice the lets the world know that we will not tolerate such violation of human rights against women and children."
P.J. Allen, a Coach at The Future Project, has been helping Nana organize the FGM conference. She said, "At the Future Project we believe strongly in supporting our students to help turn their dreams into action. I am very proud of the work that Nana has been pioneering to raise the public awareness of FGM, and I share with her the hope that this conference will open up a community dialogue that will finally lead to the end of this dangerous practice."
John-Michael Parker, the New York City Executive Director of The Future Project said, "Nana is a brilliant example of the simple idea that students, driven by passion and supported by an inspiring Coach, like P.J., can really build an impactful project and make a change in their community -- and the world. I am so proud of the work that this Fellow and Coach have done, not only around the critical issue of FGM, but as leaders in this movement of young people putting their dreams in action."
Archana Pyati, attorney with Sanctuary for Families and a speaker at the conference states, "It is time we recognize that young women right here in our communities are facing the threat of FGM. Many girls face pressure to undergo FGM here, or to be transported back to their family's native countries to undergo the potentially life-threatening procedure. Because FGM causes serious physical and mental health consequences with no medical benefit whatsoever, this violation of the human rights of girls and women should not be tolerated under any circumstances."
Lucy Mashua, President of Mashua Voice for the Voiceless International and a speaker at the conference has been a vocal advocate against FGM in the U.S. "When it comes to African women and girls, it's the world's favorite target for rescue, the population everyone loves to speak for and speak about, but rarely cares to listen to," Mashua said. "It really angers me when someone thinks they can tell my story better than I can! Mama Afrika arise! Be a voice for our people because we've lived it and know best! This conference will shed light on the difficulties survivors and African activists face, you don't want to miss it," Mashua added.
In addition to speakers and panel discussions, the conference will feature a live Off-Broadway performance on FGM directed by Stephanie Ogeleza, who uses theatrical pieces and films to alert society on the issues women face.
Following the FGM conference, whose proceedings will be published on a DVD and broadcast in several countries, CAGeM will continue its mission to educate about the consequences of FGM by organizing workshops and seminars, publishing information sheets, and by bringing the message of the FGM conference to TV and other media outlets.
The Conference on the human impact of Female Genital Mutilation takes place at The New York Academy of Medicine on June 16th, 2012, from 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. It will be held in Hosack Hall, with the FGM art, organization exhibition, and an after conference awards dinner in President's Gallery.
You can learn about the issue here: http://www.cagem.org/page-0#!__page-0/about-fgm
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- At least 20 countries of sub-Saharan Africa, a few countries in the Middle East and Asia practice FGM. Somalia, Egypt and Sudan are at the top of this list. Despite its illegality, immigrants from these countries to Europe, North America, and Australia continue to practice FGM in their adopted countries.
- An estimated 100 to 160 million girls and women worldwide are currently living with the often devastating consequences of FGM. 92 million of these are in Africa.
- 3 million girls still undergo FGM each year worldwide.
- There are over 300,000 reported cases of U.S. women who have undergone FGM and at least 48,000 U.S. girls are presently considered as being at risk of forced FGM.
Campaign Against Female Genital Mutilation (CAGeM) is a voluntary, nonprofit organization made up of mostly physicians whose primary mission is to eradicate female genital mutilation via health education rather than activism and protect girls from the procedure. CAGeM is the only international organization with offices in the U.S. working exclusively on eradication of female genital mutilation and assisting victims.
Through close collaboration with many different public sector experts, community leaders and local spokespersons, CAGeM links grassroots activism in countries that still practice FGM to foster communication, information and strategy sharing. CAGeM works to ensure that countries practicing FGM adopt a definitive strategy to end FGM and provide protection to women and girls who flee their countries for fear of being mutilated. The campaign focuses on developing and implementing culturally sensitive educational programs to eradicate FGM, assisting victims with medical treatment, and rescuing girls at risk for the procedure and providing them with basic education and care. The campaign also pursues the introduction of legislation banning FGM and is committed to initiating and supporting grassroots anti-FGM campaigns around the world.
CAGeM strongly believes that every woman and young girl has the right to learn, and to enjoy physical, mental and spiritual well-being, and that the health and the well-being of individuals, families and communities as a whole are intertwined.
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SOURCE CAGeM; The Future Project; Sanctuary for Families