Every eleven seconds a female baby or girl somewhere in the world, is forcibly subjected to FGM: Why I Became a Member of Savera UK Youth Advisory Board
Prior to securing a position as a member of Savera UK Youth Advisory Board, I was invested—principally in an academic and voluntary capacity— in educating women and men about female sexuality, and in raising awareness about the issue of female genital mutilation. During my Bachelor’s degree in English Literature as well as my Master’s Degree in Gender, Sexuality, and Culture, at The University of Manchester, I specialised in female sexuality and FGM, and also created and managed successful events which problematised the signification of shame that is culturally imposed onto female sexual pleasure, raised awareness about FGM, as well as (sex) educated large audiences of men and women.
Following the recent completion of my Master’s degree, I was committed to searching for an opportunity through which I could apply my skills and knowledge in order to be actively involved in helping to end— and protect girls and women from— FGM, which has no basis in religion and to which young girls are forcibly subjected: with the risk of death or disability. I feel that I have an obligation to help protect girls and women from FGM and in so doing not only help prevent the physical and mental complications that are produced by this mutilation, but also help secure girls’ and women’s rights to their bodies and to sexual pleasure.
Savera’s investment in the global movement to end female genital mutilation— and, by extension, in the rights of girls and women— as well as in educating others about harmful practices which violate human rights, particularly aligned with my own values, as well as the skillset and knowledge that I had developed as a product of my own academic and voluntary investment in raising awareness about female genital mutilation, and my investment in girl’s and women’s rights.
What particularly struck me about Savera UK is that it does not only address the effects of ‘honour’-based abuse and harmful practices, but that it also raises awareness about, and tackles, the unfounded justifications for such practices, which are used to justify as ‘culturally acceptable’ the psychological/ physical/ sexual/ emotional abuse of an individual: particularly of women.
I personally struggle with the fact that a common attribute of harmful practices is that they are often related to female sexuality, and are usually implemented to ensure the ascendency of patriarchy: Savera UK both recognises and challenges this fact. Expanding on the issue of FGM, every eleven seconds a female baby or girl somewhere in the world, is forcibly subjected to FGM for non-therapeutic reasons. She is usually without anaesthetic, and she will either die or become permanently disabled. Her rights to her body and to sexual pleasure are expunged along with parts— or all—of her external genitalia.
FGM is not a religious obligation, and it is not based on any of the other unfounded justifications for FGM, but girls and women (and even many men) have been culturally conditioned to think otherwise. Expanding on just one example of these justifications, the postulation that FGM ‘makes a girl pure’ is an unfounded patriarchal justification— an excuse— to enable the mutilation of girls. This is an excuse because ‘purity’ is not a constituent property of a girl’s mutilated genitalia but, rather, the reference to ‘purity’, here, constitutes a signification which is superimposed onto the signifier of the mutilated female genitalia by patriarchal ideology. This then produces a disturbing excuse to be able to mutilate girls.
Similarly, religion is manipulated and used by perpetrators in order to present FGM as a religious obligation for girls and women. In reality, FGM originated as a strategical and ideological technique (of men) to inhibit female sexual pleasure by violently mutilating the female genitalia: with the primary aim of this being the sexual, physical, and psychological subjugation of women by men to ensure the ascendancy of patriarchy. (My article concerning how the neurological connection between the female brain and the female genitalia affects how a woman is psychologically, as well as physically and sexually, violated after female genital mutilation will be published on this site soon.)
This is precisely why the existence of Savera UK and its by-product— the Youth Advisory Board— is so necessary because, it is by raising awareness about these kinds of unfounded justifications which enable harmful practices, that the Youth Advisory Board can expose what is really at stake with such practices: abuse and the violation of human rights. Savera UK and its Youth Board are also necessary because women’s and men’s rights are being violated not just as a result of FGM, but also from other forms of ‘honour’-based violence and harmful practices, such as forced-marriage. It is all forms of harmful practices which Savera UK raises awareness about and attempts to eradicate.
Originally, I was primarily pushed to become a member of Savera’s Youth Advisory Board by my determination to help raise awareness about— and help to end— FGM. My membership with Savera’s Youth Board is, of course, still constituted by this determination, but my commitment to protecting girls’ and women’s rights is now constituted by a much larger desire to protect all children, women, and men who are subject to any violation of their human rights through any harmful practice.
Now, as Vice Chair of the Youth Advisory Board—which is constituted of volunteers aged between eleven and twenty-five— I am now actively involved in educating others (particularly young individuals) about what is at stake with harmful practices which violate human rights, and in empowering individuals to speak out against such practices. I urge anyone, who is interested in speaking out against— and protecting all children, women, and men from— these issues, to become a member of the Savera UK Youth Advisory Board in order to not only help protect rights, but lives, and to allow individuals to have their savera (new beginning).
By Isabella Rooke-Ley, Savera UK Youth Advisory Board (current Vice-Chair)