Friday, June 25, 2010

FGM Charities targeting Africans have questionable motives..story by Nation newspaper.

First, they came for our babies. Now, they want to adopt African women’s private parts. Yes, a charity based in the United States wants you to “adopt a clitoris”.

Clitoraid claims to help victims of female genital mutilation (FGM) in Burkina Faso by funding a “Pleasure Hospital” in this West African country that will surgically rebuild women’s “organs of pleasure”. Its spiritual leader, who goes by the name Prophet Rael, says that he founded the private non-profit organisation to help as many circumcised women as possible to “be whole again”.

Clitoraid is getting support from various US-based organisations, including those purporting to be feminist. (Interestingly, the government of Burkina Faso has already been performing these reconstruction surgeries for free.)

Now no-one can deny that FGM has had a devastating physical and emotional effect on millions of girls and women in Africa. Study upon study has shown that FGM — in all its forms — cripples women physically, makes childbirth and sex extremely painful and leaves lasting scars on women’s psyches. It cannot be tolerated or encouraged in this day and age.

So why is this organisation and its advocates receiving so much flak from none other than African women themselves?

In a blog posting titled “Can? We? Save? Africa?”, San Francisco-based Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg explains: “For years now, African women have been complaining that even as we are engaged in domestic campaigns to end the practice of female circumcision within our communities, the eager participation by Westerners, particularly Western feminists, has done much more harm than good.

“In a nutshell, Western feminists have taken over the space, displaced African women’s voices on the issue and have carelessly thrown about their neo-colonial weight in ways that have served only to further entrench the issue.”

Kamau-Rutenberg has now started a campaign that questions the motives of Clitoraid and other campaigns like it, including one called Underwear for Africa that targets orphans in Kenya.

Started in 2007 by the US-based charity Mothers Fighting for Others, the campaign aims to collect underwear for distribution to Kenyan orphanages, IDP camps and such places where underwear is apparently in short supply.

The organisation claims to have donated 2,000 pairs of underwear to children living in two IDP camps in Kenya in April 2009. A noble gesture, but why does it bother so many Africans?

“PART OF THE PROBLEM WITH PHILANTHROPY towards Africa is that of ease,” explains Kamua-Rutenberg, who as head of a non-profit organisation in the US says she keeps running into well-meaning but completely off-the-mark efforts to “save” Africa. Unfortunately, the devil is always in the details. In the rush to simplify complex situations such as the one in Darfur, we lose understanding of historical context and how that impacts what is currently happening.”

Central to the debate is the question of dignity. If African women’s body parts can be appropriated — or “adopted” — by well-intentioned, albeit ignorant, Westerners, then what will be appropriated next? If they can adopt our bodies, what’s stopping them from “adopting” entire nations?

A case in point is the singer Madonna’s relentless campaign to adopt Malawian children even in the face of opposition from the parents of the children themselves.

James Kambewa, a security guard in South Africa and the father of five-year old girl Mercy, is challenging Madonna’s right to keep his daughter, but admits that he does not have the kind of money to hire a lawyer who will take Madonna to court. Are his rights and dignity worth less than hers because he is poor?

Recently, at the Pan-African Media Conference, Prof Guy Berger from South Africa argued that Africa’s negative image in the international media will only be fixed if the reality of Africa is fixed first. In other words, when African countries become wealthy, well-functioning societies, the international media will have no choice but to focus on the positive.

I beg to differ. In the last few years, African countries, including conflict-ravaged Sudan and Ethiopia, have enjoyed double-digit economic growth rates, but one would never know it by looking at images of these countries in the international media, where war, witchcraft, poverty and famine in Africa make more headlines than thriving economies.

Perhaps the question we should be asking is: Who is saving who? In his book The Road to Hell, Micheal Maren writes: “The starving African exists as a point in space from which we measure our (Westerners’) own wealth, success, and prosperity, a darkness against which we can view our own cultural triumphs...

“The belief that we can help is an affirmation of our own worth in the grand scheme of things… And it is in their (Africans’) helplessness that they become a marketable commodity.”

Ambassador Lucy .s .Mashua President of Mashua's voice for the voiceless International
Assisting refugees in the US and representation in advocasy
The Global Ambassador for fighting Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and standing up for Women’s Rights.
And the Chairperson of a worldwide campaign against FGM.