Silence, Black Magic and FGM
Black magic is not something we normally associate with acts of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), but 34 years after the practice was made illegal in the UK, the Old Bailey has finally seen the country’s first conviction of FGM and with it, evidence of witchcraft rituals to evade being caught.
Clearly it didn’t work. But what it does show is the length that those involved in carrying out FGM will go to in order to escape justice; from implausible stories to the occult.
Heartbreakingly, the victim was only 3 years old and the perpetrator, her own mother. Who not only tried to silence her terrified little girl when the bleeding wouldn’t stop, concocting unconvincing tales for her to explain away her mutilation, to hospital doctors. That she had a fall rather than being held down by both her parents as a woman came in and cut her with a scalpel. Her mother also conjured black magic against her ‘enemies’. Namely the police, doctors, lawyers, and anyone else who might speak out against them, fearing it might lead to a different kind of spell, behind bars.
Police found 40 limes in the woman's freezer. Each one had been sliced open with names of police officers, social workers, the lawyer involved and her own son hidden inside. Two large tightly bound ox tongues with nails and screws embedded through them were also found. These were used in rituals to make those she wanted to silence to "Shut up" as the spells would 'freeze their mouths'.
Three year-old's tend not to make very convincing liars. Being sworn to secrecy is agony for little ones under any circumstance so I can only imagine what threats would have been used to secure her silence. Doctors and healthcare professionals are more informed about FGM than they were 34 years ago and past child abuse cases involving witch craft in the capital, mean the police are more aware of such beliefs and rituals going on. Though uncovering spells aimed specifically against them, might be more unusual. The day I saw a dead goat floating down the Thames, which are often used in religious rituals, I couldn’t help but wonder how it got there as it rapidly approached Waterloo bridge, before disappearing towards the House of Parliament. Had it just slipped in, further up river, or been used as an offering in a ritual.
In Uganda, where the child's mother is from, the use of witch craft and black magic has not disappeared and in a culture where even child sacrifice still goes on, it is easy to see how someone trying to avoid being convicted for what they see as crucial in getting their daughter a husband, and protecting family honour, would use all the tools they had to see that goal achieved. That event is described as the day the ‘Three Sorrow’s’ of a woman come to her. The day she is cut, the day she is married and the day she give’s birth’. Sorrows that create a life sentence simply for being female.
If I had grown up in the same Uganda, in the same culture, I might well think the same. But the pain and terror of what that little girl has endured is unbearable to me and I would like to think that I would be more enlightened. Particularly living in the UK. But culture runs deep. As do the scars. That child's pain reminded me of the scene Ruth Rendell’s described in her book, Not in the Flesh. A story about FGM. ‘How normal European children run free, playful and mischievous. But having been circumcised the child is confined to a chair, with her legs bound together from the ankles to the hips”. It was Ruth, who after becoming Baroness Rendell of Babergh, was instrumental in introducing the Bill to the House of Lords that would become the Female Genital Mutilation Act of 2003. She would be relieved that at last there has been a conviction but angry I am sure that it has taken so long. We need more education to break through the silence and both sexes to speak out in communities.
Meeting Ruth at the House of Lords for lunch one day, she said hello to a fellow Member of the Lords we passed on the stairs. She told me afterwards what a great supporter her colleague had been in getting a conversation on FGM into the House.
“No one wanted to talk about it in the beginning’ she told me. “The men found it too embarrassing to even think about it let alone discuss in public.” She persisted, and thankfully that changed enough to get the bill passed. If our modern enlightened men had found it difficult to discuss imagine how hard it is to get community conversations out into the open where FGM is still practiced. I have nothing but admiration for those who are already engaged or trying.
A little over a week since that first conviction was made, a British barrister specialising in FGM cases has spoken out about the rise in the number of cases of FGM performed on significantly younger children happening in the UK. Including babies as young as one year-old, in order to evade detection from the authorities.
And as I write, news is breaking of 71 year-old Conservative MP, Sir Christopher Chope blocking a bill to protect women from FGM. Clearly more education is needed, even in the House of Commons. Ruth must be turning in her grave.
Since launching the Dignity Diaries at the UN in 2014, all the work I do is carried out through the lens of dignity and identity. And while I do see performing the act of FGM on young women and children a profound attack on their dignity, all of the women I have ever met, without exception, who have had this state inflicted on them, have proved that the opposite is true as the dignity of who they are, and not what someone has done to them, shines through.
Stop stealing my dignity@DignityDiaries