As many families prepare to holiday abroad during the festive season, British charities on Monday warned that girls taken overseas could be at risk of female genital mutilation(FGM)
Known as FGM, female genital mutilation is a ritual that usually involves the partial or total removal of the external genitalia, including the clitoris. Some girls bleed to death or die from infections.
Cutting affects an estimated 200 million girls worldwide and is a rite of passage in many societies, often with the aim of promoting chastity, with the highest prevalence in Africa and parts of the Middle East.
An estimated 137,000 women and girls in England and Wales have undergone FGM. Many cases go unnoticed because they had happened at a young age and abroad, campaigners say. Campaigners say teachers should look out for warning signs, such as when a child is taken abroad for a long time to a country where there is a high prevalence of female genital mutilation.
“The best way of preventing the practice is by working with girls and their families … and training professionals like teachers and social workers to spot girls at risk of FGM,” said Leethen Bartholomew, head of Britain’s National FGM Center.
Some warning signs that a girl might have been cut include difficulty walking or sitting down, spending a long time in the toilet or becoming withdrawn, said the Center, run by children’s charity Barnardo’s and the Local Government Association.
FGM has been a criminal offense in Britain since 1985. Legislation in 2003 made it illegal for British citizens to carry out or procure female genital mutilation abroad, even in countries where it is legal.
In 2015, it became mandatory for health professionals, social workers and teachers in Britain to report known cases of FGM to police.
The practice mostly affects immigrant communities from various countries including Somalia, Sierra Leone, Eritrea, Sudan, Nigeria and Egypt.
British-based charity Forward, which supports FGM survivors from African communities, said though teachers have a crucial role to play, they should not stigmatize certain communities.
“While teachers need to be alert at all times about safeguarding children in their care, we also need to ensure that some communities are not unduly targeted and stigmatized,” said Naana Otoo-Oyortey, executive director of FORWARD.
“Ending FGM requires multiple entry points (and) enabling families and communities to be proactive in ending the practice of female genital mutilation is ultimately the most effective channel,” she said in emailed comments to the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Britain in November pledged $63 million to combat female genital mutilation in Africa. (VOA)
Their feminist minds already racing towards telling stories of change, initiatives like these manage to catch them young while building in them skill-sets that would lend meaning and direction to their future lives.
In a packed auditorium, a short film begins with the opening scene of a young woman worried about attending a meeting with her injured foot. Her friend cautions her that if she does not wear high heels she wont be able to make a good impression. The woman heeds the advice but even before she can make it to the meeting, she stumbles and her heels fall off.
She picks them up and marches into the meeting anyway. She realises her success does not depend on her heels and the film “Parwaaz” – which translates to flight – ends with the shot of the young actor triumphantly flinging away her heels as the audience applauds.
What is remarkable is that this one-minute-short – which questions popular stereotypes and highlights the challenges that working women face – is created by 13-year-old Anuradha who studies in the seventh standard at the local Government Girls Senior Secondary School in Delhi’s working-class periphery.
“Women might not be explicitly instructed to wear heels, but the notion of looking good and confident, and doing it because everyone is doing it… these are big factors in what choices we make for ourselves, even if the choices are not the most comfortable,” Anuradha, the budding filmmaker, told IANS.
It was not just Anuradha but around 40 girls aged 11-13 years who came together for a rare workshop earlier this month and made some unique films on what freedom meant to them. The brief ‘Little Directors’ workshop included sessions on film language, conceptualising, interpreting, shooting and communicating via visuals.
The workshop sought to promote media literacy among these children, many of whom are born to unskilled and semi-skilled workers and daily-wage earners like plumbers and rickshaw-pullers. Now equipped with film-making skills, these young first-time filmmakers chose to tell remarkable stories translating the theme ‘aazadi’ (freedom) to choice for women in offices, schools and in society at large. Many ideas stemmed from what they see and challenges they face in real life.
Reshma, an 11-year old participant, chose a non-narrative format for her film which clubbed the voice-over of a poem with visuals of girls studying or working on domestic chores. The first few lines of the poem ask: “Why aren’t women allowed to go out freely? Why aren’t they allowed to study as much as they want?”
“In villages, it is common to marry off girls at a young age and dismiss their study plans for their marriage. In my village near Bareilly (Uttar Pradesh), I have seen girls pleading to study more but their parents decide otherwise,” young filmmaker Kajal Kumari, whose film transports one to a land of her imagination, said.
In the short film, a girl’s parents are seen announcing her marriage while she is a student. Crestfallen, the girl wishes for an alternative reality. Soon, a fairy godmother comes to her rescue and asks her to accompany her to a land of books.
Documentary filmmaker Samina Mishra, who facilitated the workshop along with actor Nina Sabnani, said that in most cases for these girls, freedom interestingly translated to choice. For others, it meant overt questioning of those unsaid societal norms that women are subjected to.
Sabnani and Mishra were involved in the creative exercises and production in the two-day workshop, which was a part of the IAWRT Asian Women’s Film Festival in New Delhi in early March. The intention of the exercise was to familiarize the young participants with the basics of filmmaking so they could tell their stories with confidence, while also giving people an opportunity to hear fresh voices that hitherto resided in young minds, the organisers shared.
Kajal, studying in VIII class, said that she always had a penchant for storytelling and that filmmaking was a good tool since “everyone grows up watching television, films and now videos on their mobiles”.
Another group, hoping to send a message about freedom of choosing clothes, brought in costumes like shorts and crop-tops to add nuance to their film.
Yet another group, while experimenting with film formats, chose to shoot an interview around the word ‘freedom’, and ultimately concluded with the idea that freedom is a state of mind.
In the workshop, the girls acted, handled the camera, learned framing, editing and making a coherent film with a message. Many now desire to learn more about acting and cinematography, even as a career choice.
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An attempt at gender mainstreaming, ‘Little Directors’ not just equipped these adolescent girls with the necessary skills for storytelling, but encouraged their line of thinking about freedom of women in their own communities and society.
Their feminist minds already racing towards telling stories of change, initiatives like these manage to catch them young while building in them skill-sets that would lend meaning and direction to their future lives. (IANS)