Development cooperation talks 2015
After the powerful lecture in March on “solidarity across borders“ by Professor Nikita Dhawan of the University of Innsbruck, the development cooperation talks in SOS Children's Villages Hermann Gmeiner Academy featured in September:
Saving Female Children in Sudan from Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) through Microcredit
What is FGM and what sustains it till date, especially in the Sudan?
Female Genital Mutilation is, in general, a harmful practice against girls and women and the reasons given for the continued practice of this monstrous act is as diverse as there are traditions, customs, beliefs and ideology. Irrespective of these differences, one thing very common about the practice of FGM is its deep rootedness in inequality. It is a factor of power relations, and building on ideas about purity, aesthetics and modesty, it spreads nets of control over the life and sexuality of women. Then, the prevailing assumption about FGM in Sudan according to the EMOTION member is the fear that unmutilated women cannot control themselves sexually and therefore can become nothing else than prostitutes. Fear turns out to be one of the dominating instruments of control FGM wields, with the consequence that, very unfortunately, the victims of FGM – women – mutate to collaborators to the criminal act. Then, most often than not, it is usually the women themselves who initiate, plan and carry out the exercise. Why? According to the EMOTION member, it is because they fear:
The tentacles of the threats of the knife of female genital mutilation extend far broader than one person can manage to combat. Traditions are hard to come by and when coupled with religion and power interests, they assume the mantle of habit irrespective of how monstrous such traditions are in their social and psychological effects. Another feature sustaining the practice of FGM in North Sudan according to the EMOTION member is the factor of secrecy. Mutilation of girls in North Sudan is in day-to-day life of the people a secrete matter. FGM is there a practice almost completely shrouded in secrecy. No one talks about it openly. It is a talked about only behind closed doors, among the women, especially among the grandmothers. It is a domain of the women and as a result, an embarrassing matter should a man be heard talking about it with other women, especially when with strangers. In spite of all these, the EMOTION member - set out with her organization to confront the monster directly there where its ugly face is seen eye-to-eye: in the life of girls and women in North Sudan.
Their daughters may not be married if not “circumcised”.
The nightmare of their daughters being sent away on the eve of wedding simply for not being “circumcised”.
And loathe the imagination of their daughters ending up in the streets as prostitutes if not “circumcised”.
The isolation and social exclusion their daughters might suffer if they should remain unmutilated.
What does she do and what are her aims?
She works with families, preferably women by giving them what she calls small credits. She gives the mothers small credit in trust that they do not suggest their female daughters to genital mutilation. When the mothers hold to this trust, the female children are saved from the danger of the knife. Moreover, they can also go to school in hope they gain greater experiences and exposure for a better living for the future. The children develop sense of trust, knowing that there are people out their supporting their course in life. The women on the other hand, with the small credits, can get a start in economic independence. They can break away from the grip of male dominance and chronic dependence on marriage as first and final principle for survival. The EMOTION member supports families by providing for the education of their children. She also runs adult education – reading, writing – for women. With a strong targeted vision, she runs sports activities for young boys. Why? The aim behind this according to her is to create social meeting space for contacts and exchange with the boys, thereby creating a forum for learning and trust. Then, it is these boys who will also turn out into men to marry the non-mutilated girls.
How does she do it?
Her most basic approach is the giving of small credit on condition that the mothers do not subject their female children to FGM. According to the EMOTION member the first practical step is trust building. She combines small credits with person to person contact and friendship building through trust. According to her, “this creates feeling of relief and confidence in the mothers thereby strengthening them in their efforts. The women who receive this money have no bank account. No bank would receive them. The conditions are too high! So we offer them small credit to them without interest. Moreover the women get the credit also only if they say what they want to do with the money. Since not every idea can be a lucrative one, we discuss the ideas together with them. For instance, there was this case of a man coming up and asking for credit to buy an iron cutting scissor. His idea was to buy the instrument and rent it out and get income! But after we discussed and made necessary calculations together, we all could see there is practically no income for him. So we turned to ask what we can do for his family instead. His wife said she would want to deal with clothes. We agreed on that. She got small money and started off. And today she has a little income out of that”.
In line with the microcredit method, the EMOTION member created a business group comprising seven women in different and non-competing business lines. Fearing no competition amongst them, they discuss their businesses together, share ideas, opinions and advise one another without fear. The women who get her credit, agree on a certain amount of money they can pay back monthly. Each month they meet, they exchange and dialogue on how they are doing and how things are around them. This has tremendous social impact. To the question on how consistent to her proclaimed approach she will be if she finds out a mother still goes around subjecting her daughter to FGM. Will she withdraw her fund? No she answered. “We will not hot the girl. She is already the victim. We will discuss and moreover, not before we can organize “a health day” in the villages, I cannot say much.”
Her successes so far: How far has she really used small credits to contribute to preventing FGM? First of all, contrary to common opinion, she gets well over eight percent repayment quote from given small credits. Secondly, evaluations and reports she is getting show that many girl children of families under her programme are not mutilated. However she cannot fully believe all till her greater dream is reached. This dream is, to conduct “a healthy day” in the village where all the girls will be checked and examined. So till that is attained, she continues running on trust that the mothers are really acting in the best interest of their daughters as they promise. Thirdly, sixty five women are attending classes in reading, writing and other lessons. On another level, in these lessons, issues of hygiene and sexuality are taken on. Fourthly, undergraduates she sponsors in the university now come into the villages and in the classrooms to teach in voluntary capacity.
These range from given local circumstances to structural limitations.
Government control on activities on FGM is too tight and as a foreigner, she is not having it quite easy. To get the organization registered in Sudan and get partners so that the plan to establish a “health day” in the community where she works will become a reality. Only this can guarantee reliable control and results on the condition of the girl children.
Lack of adequate medical facilities to take care of the women suffering from the dreadful effects of the Pharaonic circumcision which is the worst form of FGM as practiced in the corner Sudan-Eretria-upper Egypt-Djibouti-Somalia where she works. There is possibility for treatment in Khartoum, capital of North Sudan, but it horrendously expensive that these women cannot afford it. Fortunately there is now the Hamlin fistula Hospital in Ethiopia. It is established for the benefit of the women. Similar hospital in Sudan will of course be of immense help to the women, many of whom can no longer live in their families because they are incontinent.
Many women in her programme are willing to take the step forward not to get their daughters mutilated, but in most cases, the settled belief, power relations in the family and social threats still infuse fear in them that they start doubting their course.
Local conditions make it difficult that affected women come up as role models and strengthen other women to follow suit. Affected women hardly want to come to the public and talk about it. They do not want to expose themselves.
Up till today, she cannot yet say to what extent small credit actually has effectively contributed to saving female children in Sudan from FGM. The intension is of course very good. But the effective methods of evaluation and control are still lacking. That she knows as she hopes for the day her much desired health day of medical check on the girls will become true.