Female circumcision, taboo still just as difficult to break, according to writer Halimata Fofana

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Paris (AFP) – Victim of excision in her childhood, Halimata Fofana publishes her second book on the subject on Wednesday in France to break the silence and move the lines, at a time when the fight against this practice has been undermined by the coronavirus pandemic. Covid-19.

“In the shadow of the Rimbaud city”, which appears on Wednesday, relates the journey of Maya, originally from Mali and who lives in the Paris suburbs, victim of an excision at the age of six, during a trip to Bamako.

“The circumcision suffered by Maya is also the one I suffered,” Halimata Fofana, 40, a French author of Senegalese origin, told AFP. “The abrupt way in which things are done is something that I experienced and that I wanted to show so that people understand what excision is, without being in the trash”.

For her, the act is similar to a “rape” combined with an “amputation”, because it is an “intrusion” into intimacy to “rip off” part of the genitals.

In France, where this practice is prohibited, it is estimated that 125,000 women are circumcised. The subject remains “extremely taboo”, although the issue of violence against women has imposed itself in society in recent years.

The difficulty of denouncing his parents who perpetuated the practice and the fear of what will be said dissuade the women concerned from breaking the silence, believes Halimata Fofana. But “if I don’t do it by being a victim, who is going to do it? I think it’s up to us to fight and say things,” she says.

“Redact” the pain

“When we start talking, inevitably, it creates an explosion. My books are bombs that I send”, describes in a serene voice the author who lives today in Lille, in the north of France. . For this enthusiast of the French novelist Victor Hugo and the Senegalese writer Léopold Sédar Senghor, taking up the pen in turn also allowed her to “expunge” the “pain” and to “liberate” herself.

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At least 200 million girls and women have undergone some form of genital mutilation in the countries most affected (27 African countries, as well as Indonesia, Iraq, the Maldives and Yemen), according to the United Nations Fund for the population. More than four million girls are at risk of being circumcised every year worldwide.

Interruption of awareness programs, closure of emergency accommodation and schools isolating girls from their families: the Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted the work of associations fighting against these practices, according to the organization.

“While we had very satisfactory results for 30 years, there, we are more worried”, comments to AFP Isabelle Gillette-Faye, director of the Group for the abolition of sexual mutilation (GAMS).

“The Covid has had a catastrophic effect, it’s a whole system to fight against violence that will have to be rebuilt,” she adds.

Childbirth

Halimata Fofana also co-directed a documentary on excision, available on the Franco-German television platform Arte, in order to discuss the position of mothers who uphold the tradition thinking they are acting in the interest of their daughters.

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“These are often women who have not had access to school, but it is very complicated to question a tradition when you have no other opening”, deciphers-t- she.

To get these women to give up the practice, “we must dare to put the words and make them aware that the difficulties and suffering they have in their bodies are the direct consequences of excision”, explains this former educator.

Health professionals, in particular gynecologists or midwives, can carry these messages in particular. “Childbirth is the time to talk about it,” says Halimata Fofana.

In France, the government launched in 2019 a national plan to fight against excision, focusing on the training of professionals and the identification of risks.

As in the novel, the main risky situation for girls who live in France is to go for the holidays to the country of origin of the parents, where the practice persists.

Female circumcision, taboo still just as difficult to break, according to writer Halimata Fofana