Disability World
A bimonthly web-zine of international disability news and views • Issue no. 22 January-March 2004

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"The Day I Will Never Forget": An Unforgettable Film about Female Genital Mutilation

Reviewed by Barbara Kolucki (bakoluck@aol.com)

A young girl about 8 years old, Fauzia Hassan, takes control of this film about half-way through this documentary. She stands in front of the camera as if she is making a presentation to her school class, or perhaps to the United Nations. She recites her poem about the fear, the pain, the memory and the wrongs committed against her on the day she was circumcised, becoming one of the estimated daily 6000 girls or women subjected to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

Fauzia is a fighter and she demands no less than a promise from her mother that her younger sister will not be a victim of FGM. In fact, she tells her mother that the only way she will forgive her is with this promise. Her mother relents - and wonders aloud how God will judge her on the "Day of Judgment".

Another group of fighters in the film are girls and young women in Kenya who defy their parents, run away and then seek assistance from a lawyer to get an injunction against their families subjecting them to FGM. Reactions from their families and communities are primarily dismay and disgust: these girls have abandoned their traditions, they must obey their parents, they must obey men, they must be circumcised.

Another fighter who we regard with awe during the film is Fardhosa Mohamed, a gentle, soft-spoken nurse who, in her immigrant Somali community in Kenya, is relentless in her attempt to change the attitudes and behavior of her people. Her strengths are many, but above all, she listens and educates, telling a reporter: "I don't hate them for what they are. I just hate their actions".

Most of the others in this powerful film are the victims and perpetrators of FGM. They are the men and the women who at least for today, refuse to accept new ways, even if they are presented with the horrendous facts of the physical and psychological harm, or the life-threatening dangers to girls and women during their cutting as well as during menstruation and giving birth. Nor do they accept the evidence that the practice has no theological backing but predates both Christianity and Islam. We hear in the film from the gamut in a community - the village leader, the new husband, the elder women, and the women about to be married.

Deeply imbedded beliefs
The film presents us with all of the rationalizations why this practice continues: it is part of culture and traditions that must be kept alive; the clitoris is either a male organ or that it is somehow "dirty"; the practice keeps women from being promiscuous; it is demanded by religion, etc. We also hear from a small group of women who have been subjected to FGM and say that they can still feel aroused - and that they accept it as part of the wish of their family and the men they will marry. What is most evident is that these beliefs are deeply embedded in the minds of women and men from all walks of life.

Kim Longinotto is the British filmmaker who directed the documentary. She worked with an all female crew, which enabled them to be present for both discussions and actual circumcisions. Longinotto is increasingly well-known and applauded for her work on issues affecting girls and women - and the strong women who are leading the way to a better place. She has received numerous awards for this and other films around the world.

FGM is the term used to refer to the removal of part, or all, of the female genitalia. As of 2002, at least 135 million girls and women around the world have undergone FGM. It is primarily practiced in 28 North African and Middle Eastern countries but increasing numbers of women whose families request FGM, or girls and women suffering from the effects of FGM, live in countries all over the world, including the USA and Europe. In the past decade, numerous laws prohibiting FGM have been passed. But the practice continues...

Review of technique and approach
I have reviewed hundreds of films throughout my professional life thus far. They have most often been about or included some aspect of disability. They have often too, been about and for children. My personal opinion is that this is an excellent film about a serious topic that needs the attention and action of the entire world. I loved the nurse and the young girl who wrote the poem. And I shuddered listening to the women and men espouse the practice of FGM. I do, however, personally think that the film was a bit long, and that it was not as "tight" as it could have been in terms of continuity and editing.

Also, having worked in the field of social communications and behavior change for over 20 years, I also know that it is not enough to empower girls and women. Yes, women are often the most vocal proponents of - and the ones that commit FGM. Of course it is important to educate them about every aspect of FGM - from poor hygiene practiced by many circumcisers to the dozens upon dozens of complications. But, it is the men with all of the power. Full stop. In the film we hear a new husband say that allowing his wife to have a procedure under anesthesia say "It will bring shame on my family". He emphatically says that the man is the only person to make decisions. And he will not allow this procedure - even if it impacts on the health or life of his young wife.

It is absolutely critical to find male "positive deviance" in communities to show that one can still "be a man" - and support the elimination of FGM. Shame is used as the excuse for innumerable horrendous acts of violence against girls and women around the world. Just as there are female fighters and heroines in this film and in the world - we all should celebrate and applaud the men out there who refuse to feel shame, embarrassment or weakness when they make a decision to not allow FGM. Or better yet - nurture this same decision by the girls and women in their lives.

Recommended film
Do I recommend it to others? Absolutely yes.

The film is available from Women Make Movies - a USA based non-profit media organization that "facilitates the production, promotion, distribution of independent films and videotapes by and about women. They have a selection about various aspects of disability - and some of these films will be reviewed in future issues of disabilityworld.org. They do have a sliding scale for women's groups, schools and non-profit organizations who wish to rent or purchase their films. Their contact information is:

Women Make Movies
Film and Video Department
462 Broadway, Suite 500 Q
New York, N.Y. 10013
Email: info@wmm.com
Tel: 1 212 925 0606
Fax: 1 212 925 2052

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