Listen to this edition of BBC's HardTalk if you are a woman who is interested in feminism and female health.
The worldwide condemnation of female genital mutilation (FGM) by its victims and medical experts is now being faced with opposition from a tribalist, perhaps racialist, position by Fuambai Ahmadu, a female African anthropologist and some colleagues. Ahmadu's position is based in her own experience of choosing a lighter form of FGM as an initiation into a secret Sierra Leonian tribal sect.
I think it is fair to say that Ms. Ahmadu has identified very strongly with her subject matter. Perhaps to the point of losing rational academic distance. She has become a voice of tribalism over ethical common sense as applied to health. That common sense dictates that cutting into the genitals of a perfectly healthy child has repercussions for life which are imposed on that child without consent.
I am happy to report that Ms. Ahmadu is opposed by an overwhelming majority of women. However, I understand how she would obtain access to a microphone at the BBC. She has gathered statistics from FGM surveys done in cultures where FGM is an entrenched practice. She presents these statistics as objective science. She does speak to the brainwashing of women in sexist cultures or the coopting of mothers by their oppressors to victimize their female children as they have been victimized in the name of "tradition".
Ms. Ahmadu is an African reactionary. It is understandable. Africa's painful transition from exploited colonization through corrupt dictatorship is still happening. The continent is reeling from its rapid ascension out of primitive rural and tribal poverty into urban-based global capitalism. Clinging to atavistic ethnocentrism is one way of asserting some form of control. However, it seems odd in a highly educated academic, like Ms. Ahmadu. Her need to identify wih tribe seems to outweigh her compassion for the women worldwide who are crying out for relief from sexism and physical abuse.
I was left with deep respect for Nimco Ali, a Somali activist against FGM, who sat across from Ms. Ahmadu on HardTalk. She gave Ms. Ahmadu her attention and allowed Ms. Ahmadu ample air to voice her position. This could not have been easy. It reflected a respect and compassion to which Ms. Ahmadu might well aspire.