Don’t worship my hurt feelings for the road to FGM is paved with good intentions

There is an angry mob ready to lynch. They’re gathering force, leaping over barriers, ululating, and blindly bulldozing civility in their wake. The drummers, hunched over the “SOS” drum, thump out an angry condescending rhythm, rivers of sweat and recriminations running down their livid face. The steady drumming picks up pace, urging the mob to free themselves from inhibitions, to discard any rules of engagement, gradually ignites the mob in an incensed dance. The dance of hurt feelings, of good attentions, manifested in chest beating, raised fists, and swathed in the bright colors of morality, swells to a frenzy, and abruptly ends in an ecstatic, feverish, orgasmic crescendo. The mob, oiled and utterly convinced of their righteousness, is ready. Suddenly, it turns in unison, their gaze locking on two young women tending to their media business. Lurching, heaving, the mob manages to corner the two petrified young women, strips them naked of their humanity and drags them on the street for an all-night mob mania. There’s nothing like a mob action, especially when it is out to save the black woman, or more specifically in this case, her black ass.

Sorry guys, please give me a minute while I rein in my over-active imagination. Let me get a steaming mug of chamomile tea to sooth my frayed nerves before continuing this writing. What a beautiful Sunday morning it is. Yes sire. We finally have snow, finally.

Hmmm, where was I. Right, I remember now. There is a mob, ready for lynching and all because of our juicy, fat, and black as the night asses. They’re on a “Save the Clitless Clique” campaign and my endangered ass is on the line here. We’re talking about the ass population of millions of women. I should be happy right. I should be honored. I should be flattered. I should be grateful for being the victim. I should be quiet, ashamed of what has been done to me. But I am not. Instead, I am confused, bewildered.

This mob is offended on my behalf because of an article and photos on FGM published by Helsinki Sanomat, the biggest media outlet in Finland, over a week ago. The anger is not wholly targeted at the media outlet as such, but at two specific women, namely Anu Nouisianen and Meeri Koutaniemi, who both provided the narrative. The writing and the photos were, I must say, fantastic. The photos, though shocking and terrifying, appealed to my humanity. FGM is not beautiful. It is gruesome, chillingly terrifying and deadly. In the opinion section, some men were frothing at the mouth while loudly bleating about male circumcision. I beg now. Men, glance down, look at your little brother in your pants, sit back comfortably and imagine the whole tip of your penises, without anesthesia, being slowly, excruciatingly, sliced away. That is mutilation and not circumcision. You must be out of your testosterone-laden mind to even have the audacity to insist that mutilation is the same as male circumcision.

Why are some people reacting so strongly to the HS piece, you ask? Beats me too, but I’ll hazard a guess based on my observations. You see, Anu and Meeri were invited and given access to one of the remote Masai villages in Kenya, where preparations were underway for an upcoming FGM procedure. Their visit eventually culminated in the inhumane mutilation of two under-aged Masai girls. Mind you, these villages are not strange to Meeri because of her self-funded, decade-long anti-FGM work. That is a side dish and not to be mixed with the main course. Anyway, the discussions’ escalated from insidious insinuations to downright accusations of racism, colonialism, exploitation, opportunism, incompetence and arrogance etc. See any projections here? As a result, a lot of negative energy was and continues to be invested in shifting the focus from this abhorrent practice, in diluting its importance and in silencing others.

There is no doubt that some of the ethical concerns raised about the piece are valid. Yes, exploitation is wrong. Yes, racism is wrong. Yes, children have rights and their privacy should be protected. Yes, we should not make a living out of the misery of others. These are rules of engagement that should apply to ALL, regardless of the context, color and creed. But is it fair, just, and ethical to accuse Anu and Meeri of these things? Why is there a need to question their intentions and in this very disrespectful manner? Why take things so personally?

This discussion minefield is shrouded in double standards. The loaded language of politics, of disempowerment, of patronization involved here is disturbing. If we are going to bring up the issue of exploitation, of making a living out of the misery of others, how about the migrants here? How about tackling the million dollar integration business that we have going on here? How about broaching the disempowerment of the black migrant communities by the integration business people? How about questioning the over-representation of the indigenous Finns in the integration and development focused NGOs? How about their exclusive right to leadership and management positions in these initiatives? How about their over-representation in development projects? How about questioning this white privilege? We have highly qualified and competent people that could be doing these jobs. But no, we have to relegate them to their position, their dirty territory, to deal with their kind. As if that is all they are capable of! The context of exploitation and by whom, is purely subjective and steeped in self-interest.

The black woman’s body, the bodies of her children, have been divided up for exploitation. We have experts on her madness, on her anger, on her ugliness, on her religious fanaticism, her inability to care for her children. We have experts on her sexuality, experts on her lack of sexuality, experts on her hyper-sexuality, experts on her womanhood, on her femininity. She needs saving from herself, from her husband, her son. Never mind about engaging her as an equal. Hell, fuck that intersectionality shit, right? Continue to speak over her and for her in your researches, in your projects, in your documentaries and in your writings. After all, you’re the expert, right? And if she continues to insist on speaking for herself, insists on breaking out of her compartment, label her as unreasonable, as lazy, as a mindless child producing factory, and if all fails, label her as nut case and put her on your blacklist. After all, she is half a woman, right? She is not the whole woman that you are, right? Isn’t that exploitation, modern day slavery, colonialism, racism, opportunism? If that isn’t exploitation, then what is?  How about tackling that? Why the selectivity? Is it because Meeri mentioned the P and the C word? Could that be it? She has a campaign and a project in the pipeline. What? How dare she encroach on a stamped body, the black woman’s body, on a stacked territory, whether here or elsewhere? As if you have sole ownership of the black woman and her children! How about not speaking for me at all? How about that?

I, as an FGM survivor, don’t see the burning need in whipping this horse to kingdom come. It is distasteful when some people choose to be selective in their lynching. I am not the victim portrayed in these discussions nor will I ever be. I am a survivor, a fighter. Walk half a mile in my shoes, if they fit and maybe, just maybe, you might catch a glimpse of the world from my vintage point. I have survived this long and will continue to do so long after this debate is over. I dream, yearn and pray for the day when this level of organized interest, this level of passion, this level of energy and this level of commitment is dedicated to the fight against racism, is dedicated to the fight for equity, for equal representation of migrants in decision-making structures, institutions and matters that affect their well-being in Finland. How about that?


  1. I disdain the description of by Western feminists of female circumcision as ‘FGM’ or female genital mutilation. There are several different types of circumcision for girls and women and the only type that I believe conceivably justifies the mutilation label is infibulation, which is rare.

    Most circumcised women living in Europe and the US have undergone clitoridectomy. This procedure takes seconds to perform, carries no medical risks, has no adverse effects on health, does not interfere with marital relations or childbearing and is supported by huge numbers of girls and women who have experienced it and found it beneficial.


  2. Sorry, but I just don’t buy the story about KOutaniemi battling FGM for a decade. She was in Kenya on totally another assignment, when this story came up. Although she has been advertising it as her “ongoing project”, she has since been producing totally different stuff. Koutaniemi is very self-aware, and yes, this story perfectly served her self-promotion.
    And all the things that you mention in the second half of your entry – well, they apply to Koutaniemi’s “project”: she always seems to know better than her subjects what’s in their best interests. I speak as one of her subjects.


  3. Thanks for writing this. I worked in Ethiopia on this subject making radio programmes for young people, so its a subject close to my heart. I have also worked with the Masai. Additionally I was abused as a child so I have some insight into the impact of violence on children.

    FGM in all its terrible forms is an abhorant practise and needs to be stopped. That said I cannot comprehend the actions of the photographer. You should not try and highlight one human right by breaking another (the right to privacy). For a child to have her face used in this way is in a very real sense a further abuse of that child. This deserves serious reflection.


    1. Thank you Benjamin for your comments. I fully concur with you. The ethical issue raised requires a deeper, more meaningful reflection.

      The point of this entry was to deal with the double standards inherent in the discussions. Moreover, it was to challenge the monopolistic white narratives of Africa, its people and culture portrayed in their researches, documentaries and photography. Binyavanga captures this dilemma in this essay here

      Interestingly, how do Meeri’s photos differ from those of malnourished/sick/dying African children bombarded daily on western TVs? Are some photos more ethically acceptable than others? How about those used by aid agencies? Who makes that judgement call? These are questions I often ask myself. In both instances, children are violated and exploited. I believe that all children, irrespective of context, have the same rights.

      Benjamin, how do you deal with these ethical issues as the co-owner of duckrabbit?


  4. Fadumo, you brave woman. Thank you for your delicately put words and the passion you put into your writing. Af jooga looma adeego, should also be said about the many discussions which have concentrared on lynching the HS photo article on FGM. I think the most loud voices have been the ones’ who have no inner sight on the matter, FGM. So that is why I do thank you for expressing your own thoughts on the article. I truly share your point of view, mahadsantahay.


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