The fight against excision: between awareness, taboo and tradition?

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The fight against excision: between awareness, taboo and tradition?

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“People think that it is a practice that is far away from us, an exotic practice. It is still a very taboo subject and in the collective unconscious, we remain convinced that it comes from elsewhere”, these are the words with which Kakpotia Marie-Claire Moraldo, Founder of the French non-profit organisation Les Orchidées Rouges, describes excision. Excision, which is more largely called Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), represents more than 200 million women and young girls victims worldwide, and 68 million are at risk of undergoing the practice by 2030. Moreover, it appears that the health crisis of 2020 would have favoured a significant increase in the number of FGM in some countries, such as Somalia, for example.

Although many voices are being raised against the practice, FGM is still widespread throughout Africa, the Middle East, Europe and even in France: “When we talk about excision, we only think of women from sub-Saharan Africa, this makes the victims from other regions of the world invisible, because excision is a global scourge”, warns Kakpotia Marie-Claire.

It is difficult to uproot excision, which is considered as a social norm, a rite, a custom, by those who perpetuate it. However, excision is indeed violence against women, with consequent and often long-lasting physical suffering and after-effects, such as severe chronic pain, hemorrhages, urinary problems, complications during pregnancy and childbirth… Not to mention the psychological distress in which many women find themselves. The issue of excision is torn between unshakeable traditions, willingness to change, and taboos, and some countries such as Egypt seem to be turning a deaf ear to the urgency of stopping this practice.

But the struggle of non-profits and NGOs continues, and is even strengthened by new figures in the fight against excision who are speaking out and refuse to remain silent. More and more women who are victims of excision feel more at ease talking about it and are trying to make a place for themselves in the public debate, preventing the fight against excision from falling into oblivion or being relegated to the background. Health professionals are also joining the fight in numbers to accompany women in their reconstruction.


Women’s reconstruction

Accompanying the reconstruction of women victims of excision is essential and plays a real role in the healing of victims and in the fight against this practice. First of all, there is psychological reconstruction, offered by many non-profits. This is the case of the French association Les Orchidées Rouges, which has devised personalised care courses adapted to each woman. Art therapy, revaluation of the self-image through socio-ethics, discussion groups, sophrology, therapeutic dance… These are all the ways for women to reclaim their bodies, their sexuality, their relationship with others, and to rebuild themselves. “It is essential to respect the way in which the women who come to see us have experienced excision. If some women come to us to protect their daughters from excision or because they themselves are at risk, other women we accompany do not consider that what they have experienced represents violence and see excision as a tradition”, explains Kakpotia Marie-Claire, and adds, “we respect each context behind each woman, so that we can accompany them in the best possible conditions”.

Supporting the reconstruction of these victims is also the mission of La Maison des Femmes, founded by the gynecologist Ghada Hatem, which works with the women of Seine-Saint-Denis, in the Paris region. The association, which is based at the Delafontaine Hospital, offers women the possibility of being accompanied for psychological and physical reconstruction, thanks to its dedicated care unit.


If we no longer need to present Doctor Denis Mukwege, a kino-Congolese gynecologist who “repairs” women victims of war rape and FGM, and who has made excision one of his battles, new figures such as Kakpotia Marie-Claire are emerging, modern and disruptive in their communication, without taboos.


The work of these organisations, and of so many others, focuses above all on psychological and global reconstruction, with the question of physical reconstruction that comes later on, for women who feel the need for it. “First of all, you have to reclaim your body, surgery comes as a complement if necessary, and not all women necessarily need this,” says Kakpotia Marie-Claire. Moreover, in the West, health professionals are not sufficiently aware of the issue of excision. How can you properly accompany a female victim when you don’t have the right tools to identify weak signals, avoid further excisions, and understand the suffering of these women? The mission of these organisations therefore also includes raising awareness among social workers in university hospitals – such as the Bordeaux university hospital for Les Orchidées Rouges – but also with the national education system so that the issue of excision is dealt with at school.


These modern figures who speak out

If we no longer need to present Doctor Denis Mukwege, a kino-Congolese gynecologist who “repairs” women victims of war rape and FGM, and who has made excision one of his battles, new figures such as Kakpotia Marie-Claire are emerging, modern and disruptive in their communication, without taboos.

What do they have in common? All of them are women, victims of excision themselves or having narrowly escaped it, like Inna Modja, a French-Malian singer and model, muse of major brands, who uses her notoriety to fight against excision. She speaks frankly about her own career and has notably committed herself to La Maison des Femmes to bring the voice of women victims of FGM and excision and raise awareness in the region. Waris Dirie is an actress, model, activist and was excised at the age of 5. She has made the fight against excision a struggle in its own right and created Desert Flower International, an organisation that works in many countries such as Sweden, Spain, France and Sierra Leone. Desert Flower International focuses a lot on education, with, among other things, the opening of schools dedicated to young girls and raising the awareness of parents and communities.

In Kenya, Nice Nailantei Leng’ete has been an activist since she was very young, after fighting to escape her own excision when she was 8. Since then, she has been fighting so that other girls and women in her country – especially among the Maasai tribes where she comes from – no longer have to undergo this practice. Nice Nailantei Leng’ete works with the African Medical and Research Association (AMREF), and has enabled more than 15,000 young Kenyan women to escape excision. The young activist is gradually replacing the ritual of excision with education, teaching young women their rights, the consequences of forced marriage, genital mutilation, etc. She is also working on a project to replace the ritual of excision with education. A real media figure – she was ranked in the top 100 most influential people in the fight against genital mutilation by Time magazine – Nice Nailantei Leng’ete does not hesitate to use her notoriety as a force in her fight.

Another figure, political this time, with Assita Kanko, Belgian MEP and excised at the age of 5. Assita Kanko uses her political strength to make the fight against female genital mutilation an important part of the public debate. She has recently submitted a text to the European Parliament so that the eradication of genital mutilation becomes a strategy of the European Union.


Small victories

For Kakpotia Marie-Claire, things evolve, slowly. If the new generations associate excision with a harmful practice and dare to speak out against it, many women take refuge in silence for fear of being reprimanded and rejected. In Côte d’Ivoire – Kakpotia Marie-Claire’s native country – excision is now banned by the government, but continues to be practiced in secret, further isolating the victims. In Togo, on the other hand, excision numbers are declining and the country, which criminalized the practice more than 20 years ago, has made it official to abandon excision as a tradition in 2012 and is doing well as an example in Africa. The women who used to practice excision have been granted micro-credits by the state to support their training and prevent excision from continuing to be practiced out of sight. In 2020, Sudan also criminalised this practice.

We have to break with tradition in order to bring about a clear change in mentalities: ” The discourse must be constructive because we are talking about a tradition that has been practiced for decades, a mark of identity. We must lead people to discover another reality without having a discourse that gives lessons and without focusing on sexuality, because excision is much more than that, it is a form of social integration,” says Kakpotia Marie-Claire. Furthermore, for the Founder of Les Orchidées Rouges, it is necessary today to take a step towards a global strategy to fight against excision, and to create bridges between the different countries that practice it, so that this scourge is “brought into public health policies, at the international level”.

Learn more and read our Story on the same topic, written in collaboration with Lensational. 


Through these Stories, Azickia aims to highlight social impact initiatives, in France and around the world, while not necessarily adhering to all the opinions and actions implemented by them. It is and will remain in Azickia’s DNA to fight against all forms of discrimination and to promote equality for all.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 France License.

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