Once again, history has repeated itself. Four little sisters suffered female genital mutilation during their vacation in Mali in 2013 as the oldest of the sisters, aged 14, made a formal complaint upon returning to her home in Vitoria (Álava). According to the complaint filed, the maternal grandparents took advantage of the girls’ trip while visiting family to carry out this brutal practice, which occurs in 98% of cases in Mali. The case is already in the hands of the Protection of Minors of the Basque Country and is not the first one detected in the Basque Country and other regions of Spain.
Asha Ismail, founder of Save a Girl Save a Generation, and a tireless activist against female genital mutilation considers it a “failure” for all of us to continue reading this type of news in the newspapers.
How do you evaluate what happened?
It’s a disgrace for me to hear this. As an activist and survivor of female genital mutilation, I feel anguish, helplessness and a great sense of failure. I consider it a disgrace because it has happened under our noses and we were not been able to avoid it. It shows that we are not doing enough yet and, as I say, it leaves me with a sense of tremendous failure.
How can we prevent this drama from repeating itself?
By providing information, monitoring the inhabitants coming from countries where girls are at risk and communicating with them. Communication can only be possible with a process of social integration in which both parties are involved, cultural diversity is respected, and common values are shared, always avoiding acting in the two extremes: the cultural relativism that justifies this practice, and the imposition of norms without previously working on obtaining mutual understanding. The key to avoiding situations like this is in an adequate social intervention that makes it possible for the women and men who practice female genital mutilation to decide to eradicate it by themselves.
What would you say to the parents who, despite the legal prohibition and the damage to their girls’ health, still consider having their daughters undergo female genital mutilation by taking advantage of these trips?
I would tell them not to jeopardize the health of their daughters and that the responsibility is fully in their hands to end this. Female genital mutilation brings nothing but pain and permanent psychological damage, and it is false that it is a religious obligation. It is a crime against human rights. I speak as an African woman and a victim of female genital mutilation: please protect your daughters!
Should we criminalize the parents or is that a double penalty for the girls affected?
The law is not enough if it is not preceded and then accompanied by information, education, mediation, mutual integration that is well received. We live in a multicultural society and sharing values requires previous and constant work on the institutions on their behalf. It is better to prevent than to punish.