Dear Mr Cameron

The first in a series of MdM writing health commissions, Charlotte Chorley’s sensitive awareness of the politics of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in the UK makes for a moving spoken word piece. Listen to Charlotte below, and read on for her supporting commentary and transcript.

 

 

In June 2015, the Government produced a statement opposing Female Genital Mutilation – a move that demonstrated a commitment to a global objective to end a practice which harms millions of girls across the world. A practice not rooted in religion, but in entrenched social and cultural ideals that relate to female identity, sexuality and mobility. A practice which has life-long physical and mental ramifications for the girls who are mutilated. And a practice which is happening on our doorsteps.

I commend this commitment to end FGM, but I recognise that it is a sensitive issue that needs to be dealt with sensitively.

Because, like so many issues relating to different cultures, we run the risk of ‘saviourism’. We run the risk of reducing complex cultures into savagery when we talk, as David Cameron did, about “barbaric practices” which reinstate a hierarchical and supremacist ideology that creates an ‘us’ and ‘them’ narrative. We run the risk of simplifying and sensationalising, and talking over those who are directly affected.

I am not saying that we shouldn’t speak out and stand up – in fact, that is exactly what we need to do. We need to send our money and our resources and our expertise wherever it is needed. But this must be done collaboratively – it cannot turn into a ‘White Man Complex’ where we cast ourselves as saviours and redeemers. We must ask, and we must learn. The NGO Tostan, for example, which engages women in a conversation about rights, their own sexual health and that of their daughters, has proven to be highly effective with over 6,500 communities in Africa abandoning the practice.

We need to say stop, at the same time as stopping ourselves from speaking over others.

 

The spoken word transcript follows:

Dear Mr Cameron

Some cuts are deeper than others, David,  

and though it is not you raising the razor

or holding her down as older women

shave the flowers that are yet to bloom inside her,

you still loom with no less of a shadow,

wielding a blade that promises to kiss where it kills.

 

Some cuts are deeper than others, David,

and this is not an issue to just be debated

by white men in old chambers

who savour the flavour of being a saviour.

To ‘liberate’ by your standards is no liberation,

but rather an invasion that kisses where it kills.

 

Some cuts are deeper than others, David,

and when you talk for her like a native

with no understanding of what you are saying,

the banality of evil becomes banality of sentimentality –

and you are cutting away the voice

that might tell you that it kisses where it kills.

 

Some cuts are deeper than others, David,

but when you take centre stage, aided

by the rhetoric of ‘us’ and ‘them’,

you fail to see that this is not a matter of being saved –

of being redeemed by those who deem

them in need of a kiss when it kills.

 

Some cuts are deeper than others, David.

30 million girls risk being cut over the next decade,

but let’s ask them about it.

If we have any task at all, it is enfranchisement

Giving them the knife to cut away the practice

that kisses where it kills.

 

Some cuts are deeper than others, David,

and this is not a culture to be traded

with our own. This is not a monologue

that cuts away complexity into a clear cut conflict

between oppressor and oppressed

with good intentions that offers a kiss as it kills.

 

Some cuts are deeper than others, David,

and there is more to doing good than ‘making a difference’.

There must first be the principle of ‘do no harm’

and then the reform of making the invisible visible

through direct consultation and cultural liaison

to find a solution that no longer kills with its kiss.

 

Some cuts are deeper than others, David,

and we shouldn’t sensationalise into basics

when we cannot even separate ourselves

from our cultural convictions. It is a contradiction

to talk of freedom and yet cut away the voice

of those who really need it to kill that kiss.

 

Some cuts are deeper than others, David,

and we must open our doors and our ears

to those women and girls who, for years,

have been silenced. We must learn to be led,

and learn the difference between a kiss that kills,

and a kiss that blooms.

 

© CHARLOTTE CHORLEY. Charlotte  Chorley is an English graduate from Pembroke College, University of Cambridge, and is currently the University’s Women’s Officer – a role which she hopes will act as a starting point for a future in women’s rights and liberation. Whilst being in university, Charlotte was involved in several campaigns for women’s health and well-being, and is an ardent supporter of survivors of sexual violence. Appreciating that issues affecting women in Cambridge are often indicative and symptomatic of wider national, and even international, problems, Charlotte is invested in global health issues relating specifically to women and girls, fighting for the right of every individual to live happily and safely.

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