200 Women FGM America Matters Hibo Wardere
Hibo Wardere was recently featured in “200 Women Who Will Change the Way You See the World.”

By Shireen Qudosi

As the conversation surrounding female genital mutilation (FGM) continues to grow, and involves more men and women across different backgrounds, the question that keeps surfacing is: “How can we help?”

The best way Americans can help #StopFGM is by:

  1. Sign the petition to stop FGM.
  2. Call your local elected representatives to let them know you want state laws in place to criminalize FGM.
  3. Start talking about FGM.

America Matters #StopFGM coalition member and FGM Survivor, Hibo Wardere has been speaking out against FGM for years and is known in the U.K. as one of the leading anti-FGM activists. Hibo just returned from Poland as part of a book tour for her new book, Cut. During the tour she aimed to bring awareness to her own story and FGM. She sat down with me to share the best ways to foster open and honest dialogue on FGM. The American people can use her advice to start talking about FGM in ways that are mindful of the sensitive nature of the issue, but also informed against common pitfalls that surround the taboo topic.

Hibo believes the first place to have that conversation is within the communities affected by FGM, and advises that:

“If we want to get into the community, we have to be very careful about the language we use. Anti-FGM activists had used some of the words in the ‘don’t use’ category and due to the poor way this language was received, they changed their strategy. It is more effective to use language that doesn’t point fingers, but rather encourages working together.’

Words in the ‘don’t use’ category include war-like rhetoric that comes across as hostile. Words that invoke war themes include “eradication” or “fighting.” Language that denotes religious themes is also frowned upon when advocating for the end of FGM.

Religious justification for FGM is a slippery slope that turns into a theological battle even though no religious doctrine, not even the Quran, calls for FGM. Hibo also adds that pushing the conversation toward religion overshadows the good work and ground gained against FGM by wrongly shifting the debate from human rights to a religious argument.

“Religion is used as a weapon to justify violence against women. Everything is put on Islam nowadays, that ‘this is Islam’ or ‘that is Islam.’ Once you use the religious angle, you’re going to start to confuse people and they won’t know which way to go to.”

Staying focused on the facts is critical to winning the argument against FGM. That includes understanding the cultural implications under which FGM was performed across a timeline that breaches any one religion or society. It is important, for example, to remember that the U.S. has its own forgotten history of FGM, one where FGM was also practiced as recently as 1950s as a way to treat “hysteria.”

To stay on track within the narrative advocating for ending FGM, Hibo recommends that dialogue should be focused on the following key points:

  • Underscore the need and desire to stop FGM.
  • How do we end FGM?
  • How do we include all voices in the community?
  • How do we encourage participation from community leaders within faith and civic society?
  • How can we use language that ties points 1-4 together?

Hibo suggests using this framework along with language that phrases FGM as child abuse or a human rights issue, adding that it’s the strategy that has successfully helped community activists push back against FGM in the UK.

“When you talk about FGM in terms of human rights/child abuse, people know where to go with that, politicians and lawmakers know how to work with that. This is violence and it needs to be treated as violence.”

Follow #StopFGM on Facebook and Twitter.