Musuya Kunto (Cutting the Womanhood) – A taboo-breaking sexuality testimonies on FGM in the Gambia
Review By D. A. Jawo, Dakar, Senegal
Female Genital Mutilation (Female Genital Cutting) is quite a touchy subject in the Gambia, with a clear dividing line still existing between the conservative traditionalists who want it maintained as part of our heritage and the modernists who support the trending international call to treat it as nothing more than a harmful traditional practice that should be out-lawed.
While no historical data exist as to when the practice was first introduced in the country, but it has certainly taken root in virtually all the ethnic groups, with the exception of the Wollof, the Serer and the Torodo (Tukulor, a sub-group of the Fula).
So far, the lone voices calling for its abolition have made very little in-roads against the traditionalists who still hold the view that it is an important ingredient of our cultural heritage that should not be tampered with, despite the overwhelming evidence of its long-term negative implications on the woman’s health.
There have been vigorous attempts by the traditionalists to defend its continuous practice, not only relying on tradition but some also defining it as an Islamic injunction; which however has been rebutted by some Islamic scholars, who say it has never been part of an Islamic compulsion but that its practice is rather optional. The very fact that apart from some parts of Egypt, Somalia and Sudan, FGM is no longer practiced in any other major Muslim nation, including Saudi Arabia, the cradle of Islam, discredits any attempt to connect it with Islam.
A documentary on a taboo-breaking sexuality testimonies on FGM in the Gambia entitled; Musuya Kunto (Cutting the Womanhood), produced by Han Van Roy, a Belgian humanist, and directed by our very own Prince Bubacarr Aminata Sankanu, a passionate cineaste and pioneer in Gambian cinema production, is quite a genuine attempt to fill the void on the debate of the pros and cons of the practice and help bring it in the public domain.
The documentary, cinematographed and edited by Wendy Leyten, captures the views of both traditional circumcisers and conventional medical practitioners, with the traditional circumcisers linking the side-effects of FGM to the anatomic diversities of the girls while blaming FGM-related deaths on fatalism by saying that all human beings will die in one way or the other.
The medical practitioners on the other hand speak on the immediate and long-term health effects of FGM as well as on the social stigma associated with non-circumcision, referring in particular to the term “solima” which is often used to ridicule uncircumcised girls in their communities.
In his summation of the social effects of the practice, Prince Sankanu explains that “one of the reasons why we are witnessing a lot of backlash is that anti-FGM campaigners are often seen as agents of the West who are trying to destroy local traditions just for the money and fame. Those critics are seeing flashy pictures of conference tourism, fund-raisers and one-off celebrity events from USA, Europe and elsewhere that they cannot relate to. They also argue that the corresponding events in the target countries are top-down campaign packages forced on the local communities. To counter the backlash and prejudice, we need a change in strategy by speaking the language of the indigenous communities and listening to them first as we have done in our innocent Musuya Kunto documentary.”
Indeed, the documentary is the beginning of an important debate on the pros and cons of FGM which most Gambians have been avoiding all along. This is no doubt because apart from the practice being so deeply ingrained in the psychic of most Gambians, there is also the apparent lack of the political will to legislate against it, as had happened in many other countries, including our very neighbour; Senegal.
This lack of the political will on the part of our political leadership had recently been clearly manifested by members of the National Assembly who have clearly demonstrated their unwillingness to entertain any attempt by anti-FGM activists to bring a bill to the National Assembly to legislate against the practice. For instance, the Minority Leader in the National Assembly, Samba Jallow, was recently quoted accusing the anti-FGM activists of being economical with the truth in their messages about the negative effects of the practice.
“….we found our great grandparents practising it and some of the negative consequences that are being associated with the practice are questionable. You may say they are not true. They [activists] say it causes problems during delivery but how were our women delivering when FGM was more widespread than today? Women used to be delivered in homes without the help of a doctor... ,“Mr. Jallow was quoted saying.
While this documentary will no doubt go a long way in placing the FGM issue more on the public agenda, which is quite necessary in order to sensitize ordinary Gambians on the harmful effects of the practice, but there is the notable absence of the voices of the renowned anti-FGM activists such as the Gambia Committee on Harmful Traditional Practices (GAMCOTRAP), who have been in the fore-front of the fight against the practice and who no doubt have in the process gained a lot of experience and scientific evidence which has discredited the relevance of the practice.
Therefore, we can only see the documentary as the beginning of a national debate on the social effects of FGM and hope that it whets our appetite to continue the debate to its logical conclusion.
Original Title: MUSUYA KUNTO
English Title: Cutting the womanhood
Country: The Gambia
Language: Mandinka and Wollof with English subtitles
Length: 26:24 minutes
Producer: Han Van Roy
Cinematographer: Wendy Leyten
Director: Prince Bubacarr Aminata Sankanu
Loglines: Taboo-breaking sexuality testimonies on Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting in The Gambia