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Comments

Arwen

I really am appreciative of your post. I have no problem saying that FGM is utterly horrifying and should be eradicated (with extreme prejudice *g*). I think the responsibility is only to understand that the persons who practise such a thing aren't horrible monsters, but people operating in a particular culture. You really illuminated those cultural pressures.

TangoMan

But at some point, I also think you can draw a line in the sand and say, "Such-and-such practice is WRONG in an absolute sense and I have a right to say so, not because I am a westerner or not a westerner, but because I value human rights."

The problem is that your hard and fast line in the sand is not universally recognized, and if your reserve the right onto yourself to proclaim some practices, beliefs, expressions, etc to be out of bounds then that right should extend to other people as well. If you expect them to be respectful of your stance on standards, and not paint you as a racist, charge you with a hate crime, then people who hold positions similar to yours need to recognize that what you may see as a tolerable practice, others may view as objectionable to long standing community, or Western, standards.

I believe in respecting and learning from other cultures-- trying different foods, admiring different modes of dress, understanding different types of manners, listening to critiques of some of the weaknesses of western culture, and appreciating the spiritual value of a Ramadan fast or the beauty of a Christian communion ritual, to give just a few examples.

That's why diversity is so valuable. You can hop on a plane and experience this diversity of culture and culinary extravagence in many different places in the world. There is little sense in eroding the diversity we all enjoy in our nation by homogenizing the world to a bland standard of uniformity.

The Happy Feminist

If you expect them to be respectful of your stance on standards, and not paint you as a racist, charge you with a hate crime, then people who hold positions similar to yours need to recognize that what you may see as a tolerable practice, others may view as objectionable to long standing community, or Western, standards.

So? I don't get your point. Are you a relativist?

Obviously, I understand that people may condemn practices that I endorse, like homosexuality. That doesn't mean such people are right. They need to be able to justify their position.


Mandolin

This looks pretty good to me. I would add, though, that part of eradicating FGM (in countries like Somalia) will necessarily include an economic component -- it's important to try to create ways for women who are not circumcised to have options to support themselves other than marriage.

Aideen

Thanks for such a brilliant post Happy. I'd been very aware of the issue before, but it was particularly interesting to learn what exactly activists in the countries where it is practised are doing to stop it. It made me feel very optimistic, as opposed to feeling like nothing can be done which is what happens when I usually read something about FGM. Again, cheers!

TangoMan

it's important to try to create ways for women who are not circumcised to have options to support themselves other than marriage.

I certainly agree with this suggestion. I think it behooves every feminist, and every person who cares about the dignity of these women, and every person who cares about eradicating human mutilation, to go to their feminist bookstore and buy book covers, or books, produced by these women, or go to your local ethnic store and purposely seek out the food that was grown by such women.

People who care should do more than just expect other people to pay for the charity that they want to foster.

I actually have other priorities for gov't funds, and those priorities are focused on the citizens of the US. I don't expect, and I don't encourage, our tax dollars being spent on charitable activities for which there is no common national good. Those activities should be funded by the people who are most interested in the issue.

The Happy Feminist

Mandolin's point is excellent.

I think that there are plenty of ways in which Somali women can become economically self-sufficient without relying on the charity of western women buying their crafts simply in order to support them. That's not to say that we shouldn't make charitable contributions, but I don't assume that Somali women are incapable of producing goods or services that have actual value in their economy.

Mandolin

Not to mention, of course, that there are major systemic changes that need to take place so that Africa's position in the global economy is no longer the product of colonialism. And changes that have to take place within countries so that, culturally, it is permissable for women to have viable economic roles (and obtain more education).

Individuals can make change in their own lives, to some extent, but systemic changes have much more potential to liberate a larger portion of the population in a more meaningful fashion.

Admittedly, I got my anth degree at a very socially savvy institution, but the anthropologists I know do work on these issues in culturally sensitive ways that usually address political economy.

TangoMan

Why don't feminists of the West organize a debt for land swap. Buy Somali debt on the market for 30 cents on the dollar then go to the Somali gov't and retire the face value of the debt in exchange for tracts of farmland. Take the farmland and either make it a feminist commune for the women you want to help or partition it off into feminist farming cooperatives or even take the bold capitalist step of actually selling the land to individual women. Because the land is free and clear, you can actually set up a feminist bank, operating under whatever priniciples are ideologically pleasing, and get the women who buy the land to actually make some type of payment for it. The point isn't for the feminist bank to make money, it's for the women to feel that they didn't receive charity but instead actually earned the title to the land that they are working.

Of course, if feminists are opposed to guns then expect the land to be in the hands of men within only a few years after the initiation of the experiment. The feminists could get the NRA types involved to provide left-over guns to the women who are new landowners so that they can protect their land from extortionists, most likely the men in their family who disowned them. I realize that this whole gun angle runs counter to Leftist dogma, so let's just pretend that everyone will be civilized and the rule of law will prevail in Somalia and the land title will stay with the women who have been designated as the recipients of the program.

Mandolin

*presses the "Ignore TangoMan" button again*

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