DURATION: 55 min.
"Love hurts three times - when they cut you, when you marry and when you give birth"
Old African saying.
Excision is an ancient custom that survives to this day. An excruciating operation on the female body, which is mainly encountered in African countries. Across the world, 140.000 girls and women have already suffered genital mutilation (FGM). Six girls are being mutilated every passing moment. In Mali the percentage of sexually mutilated women reaches up to 85%!
Little girls that are being kept captive by tradition and superstition are being submitted to the cruel custom in a defenseless manner, experiencing awful consequences throughout their life. Both the government and activist organizations in Mali are struggling against the practice these past few years. Will they be able to beat a deeply rooted tradition?
Written & Directed by Yorgos Avgeropoulos / Produced by Georgia Anagnou / Director of Photography:Yorgos Alexopoulos / Production Manager: Anastasia Skoubri /Research Coordinator: Aggelos Athanasopoulos / Original Music by Yiannis Paxevanis / Editing by Yiannis Biliris & Anna Prokou / Website Coordinator: Apostolis Kaparoudakis / Graphics: Sakis Palpanas / A Small Planet Production for Greek Public Television ERT © 2008-2009
Original shooting format: HD 720p25 / Languages: Greek, Bambara, French / Subtitles: Greek, English / Available Versions: Greek, English, International
- BEST DOCUMENTARY/ Patras International Film & Culture Festival - 11th Panorama / International Film Festival / Patras, Greece / October 2009
It is a festive day in Gwana. As dictated by a very ancient tradition in Mali, the huge West African country, all the little girls of the village, bathed and clean, bearing a shell on their forehead and a white cloth on their hair, have gathered early in the big court. The mothers have prepared a fine meal, the musicians give the rhythm with their drums and the wise old women dance and sing.
"Today everyone in the village is happy, for it is the day when the girls will get their excision. This is how it is for us, so that the girl can marry afterwards", the chief of the village explains. "Do you know what excision is?" we ask his 10-year-old daughter, Aisha. Her mother interferes: "We tell them nothing, so that they won't get scared and resist. They will understand when it happens to them". At dawn, in a house outside the village, one by one, 37 little girls will be subjected to this brutal practice.
Excision is one of the terms used to refer to the female genital mutilation (FGM). It consists in the cutting of part of or the entire clitoris, and at times also of the big and small lips of the vulva. Sometimes the procedure is completed with the suture of the opening and the narrowing of the entrance of the vagina. This practice is often parallelized with male circumcision, however the exact analogy in men would be castration. It is not rare for small girls to die on the spot at the moment of the excision, from uncontrollable bleeding or the unbearable pain and shock.
According to the World Health Organization, 120-140 million girls and women around the world have been subjected to this sexual mutilation, while another 3 million live every year under this threat. To put it in other words, 6 girls around the world are subjected to genital mutilation every minute.
It is an ancient tradition of initiation that survives until today to satiety in Africa, although it can be encountered in some countries of Asia and a few in the Middle East. Its beginnings go back centuries into African tradition. According to an ancient myth of Mali, when a human being is born it bears both sexes. In men, the female can be found in the foreskin and, in women, the male can be found in the clitoris. So, with circumcision and excision of the clitoris takes place the physical and social passing of children to adulthood and both men and women are considered ready to marry.
The percentage of women that have been subjected to genital mutilation in Mali is as high as 85%! The women are captives of a tradition that passes without judgment from generation to generation. "I don´t know exactly why we do it. We were born and found it like this and this is how we will keep it. Let´s not fool ourselves, excision will continue until the world comes to an end" says an old woman who is charged with the execution of this brutal practice. She shows us the small rusty knife she will be using for the ritual. And yet, she too believes it is good. "A non-excised woman is cursed. She cannot find a man, she cannot have children. Excision causes no harm to them. I wash the girls with the traditional medicine to protect them from the evil spirits and I clean the knife in the fire" she explains and then insists: "They don´t cry, they don´t hurt, nothing bad happens to them!".
If a girl doesn´t die right after the excision, the people don't have the education to recognize its long-term consequences. The women themselves cannot understand that the injury caused to them in their childhood is responsible for problems they face during their whole life.
"It is not rare for a couple to come to hospital on the wedding night, for because of the enclosing of the vagina sexual intercourse is impossible. And of course it goes without saying that there is no pleasure in their sexual life. The woman reacts, because she usually suffers, that is why many couples are driven to divorce", says Doctor Mustafa Touré, who faces many similar cases. Just think about how, for many girls, a first sexual intercourse means being opened by their husbands with a knife... But excision and sex are taboos for society and they are covered with a veil of silence.
A woman that has been subjected to genital mutilation has difficulty becoming pregnant, while giving birth is terribly painful and dangerous. With her genital organs destroyed, the possibilities that the woman won't make it and both she and the baby will die in birth increase. That is how Mr. Tera lost his wife and child: "When the doctor explained why it had happened, I understood it was not the evil spirit, that it wasn´t fate. We must stop this calamity", he confesses.
Despite the conception that traces this brutal practice back to the Islam, Mr. Tera is a Christian. And while, indeed, many imams and Muslim believers consider that excision is imposed by the Koran as a way for the woman to be "clean", one realizes that, on the one hand, this practice is equally common amongst believers of other religions and, on the other hand, that it is not practiced in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Irak, that constitute Islam's "hard core"!
Excision in Africa appears to be more ancient than religion. And while, today, all interpretative myths of origin appear to have been forgotten, people insist on maintaining it mainly on the basis of widespread conceptions and prejudices. The clitoris is considered a source and carrier of evil. Men believe it will grow as a penis and they won't touch it from fear that they will become impotent. Women believe that if the baby's head touches the clitoris during birth, it will die. Or they consider natural exterior female genitals to be too big.
However, the dominant conception that maintains this practice is that women are hyper-sexual and it is impossible for only one man to satisfy them. So, the excision of the clitoris is presented as the way to keep a woman "quiet", virgin until marriage, and faithful to her husband after the wedding.
"This is unfair! As a human being, a woman has the right to her sexuality and above all to her physical integrity", protests Mrs. Sindimbé Kandidia Audu, President of the Organization for the Supervision of Traditional Practices. Along with other activist organizations and the government they have been making great efforts in the past years in order to achieve proper information about genital mutilation in Mali.
"People may be illiterate, but they are intelligent", continues Mrs. Audu. "With proper sensitization and information, they can keep what is good for them from tradition and eliminate all negative elements. So, when they realize the tragic consequences of excision, this brutal practice will be eradicated."