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Feminist Alice Walker: Muslim Scholars Have ‘Ignored the Problem of Female Genital Mutilation’

Feminist icon Alice Walker has bemoaned the horror of female genital mutilation (FGM) for years and acknowledged in a 2006 interview that Muslim scholars “have traditionally ignored the problem.”

The author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Color Purple and Possessing the Secret of Joy – a novel that attacks the practice of FGM and the mythologies that sustain it – Walker told Feminist.com founder and executive director Marianne Schnall in December, 2006, that she had recently received word that “some scholars very high in the hierarchy of the Muslim world” had met in Cairo and resolved that “female genital mutilation is not to happen henceforth among Muslims.”

Walker, who, in 1993, also co-authored, with Pratibha Parmar, Warrior Marks: Female Genital Mutilation and the Sexual Blinding of Women, further explained:

And my friend Pratibha Parmar is visiting and she and I made a film called Warrior Marks that talks about female genital mutilation and we just almost cried, because it’s such a major acknowledgement from people who have traditionally ignored the problem. Basically people like these scholars have ignored the problem.

Walker said when men realize they are in danger of contracting AIDS from women who have been victims of FGM, then they will condemn the practice.

“[A] lot of it has to be about making sure that men, and maybe starting really young, really understand that they are endangering themselves,” Walker explained, adding:

Because they really are very self-interested people, most men – and I say that because when I started talking about female genital mutilation and writing about it – many men in Africa and elsewhere just completely denied it, and just didn’t want to hear about it. Until I said, ‘Well, you know, you notice how AIDS is spreading, and one of the ways that it spreads is through these fissures and tears that happen when you have intercourse with someone who has been mutilated,” – and that really sat them up very straight.

Walker, an advisory board member of Feminist.com, along with Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda, said that while she and other feminists are “tired” of educating men, it still seems to be “really important.”

“Especially if we’re thinking of our sisters’ and daughters’ health,” she added. “And not only that, so many of us by now have these wonderful feminist sons and grandsons, who really are allies, and we should give them the respect as allies, in changing a lot of the things that are wrong and done against women in the world.”

Walker’s horror regarding FGM and its association with Islam is at odds with fellow feminist Germaine Greer, who appeared as a guest with Australia’s Tony Jones of ABC.net’s Q&A.

Greer said Islam is not the problem when it comes to FGM.

“And it’s the sort of caricature of Islam that we keep promulgating,” she continued. “But it… All of this is weird. I mean, one of the commonest operations in the United States is reduction of the labia minora. And it costs you $8,000 or something, and it’s carried out massively. Huge, thousands, hundreds of thousands of cases a year.”

The Q&A discussion continued:

Tony Jones:
But do you class that as genital mutilation?

Germaine Greet:
Well, I class circumcision as genital mutilation. Sorry, guys. If you’re going to really deal with this question of genital mutilation, start paying attention. Find out what happens to human genitalia. It’s not pretty and you mightn’t like it, but you’re going to be in a pretty silly situation if you start, you know, doing the – what did we used to call it? – the short-arm test, at the passport control. “Let me see if you’ve been mutilated.” And why does that particular mutilation have this kudos? Why is it such an important thing? Why does God like it? I don’t think God likes it at all. I think God should take issue.

During an interview at the end of 2015 with Tami Simon on podcast Insights at the Edge, Walker said she was shocked to hear people criticize her for exposing the problem of FGM.

She continued:

Now, there is a place that you would think is so obvious. I mean, would you yourself hold down a little baby girl and proceed to cut away all of her genitals? It should be a no-brainer—just an anathema. People should look at you—and some of them did—and say, “Well, that’s just not possible.” Well, it is possible. It’s happening right this minute.

I wrote this novel, Possessing the Secret of Joy, made a film about the practice—first went all over places where FGM is practiced [and] made a film—lugged the film around Africa, wherever we could find a projector, and [then] London, New York, San Francisco. Everywhere we went—[filmmaker] Pratibha Parmar and I—and still, after ten years, to have people say things like, “Oh, this is the colonial gaze. She’s just trying to get back in the limelight.” Really. As you can tell, I am still on some level speechless.

Walker said the practice of FGM has been traveling from Africa and now to London. With the increase in immigration from countries that perform FGM, more girls in the United States are undergoing the cutting as well. A recent study suggests the imported practice of FGM can actually segregate hundreds of thousands of American girls of immigrant parents from their peers in mainstream American society.

“That’s why that book is written the way it is written—so that you can see that these atrocities that people do to each other don’t stay in the tribe that they practiced in—whatever the tribe is, whether it’s the gay tribe or whatever,” Walker said. “Things don’t stay put. They travel. That is why people need to pay attention by what has done to harm other people—because if you’re a person, eventually it’s going to fly right back in some form at you.”

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