A guest post by Paulina Sygulska. Paulina is a serial entrepreneur, a cofounder of GrantTree, a philantrophist and a bit of a networking junkie!
Right now, you can’t look without seeing people throwing ice buckets over their heads in support of the ALS charity (also known as Motor Neurone Disease). A few months ago, it was the same with the anti Female Genital Mutilation campaign - it seemed to be everywhere. When this happens, it’s great to heighten a cause or a charity and goes a long way to raising both awareness and funds, but it can be a double edged sword. People can ‘gloss’ over the cause itself, and some I’m sure are doing ice bucket challenges without even understanding why. Then, like most ‘hot’ topics, they go off the boil to be replaced with something else … then what happens?
When I first read about FGM, I wasn’t sure what to think about it. It met all the criteria to become one of the “charity fads”: a controversial, taboo topic (in fact, practising communities avoid discussing it) which easily lends itself to publicity, both in serious press and glossy mags.
Also, even though it may seem an atrocity to outsiders (and myself), it’s a practice with roots going very deep into the fabric of society in the communities where it is practised. It’s a rite of passage and - however brutal and uncompromising - initiation into womanhood, solemnly celebrated by families of girls who are about to undergo mutilation.
The question that popped into my mind was what right we have, as outsiders, to interfere. Morally speaking, it can of course be argued that FGM is a violation of human rights. Pragmatically speaking though, how can we expect for the change to happen from the outside, and can we expect for our actions to result in any difference at all, considering the depth of the issue.more
What FGM actually entails
As these questions were going through my head, I started reading up on what FGM actually entails, not anatomically but medically, emotionally and psychologically. Not just soon after the mutilation occurs, but throughout adult life of a woman. I watched a few documentaries, such as “FGM - A Change Has Begun” by Spirited Pictures and my own perception started to shift.
Then I thought about the young girls who went through the ordeal - emotionally traumatised, betrayed by those supposed to protect them, scarred for life. Young girls (FGM usually occurs between the ages of 6 and 8 although can be performed as early as a few days after birth up until puberty), the joyous, innocent and trusting creatures needing to be held down with a considerable amount of physical force, so much so that it would sometimes fracture their bones. They scream and fight as part - or all - of their female genitals are removed, which causes both immense pain and profuse bleeding. I can imagine how in that moment everything in a child’s life changes, never to be the same again.
While the young woman-to-be is robbed of her female identity even before she ever got to discover and embrace it, she is also taught that being a woman is something to treat with suspicion and rigid control. Inevitably, womanhood cannot be trusted outside of careful management by the social order, dominated by the male perspective (mutilation of girls is performed by women for men, to give them power of control when and how the woman loses virginity, and to suppress her sexual desire).
Upholding the Power of Femininity
What strikes me as particularly interesting is that, social conscience wise, at the roots of the issue is the belief that femininity - and female sexuality in particular - is something to be feared, rejected and repulsed by. Considering the perception of all that’s womanly and sensual by the society of the Middle Ages, it seems immeasurably sad how history repeats itself.
And this is why, amongst all the other worthwhile causes that involve child and female abuse I am committed to fighting FGM.
While there are plenty of men both in my professional and personal life I love and respect, I believe in the Power of Femininity, feminine qualities (which wise men are never afraid to exhibit) and feminine energy in all its shapes and forms. This energy can uplift nations, drive fantastic businesses, eradicate conflicts, inspire, move and transform. It’s been proven in third world countries that improved access to education for girls results in a more stable economy. More women in executive roles and on boards of companies drive sustainable growth in business. Examples are countless. If, as a global society, instead of seeking to cherish and uphold female energy at every opportunity, we squander it, we are doomed.
I choose to support anti FGM activities as to me this is the ultimate symbol of disempowerment - not just of a woman but of a human being and it is even more horrific since it’s performed on the unaware, trusting and vulnerable with the use of physical force.
Should we feel responsible
The responsibility for the fact it’s still going on - like the responsibility for uneven distribution of food and drinking water on earth, or the responsibility for the crimes of war - is universal. And I would hazard that if, as a global population, we aren’t able to change the reality where the most vulnerable are exposed to practices that literally destroy their lives, we can’t talk about social progress or reaching the next state of social consciousness with any real meaning.
It may seem that from our position of liberated Western women and men we can’t do much to influence problems that don’t affect us directly. With this conviction we kill the social energy needed to change beliefs and behaviours. Also, the sort of transformation needed to eradicate FGM will always be driven in a more subtle way - by thoughts, attitudes, and informal conversations. It’s also inspired by knowledge and understanding of why a damaging social attitude still finds a fertile ground to exist, wherever in the world it may be. Only this kind of understanding, and a fair amount of our own introspection - to find seeds of damaging beliefs in our own souls - can inspire real change.
The Awareness Party
Inspired by this I decided to do something different this year. Instead of having a birthday party, I want to have an Awareness Party - to support the anti FGM campaign. Don’t worry, this will be a celebration, not a dry conference. It will be a celebration of womanhood that I hope inspires change for others.
I’ve been fortunate to have been empowered to embrace my own womanhood and I want to support others to be free to do the same.
We will have some great speakers who have inspired me on my way, to celebrate uniqueness, creativity and power of change - both on the personal and social scale. The central topic of the event is finding the courage and the power to choose your own unique path in life, aligned with your values and talents.