Last night, we attended a forum with members of the Somali community at the Grandview Restaurant and Wedding Hall in South Minneapolis. The topic was Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), which is sometimes called incorrectly called female circumcision, because the procedure isn’t done for any preemptive, or positive health reasons, as is male circumcision, but rather to remove a woman’s sexual organs that provide pleasure. This is the epitome of a patriarchy and oppression of women by the male segment of a society. In western eyes, the act is nothing short of barbaric and it is banned in most of the world’s civilized nations.
This clash of cultures recently came to light when two, young Somali girls were taken from Minnesota to Michigan where the procedure was conducted. In Minnesota, it is a crime for a person to perform the procedure, but there is no consequence for the family members who allow it to be done. This is where the public outcry and the conflict between old world ways and the new world of America come front and center.
The principal organizers were: Farhio Khalif, A Voice of East African Women, Fadumo Abdinur, Tasho Community, Omar Jamal, Osman Omar, Waris Mohamud, Hareda Sidow, Deqa Hussen, Camila Abdidoon, and Imam Roble. The most notable absence was freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar (DFL-60B, Minneapolis), the only Somali state legislator.
The guise used to justify FGM is religion, and the battle occurs both inside the family as well as outside in the greater society. The question is will the Somali Community submit to the social standard of their new home or retain the archaic practices of the past.
The person at the forefront of this issue is an unexpected advocate Rep. Mary Franson (R-08B, Alexandria). She made headlines when she compared people on food assistance to wild animals. Her bill is HF2621, and she attended last night’s forum, the companion is SF2355, authored by Sen. Karin Housley (R-39, St Mary’s Point), who did not attend. An alternative position is being advanced in the senate and hampered by Sen. Jim Abeler (R-35, Anoka). He appears to be siding with other members of the Somali community expressing saying the state of Minnesota will take away the children of parents who have allowed this procedure to be performed on their daughters.
He also did not attend the forum and merely phoned it in. Literally, he called during the event and one of the organizers Omar Jamal had his phone turned toward the speaker and informed the Senator many Somali women would be marching on the Capitol and coming to his office to put the issue right.
As these two sides square off it should be explained the biggest issue front and center should not be about the culture clash between old and new it should be the welfare of the children at risk. The procedure is not medically sound, has major, long-term medical consequences and is perpetuated because of ignorance and oppression.
A way to put this issue in another light, we think people should see similarities between this issue and sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. Since FGM is perpetrated under the auspices of religion and remains in the shadows it is akin to the tacit support expressed by the Roman Catholic Church as it shuttled offending clergy around the nation to other parishes when they were found to have abused children.
When it is the institution people turn to in times of solace, the place where the seek comfort in hours of need that authorizes or even administers the horrendous act, the pain felt is even greater. If there are no safe harbors for girls in this new land, then the horrors of the place their parents left enter into their lives for no valid reason.