Book Extra: Soraya Miré memoir recounts hidden struggle
Filmmaker and activist Soraya Miré will be in Atlanta on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 7:30 p.m. at Charis Book to discuss her stunning memoir, The Girl With Three Legs. Miré’s is a survivor of childhood female genital mutilation (FGM), an ancient rite of passage sometimes known as female circumcision, in her native Somalia
In her memoir, Miré talks about her experiences and about working closely on the FGM issue with the United Nations, the World Health Organization, the UN Population Fund with Face to Face, as well as Amnesty International and other non-governmental organizations. For the past 29 years, she has worked to combat violence against women and children. I interviewed Miré last month about the memoir.
You’ve long been speaking out against female genital mutilation (FGM) and created the documentary Fire Eyes about the barbaric practice – what motivated you to finally write down your story in the new memoir?
My work is to persistently talk about the hidden struggle of women who have been mutilated. As children, no one asked for our consent before dragging our healthy bodies into the mutilating ritual and throttling our existence. We couldn’t shout abuse because we were told it is our destiny and we knew nothing about our basic human rights. Because of that private pain, we can now tell our stories. We can shout loudly that FGM is a violation of the Declaration of the Rights of the Child. As survivors of FGM, we cannot just sit and take it. We must stand up and use that terrible experience for good. Telling our stories will indict any parent or society that views the violence against children as a cultural norm. Writing this memoir is meant to inspire and help other survivors march onward to end the horrendous act of FGM. Now, I’m releasing it to the world as I continue to hold the light and protect every child’s human dignity.
FGM continues to be practiced in many countries under the auspices of it being a “cultural” tradition. In your years as an activist, have you seen rejection of the custom? How is education being spread in your native Somalia and elsewhere?
In Africa, we have 26 countries that continue to practice FGM. Those communities believe their faith asks them to do it and that the ritual will help their daughters’ marriage-ability. Many feel the mutilation enhances a woman’s hygiene by removing the external genitalia. Last June in Hargeisa, the Unicef Somalia reported that 70 religious leaders and some high officials declared their commitment to end all forms of FGM. Things are changing as the UN and other NGO’s continue with their educational campaign against FGM. Education is the key to stopping the torture of this practice. Now we’re seeing a strong commitment from the local communities working together to end the ritual. It has been an uphill battle to change the rigid mindset of traditionalists who believe FGM is the only path for their daughters to be honorable and have good standing in the Society. But now there are those well-respected FGM practioners putting down the knives and urging the parents to stop the ritual. In Senegal, with the help of Tostan’s Human Rights Education, 5,000 villagers have abandoned the practice.
FGM is a deeply personal assault, but you were able to find your voice to speak out about it. How do you encourage other women to come forward and share their stories?
FGM is a human tragedy and is one of the most disgraceful abuses of girls. I encourage my fellow survivors to simply forgive those cruel hands that left the deep scars in mind and body. Once they do that, they can heal and transform their own lives.
For more about the reading, visit the Charis website at this link.