When will Canada take action for girls who endure FGM?

Unfortunately, the Conservative government’s efforts to reduce, if not eliminate, honour killings and FGM were hampered by their communications strategy of “barbaric cultural practices” labelling, whether it be in Discover Canada or the infamous tip line.

The Liberal government, following public pressure by Immigration critic Michelle Rempel, indicated that language on FGM will be included in the new (long-delayed) citizenship guide in likely more neutral language. .

Portenier’s call for greater government action is welcome. A help line is different in tone and substance than a tip line, the former targeting those most at risk.

Status of Women Canada should take a lead on developing a government-wide initiative to reduce the practice.

But maybe I have been missing this, but I have not seen much evidence that “cultural relativists – mostly white – who argue that FGM is a cultural prerogative” as she asserts or that anyone serious in government would listen to those arguments.

Silence within the communities themselves is another matter and finding ways to encourage more open discussion are needed (CCMW has worked in this area):

Not long ago, I sat with Hadija (not her real name), a young Canadian woman, tears streaming down her face, as she told me about her summer holiday back to her birthplace in Somalia, where she came face to face with a razor blade in a mud hut and was forced to endure female genital mutilation at the age of 14.

Wednesday is International Zero Tolerance Day for female genital mutilation (FGM) with activities worldwide, but in Canada it will again be greeted with a deafening silence. This, despite the fact that the Canadian government knows Hadija’s case is not unique; FGM is an issue here too. Government documents released to journalists under the Freedom of Information Act show that thousands of Canadian girls may be at risk of this torture.

There’s evidence girls are taken abroad for “vacation cutting,” and that “cutters” with their razor blades are entering Canada to do their dirty work here; and yet our government, much of civil society and the media remain silent.

FGM is the single worst systematic human-rights abuse committed against girls and women in the world today. It predates both Islam and Christianity and is defined as the alteration of the female genitalia for non-medical purposes. It’s an extreme form of sexual control of girls, and is a fact of life in 28 countries in Africa, and elsewhere too; in Asia – Indonesia, Malaysia, parts of India; pockets of the Middle East, including Egypt; pockets of South America; Iranian and Iraqi Kurdistan; and now, with immigration from practising countries, in the West.

The most serious type of FGM, practised almost universally in Somalia where many Canadian immigrants hail from, involves removing the external part of the clitoris, the labia minora and majora, and then sewing everything shut, leaving only a tiny opening. It’s not difficult to grasp the serious health implications that result – post-traumatic stress, difficulty and excruciating pain passing urine and menstrual blood, complications in childbirth – even death. Never mind the right to pain-free, joyful sexual intimacy that every human being is entitled to.

According to the World Health Organization, there are 200 million FGM survivors worldwide, and more than three million girls at risk each year. Some of those girls are right here in Canada; recently a teacher in Greater Vancouver told me of a mother who confessed to having taken her own daughter to India to be cut; the teacher did nothing.

There’s been a law against FGM in Canada since 1997, but there hasn’t been a single prosecution. Unlike other Western countries, in Canada there are no protocols to save girls from FGM; no training for teachers, no systems in place to spot girls – and save girls – who are in danger. For survivors who came here already cut – and that includes young women who arrived here as small children – there is virtually no specialized help. No specific counselling, no specially trained doctors, nurses or midwives. Nothing. Contrast this with other Western countries: In Britain, survivor activists have forced the government into action. There are now helplines for girls at risk; specialized clinics for survivors; training for teachers to spot vulnerable girls; a mandatory reporting requirement of FGM cases for all health and social-services professionals and teachers. And just last week, they had their first conviction, of a mother who forced her three-year-old daughter to undergo FGM.

In Canada, there aren’t even any official statistics analyzing the scope of the issue.

An informal analysis of the 2011 Canadian Census looking at immigration from affected countries and UNICEF statistics on the prevalence of FGM indicates there may be upward of 80,000 survivors of FGM in Canada, and yet this is not an issue addressed by any government department. This distinct lack of action is fuelled in part by fear of stigmatizing the communities involved, and is encouraged by the adults of the communities themselves, who enforce a strict code of silence. The silence is also the by-product of cultural relativists – mostly white – who argue that FGM is a cultural prerogative, when in fact it’s an unacceptable abuse of a girl’s human rights, plain and simple. Indeed, in Africa the campaign to end FGM is driven by Africans themselves.

So far, no Canadian survivor has galvanized action on FGM. But that is no excuse for inaction. We are completely failing Canadian girls: those at risk, and young survivors such as Hadija crying out for help. It is a disgrace. By worrying so much about the cultural sensitivities of the adults, we are sacrificing the human rights of the children.

Source: When will Canada take action for girls who endure FGM? Giselle Portenier

There will be some hard things said: Muslim group hears about Truth and Reconciliation

Another good initiative in building bridges and understanding by the Canadian Council for Muslim Women:

It’s a been a time of soul-searching for Muslims trying to find their place in Canada. That’s why it’s the right time to hear about Truth and Reconciliation right from the source, says the organizer of a panel that brought Muslim and Aboriginal people together.

“I thought we should take a step back and put our own problems into perspective,” said Ferrukh Faruqui, who moderated the event on Saturday.

Faruqui grew up in Winnipeg and went to medical school there, but admits she knew little of the historic struggles of Canada’s First Nations. “We want to listen to truths long buried and offer our support.”

The panel organized by the Ottawa chapter of the Canadian Council for Muslim Women consisted of Faruqui as moderator and three guests: Minwaashin Lodge co-founder Irene Compton;  Victoria Tenasco-Commanda, the culture co-ordinator at the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health, and Shady Hafez, a Carleton University student whose mother is Algonquin and father is Syrian.

The panel spent much of its time talking about echoes of the residential school system, which operated for more than 150 years. Some 150,000 aboriginal children went through the system, and thousands never returned home. The last school closed only about 20 years ago. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which probed the history of that school system and its lasting repercussions were released last June in a summary report. A final report is to be released Dec. 15.

“I am going to warn you that there will be some hard things said,” warned Compton before she started to speak.

Source: There will be some hard things said: Muslim group hears about Truth and Reconciliation | Ottawa Citizen

For Muslim women, Liberal victory a rejection of divisive politics

No surprises here:

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper was not subtle about his use of cultural differences as a trigger for fear during the election campaign. His government pressed its case against a Muslim woman fighting to wear her niqab during her citizenship ceremony — and lost. It unveiled a “barbaric cultural practices” tipline for Canadians to report on their neighbours.

He made a debating point of his position that he’d never tell his daughter to cover her face, a moot point unless she converts to Islam. For Muslim-Canadian women the fact that those tactics backfired in the end is a validation of a particular view of Canada.

For Alia Hogben, the executive director of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, it shows that Canadians “are rejecting all the divisive and racist and hate mongering that the Conservatives were doing and they’re showing who we really are. It gives me a huge amount of hope.”

Hogben said that for almost every single Muslim, Harper’s vocal opposition to Muslim women wearing the niqab at citizenship ceremonies as the case of Zunera Niqab, who had taken the government to court over the issue, made its way successfully through then legal process during the campaign, was a source of anxiety.

“During that period it was nerve wracking, depressing and discouraging,” she said.

Hogben said she was worried about these new values that were being propounded by the Conservatives.

“We couldn’t tell if Canadians would lean that way or not and now it’s a huge amount of relief that its been rejected,” she said.

“We’re not saying one party is any better than another, but we’re hoping that they will learn from what went on during the election and the kind of feelings that aroused for and against a group of people and that they will learn from that and make everybody welcomed back into the family of Canadians rather than dividing us.”

In a powerful speech to a crowded room of cheering supporters in Montreal, prime minister designate Justin Trudeau said a woman wearing a hijab told him she would vote for him because she wants to make sure that her little girl has the right to make her own choices in life.

“Have faith in your fellow citizens my friends, they are kind and generous. They are open minded and optimistic and they know in their heart of hearts that a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian,” said Trudeau.

Liberal strategist at Crestview Strategy Group, Rob Silver, said there’s no room in Canada for divisive and mean politics.

“I think if anything the niqab issue backfired on Stephen Harper and I think that kind of divisive negative nasty politics will not be seen in Canada for a long time.”

Samer Majzoub, the president of the Canadian Muslim Forum, says by electing Trudeau, Canadians have sent a very strong message to politicians who have campaigned on “hatred and discrimination.”

“They have harvested what they have planted and lost and [were] defeated,” said Majzoub.

“The fact is that Canadians have followed what Canadians believe in—harmony, unity, human rights, that’s why we feel at ease on the subject,” he said.

For Muslim women, Liberal victory a rejection of divisive politics (paywall)

Don’t politicize women’s bodies

One take on the risks of banning the niqab. See also her previous piece (It’s Muslims themselves who give voice to verse) as well as a previous post on the CCMW study of Canadian women wearing the niqab and the individual stories and backgrounds of the women interviewed (Study dispels stereotypes about Ontario women who wear niqabs).

I still find that wearing the niqab (as distinct from the hijab) sends an anti-integration message:

In this context, it is especially important to put women first, to give women space to chart their own journeys, and to allow the veil and lack thereof to have meanings beyond their patriarchal origins.

Importantly, Muslim women ought to be free to make their own choices – which necessarily includes the right to make their own mistakes – as they navigate their way through multiple identities. As a woman who wore the niqab for 10 years in Canada through public high school at Streetsville Secondary School in Mississauga, and undergraduate and masters degrees at the University of Toronto, I am grateful to have belonged to a liberal democracy that allowed me the space and time to have my own journey and find my own way. I am proud of Canadians for rejecting a copycat proposal to ban the face veil in Quebec earlier this year. In this instance, the EU has much to learn from the Canadian model.

Don’t politicize women’s bodies – The Globe and Mail.

Study dispels stereotypes about Ontario women who wear niqabs

Interesting. I would also be interested in knowing how many were converts versus born Muslim:

A majority of the women who participated said they began wearing the veil after turning 18, and most foreign-born respondents said they only began wearing the niqab after arriving in Canada.

The study suggests concerns expressed by pundits that niqab wearers will use the concealing nature of the garb to avoid being photographed for identification or security purposes, such as boarding a flight at an airport, are unfounded.

“All those interviewed said they understood there were instances where they would be required to show their faces,” the authors wrote. Many interviewees indicated strongly that they would never refuse to reveal their face in an instance requiring they be identified.

The study indicates most women who wear the niqab made the decision based on a personal belief, rather than pressure from spouses or relatives.

“We thought it would be political, but it was more for them an expression of their spirituality or their journey, which we did not think we would hear,” Hogben said.

In fact, several respondents indicated they had been pressured by spouses to stop wearing the veil.

There is an ongoing debate among Muslim scholars as to whether the niqab is obligatory in Islam. The study chose to avoid the “religious or theological basis for the practice itself.”

Study dispels stereotypes about Ontario women who wear niqabs.