The Day I’ll Never Forget, an award-winning documentary on female genital mutilation (FGM) in Kenya, will be screened in the Lighthouse Cinema this Thursday, October 25th at 6.30pm, by the Irish Consortium on Gender-Based Violence. The screening is free, but if you want to attend please RSVP to email@example.com.
FGM is an issue that most of us would like to ignore, or better yet, forget entirely. It’s sordid, violent and gory, it targets girls so young their genitals shouldn’t be anyone’s business, and it’s often performed brutally, without anaesthetic or hygienic surgical tools. Considering it in any depth invariably causes a surge of revulsion, followed by a lingering nausea. Not the hallmarks of a nice night out at the cinema.
However, with 130 million girls and women affected by FGM worldwide and an estimated 3,000 of those living in Ireland, the scale of the physical, emotional, cultural and political consequences is unfathomable. Thorough critical studies of FGM, its the justifications and impacts, are crucial and this documentary sets the standard for such exploration.
Female Genital Mutilation (also referred to as female genital cutting or female circumcision) is the practice of partially or totally removing the external female genitalia for cultural or non-therapeutic reasons. The most common reason for the practice is to deny women sexual pleasure and make sex painful, in order to prevent immoral sexual behaviour (e.g. Eritrea). It can also be associated with ideas of beauty and femininity in cultures where the genitals are considered to be unclean and ugly (e.g. Egypt). These are not cultural concerns; they are indications of extreme, violent prejudice. At an international level, they have been rejected as acceptable motivations and FGM is classed as gender-based violence.
In The Day I’ll Never Forget, director Kim Longinotto adopts a fly-on the wall approach, observing the practice itself, interviewing traumatised young women and questioning the mothers and grandmothers who continue to defend the practice (disturbingly, the procedure is generally carried out by a girl’s female relatives). Their motivations may be incomprehensible to most of us, but a forceful, polemical, culturally- and religiously-fuelled debate continues around FGM and Longinotto is right to include the voices on that side of the argument.
Elements of the film are also, despite the subject, inspiring and empowering. Longinotto trails an amazing group of teenage girls, who are seeking injunctions against their parents from the female courts, in an effort to protect themselves from the practice. She also profiles Nurse Fardhosa, a woman who, village by village, is educating Kenyan communities about the physical and emotional traumas of FGM. The scale of these efforts may be small, but change on this issue can only be created within villages, families and communities. Many countries have laws outlawing the practice of FGM that do little to counter its actual occurrence. In Guinea, for instance, the penalty for practicing FGM is hard labour for life, but no prosecution has ever been made under this law and the prevalence of FGM in the country is 98.6%. Top-down change won’t work; actually outlawing this practice depends on education of communities and empowerment of women. Longinotto’s film shows what this process of change actually looks like. Watching the film may be uncomfortable, but not watching it is probably worse.
Extract from the film The Day I Will Never Forget, warning – distressing footage:
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange an invitation to this free screening, on Thursday October 25th. The screening will be attended by director, Kim Longinotto.
Words: Niamh Ni Mhaoileoin