I wrote some posts in the past on the recent change of government in Guinea (West African country, long-time dictator dies, his cronies are then chucked out by a military coup who promise they’re gonna hold elections, honest).
I recently learned something about the history of Guinea. One of the supposed acheivements of Lansana Conté, the late dictator, was that he avoided the outbreak of war in the country, while neighbouring Liberia and Sierra Leona did see wars, in which several hundred thousand people died.
However, that’s not quite true. There has been a war in Guinea – one in which a massive 5 million people have been seriously wounded. That war is, of course, the war on women’s bodies. It is estimated that 96% of the female half of the 10-million-strong population of the country have had their genitals mutilated.
Now it’s hard to know what to say about this kind of issue. To dismiss this or limit it’s importance would be to recreate the attitude that violence against women is an insignificant issue, a “women’s issue”, rather than a human one. But equally, to loudly declaim against and abhor it would be to recreate the posture whereby the inhabitants of developed countries or regions talk to each other about the barbarism of the natives in the “third” world.
We might say: if something must be done, who is to do it (“us”?) and what methods would they use save violence (not generally an awesome plan). But if it’s not true that something must be done, then we seem to suggest that it’s “ok” to let it stay like this
Trying to move beyond this futile dilemma, we might look at how the practice is changing and what tendencies already in existence suggest the possibility of its change. And what the study I linked to above seems to show is that the severity is changing more than the prevalence.
That is, there is an ongoing trend not towards the non-mutilation of girls, but towards ‘milder’ forms. On average, women born now, it seems, are more likely to keep their labia and/or part of their clitoris than older women were. They are also more likely to be taken to a hospital and mutilated by medical professionals in sanitary conditions. This trend is still quite small, but is more pronounced in women with educated parents, or who live in urban areas.
Those are the key facts as I understand them. There’s been no suggestion so far that the new government has any particular desire to do anything here. I won’t say much more because without being situated in the country, any comments about strategy for those who are there and are trying to change this practice would be somewhat pointless.
In other Guinea-related news though, the Junta has got on the wrong side of the lawyers. After security forces beat someone up without any apparent reason (i.e. just because they could (?)) the lawyers in Conakry have gone on strike, demanding that the government ends the culture of impunity among the security services. It may not be at the level of more than a hundred protesters shot by the army, which was what Conté was presiding over last year, but who knows. There’s plenty of time yet. A few weeks ago, also, the government arrested several of its own members, accusing them of disloyalty.