News / Africa

Publisher Crusades Against Female Genital Mutilation in Africa

Teen-aged girls attend an after-school discussion of female genital mutilation at the Sheik Nuur Primary School in Hargeisa, Somaliland on Feb. 16, 2014.
Teen-aged girls attend an after-school discussion of female genital mutilation at the Sheik Nuur Primary School in Hargeisa, Somaliland on Feb. 16, 2014.
As the number of deaths of young girls subjected to the traditional African practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) increases, the population of village practitioners grows even bigger. One of Liberia’s outspoken opponents of the practice is Angela Peabody.

Peabody is a Liberian American novelist and magazine publisher who challenges her U.S. audiences by writing and speaking without ambiguity about the African cultural tradition of removing the clitoris and sometimes the labia from a young girl’s genitals.

Her target audience is Americans. “They think that it is an obsolete thing,” Peabody said in a VOA interview. “… but as you and I speak at this very moment, there are 8,000 girls in Africa that are being cut. Their genitals are being cut and mutilated.

Once they get over the initial shock that FGM is still practiced in many African countries, “they are just appalled at the fact that it is being done to little girls, to anyone for that matter.”

They then ask Peabody, ‘What can we do?’

“They want to help," she says. "They want to see it stop.”

Stop the cutting tradition

Peabody says, “My organization and I have made it our passion to make sure to do something about that, to raise awareness in the United States and around the world so that we can help end it.” Her organization is an offshoot of a magazine she has published for eight years and a book she recently published. She tells me that the two are however being kept separate since the organization is non-profit, unlike the magazine which is for profit.

Liberia’s patriarchal culture is exacerbated by traditional practices such as FGM, Peabody says, as a means of preserving “what is called a tradition handed down by the ancestors.” She dares to tread the dangerous path of ending a practice deeply rooted in the traditions of Liberia and many other African cultures.
 
Eva Flomo's interview with Angela Peabody
Eva Flomo's interview with Angela Peabodyi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X

Peabody’s goal is to chronicle what African women and girls experience, the impact of the medically dangerous practice and explain the consequences women must endure for the rest of their lives. She wants to shine a bright light on a violent practice that threatens the futures of thousands of women in Africa.

Following years of reading about FGM across Africa and other parts of the world, Peabody decided to publish a magazine, Global Woman Magazine, in 2006. The maiden issue was devoted to an interview with Somali activist Waris Arie who opened Peabody’s eyes to the long-term consequences of the practice of genital cutting. Peabody learned from that meeting that going through FGM for the African woman was like “carrying an unnecessary burden” that for some leads to death.

Starting a women’s magazine with a narrow focus

The purpose of the magazine was to bring together women from diverse backgrounds to inspire and share their stories. The magazine turned out to be the major vehicle for a crusade against the continuing and abusive practice of FGM.
 
Angela Peabody began publishing her magazine in 2006. (Courtesy Angela Peabody)Angela Peabody began publishing her magazine in 2006. (Courtesy Angela Peabody)
x
Angela Peabody began publishing her magazine in 2006. (Courtesy Angela Peabody)
Angela Peabody began publishing her magazine in 2006. (Courtesy Angela Peabody)
She believes that taking the fight against FGM to a new level with her book published in the United States, she will garner the much-needed support in the United States to curb the practice at home.

Her latest endeavor to highlight the FGM terror is a book called “When the Games Froze”, a fictionalized narrative of the life of Nana Nkuku, a Ghanaian émigré to the United States to go to school. Her problem is how to hide her secret; that she won’t date men because she was cut when she was five.

A student of West Africa’s cutters

Peabody has studied the practice in West Africa where FGM is prevalent.
Adopting a model she found in Egypt, Senegal and Cameroon, Peabody wants to sit and talk with the women who practice FGM and the men who use it for political gains. She wants to build institutions to provide alternative livelihoods for the practitioners and better education for victims of FGM.

She remembers a female judge in Cameroon who invited those who practice cutting in their area to replace their blades with something else to do. “Because, keep in mind, these women who perform the practice, that’s all they know how to do to make a living. They get paid by the parents to perform the practice on the daughters and we don’t want to take bread out of their mouths.

“You can teach them how to do other things so that they can make a living in other ways than just cutting little girls.”

The lessons Peabody learned in Liberia

For over a decade, the publisher has interviewed victims of FGM in Liberia and abroad in order to better tell the challenges and tragedies of the FGM story.

But events from her Liberian past have forced her to reflect on the violent nature of life for African women. Her younger sister, Rose, was beaten to death by her husband.
Her focus on FGM came later, as she remembered a happy 10-year-old friend who – as the saying goes in Liberia – “went to the bush.”

Angela discovered the problem of FGM at an early age but did not fully understand how it could affect the lives of women and girls; therefore she couldn’t do anything about it.

She tells the story of her 10-year-old peer and playmate in the suburban town of Marshall, who suddenly disappeared for over a year without any news of her whereabouts. When she appears, her physique changes, she becomes less engaging for her young age and secretive in every move. What had happened to her, little Angela wondered?

It was not until after several months of horning her investigative whims that she realized that her best friend had been taken “to the bush”, a common inference of the practice in Liberia. At that tender age, her friend had lost her innocence, her happy-go-lucky lifestyle typical of children and a countenance shrouded in fear.

Discovery of a women’s mission

FGM was a forbidden subject in Liberia when Peabody was growing up and it was one topic she could not imagine would become the focus of her adult life. Her father was a lawyer, farmer and legislator while her mother served as the first female mayor of Marshall-west of the Political capital Monrovia, Liberia in the late 40’s.

Angela takes after her mother’s humanitarian characteristics, and believes that sharing people’s problems makes solving it even easier. But she had no political affiliations while growing up in Liberia and didn’t seem eager to run for public office there. She fled the country with her family during the 1980 coup. She was 28. She found shelter in the United States during Liberia’s civil upheaval in the early 90’s. She returned briefly to Liberia as a mother of two boys to bury her mother in 1984.  
   
As a Christian, Peabody says God created a woman in perfection and therefore did not require anyone removing her genitals as a means of “preparing her for a man.” So, she keeps asking others the same question: Why alter that which God has created?

Taking the message back to Liberia

“Being a woman myself and then later becoming a mother, I realized that this is wrong. There is no need to do it. It is not needed. I understand if they have to circumcise the boys; I had my boys circumcised -- both of them, but not a woman, a woman doesn’t have to be circumcised. There is no need for it.”

The conviction was reinforced when Peabody met women who told stories about how they were circumcised and had to run away from their villages to avoid arranged marriages to men three times their age.

“I have not had the opportunity to go and speak in person before audiences in Africa, unfortunately. But I do intend to do that in the future … and I know that it’s going to be the most difficult thing to do in the whole campaign.”

Peabody says she is personally committed to being remembered as the woman who surmounted the odds to join the fight to save the genitals of little girls.   
 
Eva Flomo is a VOA intern and a Hubert Humphrey Fulbright Fellow and radio producer for the UN Mission to Liberia.

You May Like

Video Analysts: Beijing Parade a 'Bazaar' of Stolen Technology

Show commemorating victory over Japan in World War II involved long, medium and short range missiles, a range of tanks and 200 fighter aircraft More

Bernie Sanders Surge Reflects US Shift on Socialism

Although most analysts say it is unlikely he will get the Democratic nomination, Sanders' campaign opens up questions and issues that are otherwise marginalized More

Video On IS Frontline, Kurdish Fighters Ready for Offensive

Peshmerga soldiers say although they need more heavy artillery, they are poised to take the fight to the Islamic State extremists on their turf More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: eusebio manuel vestias from: Portugal
June 03, 2014 10:45 AM
Give the Women liberty right Africa

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Drowned Migrant Toddler Photo Triggers European Outragei
X
Henry Ridgwell
September 04, 2015 11:36 AM
The harrowing picture of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach appears to have galvanized Europe’s leaders into doing more to address the refugee crisis. France, Germany and Italy issued a joint call Thursday for compulsory quotas of refugees for all EU states. But there were chaotic scenes in Hungary as police tried to force migrants off a train heading for Austria. Henry Ridgwell has more. And a caution, some of the images in this report may be disturbing.
Video

Video Drowned Migrant Toddler Photo Triggers European Outrage

The harrowing picture of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach appears to have galvanized Europe’s leaders into doing more to address the refugee crisis. France, Germany and Italy issued a joint call Thursday for compulsory quotas of refugees for all EU states. But there were chaotic scenes in Hungary as police tried to force migrants off a train heading for Austria. Henry Ridgwell has more. And a caution, some of the images in this report may be disturbing.
Video

Video Russians Observe 11th Anniversary of Beslan School Attack

This week, Russians have been observing the 11th anniversary of the attack by Islamic militants on a school in Russia's North Caucasus region that killed more than 330 hostages, including 186 children. The three-day siege and massacre that started on September 1, 2004 took place in Beslan, a town in the republic of North Ossetia, and is one of the bloodiest terrorist acts ever in Russia. VOA's Mike Richman reports.
Video

Video Native Americans Debate: Father Serra, Saint or Sinner?

Pope Francis will canonize an 18th century missionary to Spanish California during a papal visit to the United States this month.  But some Native Americans have criticized the elevation to sainthood of the missionary priest, Junipero Serra. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan has more from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video China Announces Troop Cuts at WWII Parade

Chinese President Xi Jinping Thursday announced plans to cut the world’s largest military force by 300,000 troops. The announcement was made during a massive military parade to commemorate victory over Japan in World War II. The event was shunned by most Western leaders and for some is raising fresh concerns about China’s military ambitions. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.

VOA Blogs