PERREAULT Magazine January 2014 - Page 46

Excerpt from the Preface of

The Girl with Three Legs

My first death threat came in 1995, at the premiere of my film on female genital mutilation (FGM), Fire Eyes. I have had to live in hiding at times, and I recognize that the publication of this book may elicit more threats to my safety, because I dare to speak out against child abuse—a form of child abuse that is handed down from mother to daughter like a treasured heirloom, child abuse that is protected by the word culture, as if culture provides absolution.

After being forced to live in hiding for years, I understood that the closer we activists get to our goal—which for me is protecting children from harmful traditional practices—the more frantically those obsessed with maintaining the status quo will fight us. They protest like rats cornered by a dozen cats. The situation can become very dangerous; they don’t want to find a common ground.

In the case of my cause, they do not want to end the useless ritual that chops off young girls’ healthy organs and often, as happened with my body parts, feeds them to the street dogs. Wanting to end abuse of girls and women is seen as a threat to manhood and a man’s psyche, and many become reactive and violent.

In 2003 I received a call from the authorities in Gwinnett County, Georgia, asking me for consultation. A two-year-old had had her genitals mutilated by her father. After talking with the child’s mother, Fortunate, and the social worker, and asking them to seal her medical records until we could find a lawyer, I decided to move to Atlanta to help with the case.

With the assistance of Nadin Thomas and others who brought in powerful lawyers, the case was won, and the judge sentenced the father, Khalid Adem, to ten years in prison. State representative Mary Margaret Oliver and mother Fortunate Adem worked to get a law passed outlawing female genital mutilation. The law was enacted in May 2005. Georgia’s governor, Sunny Perdue, invited the activists, the child’s mother, the family, and the lawyers to stand behind him while he signed the bill making female genital mutilation a felony in the state of Georgia. That day, in city hall, standing beside those who were survivors or spokespersons for survivors or both, I spoke. The Somali women in the crowd rose and wrapped their arms around me, thanking me for speaking against the harm done to children. They, too, felt the father did not have the right to touch or cut off his daughter’s healthy organs.

Perreault Magazine / January, 2014 46