liz.dartnall at mrc.ac.za
Tue Apr 11 09:36:20 SAST 2006
In Solidarity Against Female Genital Mutilation
TOKYO, Apr 5 (IPS) - When Hiroko Hashizume, 66, first heard of female
genital mutilation (FGM) in some Muslim countries in Africa, she was
deeply shocked and, later, overwhelmed by a desire to do something to
stop the cruel custom.
''I had never heard of FGM and could not believe that young girls were
forced to undergo this practice. Even though Africa is far away from
Japan, I felt a deep solidarity with African female victims of FGM and
wanted to contribute and help activists,'' said Hashizume who was, till
recently, a volunteer at Women's Action Against FGM (WAAF), a grassroots
Hashizume's is a remarkable story in Japan, where the issue of women's
reproductive health rights has remained simmering on the back burner.
Said Yumiko Yanagisawa, who founded the organisation in 1996: ''FGM is
an issue that is shocking for the Japanese who do not have a tradition
that resembles this practice. Yet there is a lot of support when women
here find out because they believe in the need for women to be able to
make their choices and want more support towards this.''
Yanagisawa is well known in Japan as a translator and feminist author
and also for her long advocacy of equal reproductive rights in Japan.
The recent increase of HIV and sexually transmitted diseases among young
women have started a debate on the lack of sex education in schools,
pitching feminists against conservative politicians who argue against
'gender-free' activities, or the concept of being neutral to sexual
''Japanese women share similar social positions to women in Africa. On
both sides, women are considered second-class citizens and cannot make
their own decisions concerning their bodies,'' she explained.
Indeed, for Hashizume, a tall, dignified-looking woman, joining the
fight against FGM was a means of expressing her deep conviction that
individuals, irrespective of gender, must be able to protect their
bodies by themselves.
''How can I stand by and watch healthy African women be mutilated in the
name of tradition?'' she asks.
FGM, sometimes referred to as female circumcision, is a cultural
practice in parts of Africa that involves cutting a woman's genitals,
usually before puberty. The ritual can be psychologically, as well as
The World Health Organization estimates that 100-140 million women and
girls have suffered FGM throughout the world and that, each year, a
further two million girls are at risk of being forced to undergo the
WAAF is run by a staff of volunteer female activists and has 150
members. For a relatively small organisation it has made significant
strides in raising awareness about FGM in Japanese society, through
seminars and workshops to which African women activists are invited and
given platforms to speak.
But the highlight of WAAF activities remains the extension of financial
grants to African women's organisations that are fighting FGM.
Although WAAF events in Tokyo are generally patronized by women,
recently, a sprinkling of men have begun to attend and show interest in
supporting the activities.
A significant development, according to Yanagisawa, is the new
leadership of the organisation under a young activist, Miki Nagashima,
28, whose earlier work with refugees has suggested to her the idea of
giving asylum to women fleeing FGM.
''During my work with refugees in Japan I met an African woman who was
fleeing from FGM in her country. She could not claim refugee status
because there is such low consciousness about the situation in Japan --
I hope to change this,'' she explained.
Nagashima, a research assistant at Waseda University, joined the group
three years ago when she was looking for new direction in her work,
helping refugees at the Japan office of United Nations High Commissioner
Nagashima, whose own parents had no knowledge of FGM until their
daughter took up the issue, works tirelessly, gathering new information
about FGM by visiting countries in Africa and speaking about her
experiences across Japan.
She told IPS that her new thrust was in seeking support from men in a
bid to raise awareness on FGM as a universal social issue.
''Japan has its own sexual abuse issues against female children and
there is also rampant domestic violence against women that is only now
being recognised as a social problem. This is why it is important to
discuss FGM in this context -- as a cross-national social issue that
needs to be solved by society,'' she explained.
Activists says the right approach is to bring FGM closer to the Japanese
-- even though Yanagisawa explains that care needs to be taken not to be
too explicit in Japan's conservative society, where discussion of sexual
matters continues to be taboo. (END/2006)
<mailto:editors at ipsnews.net?Subject=IPS%20Story%20JAPAN:%20In%20Solidarity%20Against%20Female%20Genital%20Mutilation>
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