On Tuesday 6 February the world mobilised for the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). We welcomed at our office Belgian liberal and European Women's Academy alumni Assita Kanko, and we spoke about her personal experience as a survivor of female genital mutilation and her fight for women's rights and empowerment over a Facebook Live chat.
This is our second Live Q&A in 2018 with leading Liberal politicians on several current topics. Make sure to like us on Facebook to stay up-to-date.
Find below a wrap-up with the most relevant quotes by Assita Kanko during the interview:
Why is it important to speak up about Female Genital Mutilation?
"Today female genital mutilation is still affecting many women across the globe, not only in Africa. Every year there are 3 million victims and there are already 200 million survivors in the world. Where I come from, Burkina Fasso, 75 per cent of women have been mutilated and today the practice is still going on. So it is very important to speak about it because it is a taboo topic. When we don't speak about it, the victims are alone and their pain is kept in silent, and solutions will not come. By speaking about it, we open the door and we make them less invisible. They are still invisible to the law enforcement because in spite of being forbidden by law, the cutting is still going on. This is a limitation to their potential and their dreams because they cannot emancipate, they cannot find their own way. So that is why we need to speak out and help them out."
On her personal experience as a survivor of FGM
"My way to perceive women's need to stand up to traditions that go against them has been changing and challenged through time. At the beginning, I felt pain of being betrayed. In my case and in most of the girls' cases, you are taken by your mum or your grandmother to be mutilated. My mum told me I was going to play but instead they brought me to a house where unknown women took me and cut me. It was very painful, you don't understand what is happening to you and no matter how much you scream for help nobody helps you. So the first step was to continue my life knowing that something awful can happen to me as a child and nobody will come, so I have to learn how to protect myself. Afterwards, I learnt what happened to me and how it is called. My uncle told me: 'It's because you are a girl'. So then I understood that still as a girl many things could happen to me because I was a girl. Then, I realised it was not only me and the girls who were in the house with me, but that it was millions of people, so I wanted to contribute to stop that. Years after, l fell in love with a guy and I started wondering 'Am I like the other girls? Will the guy like me?', so I realised I had lost a lot of self-esteem and that I needed to rebuild that. But above all, my experience taught me that I should never ever close my eyes when I am facing injustice, I need to do something, because if you are indifferent then you are contributing to the domination by doing nothing about it, just like those boys in the market who continued drinking beer in the market when we were genitally mutilated."
"Most women don't speak about their own female genital mutilation with their mums, so it is very important to create a dialogue. If we don't speak about it, we don't create that link and therefore we can't stop the process. If we speak about it and understand, mum and daughter can become allies. It is a taboo topic because society wants to prevent women to become allies."
"You cannot take freedom for granted, you can only learn freedom day by day and, most of the times in pain. Today I am still learning about freedom and applying it every day in my life and showing respect and being kind to myself."
How can we help?
"The most important thing is to make sure we don't contribute to the invisibility of the victims and potential victims. Next to that, we need to make sure that the law is enforced, that education is provided and that we share information, like we are doing now. We can't find any excuse to violence like this."
Best lessons learnt from the European Women's Academy
"The European Women's Academy is an amazing project and I look forward to share what I learnt. It was a very good experience to meet other female European politicians, as we could learn about each other, but also about ourselves. What I learnt is that I can do it. Our success depends more on us than nobody else."
Polin Forum on 7 February
"84 per cent of politicians in Belgium are male, so where are the women? The goal of the forum I am organising tomorrow in Brussels, Polin - Political Incubator, is to put more women in power, regardless of what party they are from. Polin wants to serve also as a forum to connect them, so that they can learn from and help each other. Among other topics, we will discuss differences in gender pay and parity in electoral lists."
A final message
"Whatever you are doing to support the emancipation of women, you are doing it not only for women, but also for men. In a world with better equality, everyone is happier. It doesn't matter if you do something small, any action you can take to support women will help."