Gender transformative approaches

COP members interventions on Gender Transformative approaches to ending FGM


During the conversation on Gender Transformative approaches, members of the Community of Practice shared their point of view of GTA, challenges and solutions to applying truly gender transformative approaches to fight against FGM. The conversation with members of the COP followed the same structure as the conversation on the international stakeholders sessions. In this document, you will find the highlights and summary of member’s interactions.

In order to understand why approaches to end FGM must be gender transformative one needs to understand the basic concepts of gender and gender norms

“Gender norms refer to informal rules and shared social expectations that distinguish expected behaviours on the basis of gender. Gender norms are a subset of social norms and are often referred to as gender-based social norms. They dictate how men and women should behave.”
UNICEF 2021 (e-module)

Gender norms are based on deeply rooted roles and expectations that govern behaviours of different genders, defining what it means to be a woman, man, girl or boy in a particular culture. They are specific to a particular social context and exist in a particular moment of time. More informations and possibe action are detailed in this article.

A member commented that it was important to have a holistic approach that put into consideration different members of the community, have the communities elaborate innovative strategies in the short, medium and long terms for the betterment of the community and to prioritise actions that are led by women to questions society norms and stereotypes, and also proposed involving religious leaders as in most cases, they are the ones leading the communities.

There is general agreement that a gender-transformative approach must go further than empowerment of women and girls and really challenge the social order that lead to gender inequalityThis article summarizes the challenges which were identified by the participants of the working groups during the ISD.

While discussing on challenges, members of the CoP shared a few thoughts on challenges. A member working with the GAMS Belgium shared an experience with a group discussion on FGM with men. She mentioned that many were willing to denounce FGM and could outrightly say how harmful it is to girls and women as well its potential to affect other family members. Although when the discussion shifted to gender norms in general, they had a clear distinction between feminine and masculine values. They seemed to be fixated on what a good woman looks like, and what they consider values of a good woman that they were not willing to engage in the conversation. As a strategy, they decided to first address the aspect of masculinities and what it meant to be a man. They mentioned things such as being strong, being an example for others, be strong and not cry and so much more. They all concluded that some of those expectations were toxic and harmful. In the end, they went back to how gender inequalities, practices and norms in general hurt women and girls. After running the session, they figured that giving men time and space to reflect on their own suffering made them more aware of other existing inequalities issues and made easier to speak about them.

PhD Maria Väkiparta shared her doctoral study that explored how particularly the male interviewees discursively construct knowledge and beliefs about gender. I found that they employ ‘hierarchical difference discourse’ and ‘masculine responsibility discourse’ to challenge some forms of violence against women (e.g. pharaonic cutting), while legitimating others (e.g. sunnah cutting), and to reproduce the patriarchal gender order. There were, however, also signs of the men renegotiating some elements of prevailing gender norms.

The masculine responsibility discourse justifies men’s superiority through men’s substantial responsibilities towards their nation and their family. Stressing men’s primary role as the family breadwinners, constructing men as ‘natural leaders,’ and representing anti-FGM/C campaigning as both a male and professional responsibility is strongly aligned with the idealised ‘Somali manhood’ which emphasises responsibility, protection, and care for one’s family and country

‘’My critical analysis of the discourses used by the male anti-FGM activists unveils how women’s subordination is discursively justified, normalised, and (re)produced in many ways, even by people who passionately oppose FGM. This is problematic because FGM happens because of patriarchal structures, beliefs, and values.’’

According to Maria,  FGM should be discussed as a symptom of gender inequality and oppression, not (only) as a contributor to women’s health problems. Working to deconstruct men’s superiority can proceed, for instance, by helping the society to develop critical consciousness of constructions regarding what is ‘natural’ and ‘normal.’

The conversation on challenges took a slight shift when members started unpacking the choice of words used during research presentation or advocacy campaigns. Reacting on Maria message, some members suggested to de-link religion from FGM as no religious texts justify FGM. For example, the discussion focused for a while on the use of the word ‘Sunnah’.

‘’Referring to it as sunnah is legitimizing it as Islamic. We do not have to tick that box. We do not have to link this practice to Islam’’. Maryan Abdikadir.

On the same theme, a member mentioned that there are over 50 countries with Islamic poulation, FGM is practiced in one third of it. He comes from a muslim country where FGM doesn’t exist. He underlined that FGM is a harmful practice and that it is not a religious mandate. Muslims in Somalia practice it, Christians in Kenya practice it as well as the Ethiopian jews.

Julia Lehmann explained that It is a practice rooted in patriarchy and Islam, Christianity and Judaism, as well as the churches and religious institutions that uphold these major religions, are fundamentally patriarchal. Due to that, many people link the practice to these religions. The religions strongly promote many of the same values that are also at the root of FGM, for example the value of female virginity and the idea that the honour of the entire family depends on the sexual behaviour of a young girl.

If we say that ending FGM requires challenging the fundamental gender norms in which it is rooted, then I think this will be challenging to do without also challenging many of the (presumed) core values promoted by the different religions. I think, by simply arguing that FGM is not required or even promoted by religion, we are leaving the elephant in the room.

The members agreed that it is important to discuss gender transformative approaches in relation to FGM needs to include a more profound analysis of the role of religion in the perpetuation of the practice but to avoid some terminologies such as Sunnah in reference to FGM as this has the potential to make the fight against FGM even more complex since it wouldn’t offer a solution to ending FGM.

Many resources were shared by members during this discussion such as this research by Girl Not Brides on engaging religious leaders in ending child marriage, which can also be practical for FGM.

If you want to take advantage of deeper exchanges with the members of the COP, you can register to join.

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