Intergenerational aspects

FGM: the taboo of exile


The situation of migrant women who have fled their country to protect their daughters from excision is special because they find themselves in a new culture, where excision is condemned. They want to protect their own daughters but introduce them to  their cultural heritage, with the values that  are dominant in their countries. This is according to the psychologists who wrote the guide for psychologists “Femmes, excision, exil” (Women, Excision, Exile, GAMS Belgium, 2015). The  work on the sense of belonging  to a  certain group is an important part of therapeutic work with migrant women who have undergone FGM (same as those who have escaped a forced marriage in their country of origin).

“As part of individual support, you [therapists] can help the person reconnect with the positive that was transmitted to them by their parents. It is important to become aware of the values and rituals of your family and from there, to be able to choose in full awareness what to keep and what to give up on. This constitutes the very basis of the preventive work of FGM. Work around the family tree can help in this research. It can also awaken empathy for family members who are certainly responsible for the violence suffered, but also victims for many generations.”
GAMS Be, 2015, p.107

In addition, women who fled their country because of FGM (or forced marriage) often find themselves becoming “pioneers within their families”:

“Thus, they sow the seeds of revolve, an uprising movement which future generations will inherit. Protecting a little girl from excision is to take her out of the lineage of traditional roles expected by a community and from an unequal system. They stand at a crossroads where women are shifting the condition around FGM ”
GAMS Belgium, 2015, p.31

An anonymous author also shared her understanding of FGM as an intergenerational trauma on the blog of the NGO Sahyio, an organization working with Asian diaspora communities affected by FGM. She explains how difficult it was for her, as a woman from a community practicing FGM and not having undergone this practice herself, to discuss the issue with her mother:

“The irony is that [FGM is] a common practice passed down from generation to generation, but it’s a well-kept secret. Nobody talks about it unless it’s your turn to undergo it. … ) I don’t know why I waited until the end of the year to ask my mother why FGM / C is so prevalent in our community, but I was perhaps petrified by her reaction. The type of FGM procedure my mother underwent is common among Somali women. Known as infibulation, this is usually the worst form of FGM. My mother was very forthright in her experience and revealed in a very vivid way the trauma and the pain she suffered. “

The author then explained why she believes her grandmother forced her daughter to undergo FGM when she herself had suffered:

“If I had to describe my grandmother, the first thing that would come to mind would be her independence. She is fierce, loving, generous and boisterous. She would never hesitate to voice her opinion. It is shocking that my grandmother -mother defended the practice of FGM because it did not match her personality. This is where intergenerational trauma comes into play. You go through a traumatic experience, and one of the ways to deal with that specific experience is to normalize it. If you are not provided with the proper mechanisms to deal with the trauma, it will often come at the expense of those close to you.’’

According to a CoP member, psychotherapist in the Unit for the Care of Women wth FGM at Bicêtre Hospital (Paris, France), some people mistakenly think that excision is a suffering primarily for women born in France, in a “French culture,” but not for women born in the country of origin. For migrant patients, the rule of silence is reinforced by the “shame” of having been subjected to this custom, which is unknown to “French women”. Some of Sokhna Fall’s patients do not even know if they have undergone FGM.

Fall observes that the silence surrounding FGM not only increases the risk that the mutilation will be accompanied by significant psycho-trauma for the patients, but can also harm family relationships and the sense of identity and belonging of young survivors. This is why she encourages patients to talk about FGM with their mothers.

“While some are able to open up the discussion, none of them have dared to propose that their mothers accompany them to the hospital. Actions that allow generations to speak out seem to me to be more than beneficial, both for the transmission of another dimension of culture than that of FGM and for remedying the post-traumatic consequences of FGM.”

Moreover, in exile, a lot of violence can be perpetrated, and it is difficult for parents to live with these traumas while trying to give their children a peaceful living environment. Children may not understand why they left their homeland, their friends, they may feel betrayed and yet this act was done to protect them. Therefore, the dialogue between members of the same family is essential. Psychologists are there to facilitate this the start of the communication and allow everyone to express themselves about what they are feeling while respecting the sensitivity of children. Intergenerational dialogue ultimately represents a means of unveiling the truth of a lived experience, of choices, of wounds which makes it possible to forgive for some or to better understand those close to them.

  • What are the preferred strategies for establishing a respectful and constructive dialogue between the generations?
  • What are / have been the intergenerational dialogue initiatives within your community?
  • How to ensure that this approach will lead to a decrease in FGM prevalence?
  • What support can we bring to people who agree to tell their stories and denounce FGM?
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