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The nightmare of female circumcision

05 August 2014 / 14:08:56  GRReporter
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Anastasia Balezdrova

Two weeks ago, the Administrative Court of Appeal in Athens blocked the extradition of a woman from Kenya because of the risk of her undergoing female circumcision upon returning to her home country. This legal precedent was adopted with positive comments on the part of Greek and European society, provoking a lot of discussions about the cruel tradition that cripples millions of women each year.

The court’s decision coincided with the announcement of a part of the programme of the 20th jubilee edition of the "Premiere Nights" International Film Festival in Athens in September, which will present two documentaries by Greek artists dedicated to female circumcision.  

One of the films is "Excision" by young director Vicki Vellopoulou who presents in it the cruel ritual, its heavy consequences on the bodies and souls of the girls and women, and its deep roots in the culture of Kenyans.

The film was shot during the winter of 2013 and is a production of Indigo View Productions film production company and the ActionAid Hellas humanitarian organisation. Director Vicki Vellopoulou talks to Anastasia Balezdrova.

How was the idea for this documentary born? What drew your interest?

The idea came from a group of volunteers from the ActionAid humanitarian organisation who had previously visited Kenya and, through establishing contact with the local community, they had found out the existence of the custom of female circumcision among some tribes. They were visibly shocked when they returned to Greece and we began our first conversations with ActionAid on what we could do. I remember I reacted immediately when I heard about it for the first time and told my producer Dimitris Xenakis, "We are leaving right away". Of course this was not possible. We needed good preparation at all levels, we had to research the matter and read about it...

The first question that automatically pops up in our minds when we learn about this custom is, "But why?" And immediately afterwards, "What consequences will this choice have on their lives?"

How did you contact the tribes that apply female circumcision? How difficult or easy was it to make the girls and women talk to you about it?

A method of contact? We found ourselves among the Pokot tribe. It is one of the "wildest" tribes due to its geographical isolation from the rest. It has nothing in common with the Maasai and Kikuyu tribes that have contact with tourism and increasing access to education... However, the members of the Pokot tribe are very direct and frank in terms of contact, without even a trace of pretence. Precisely because they live in isolation on a plateau and the majority of them have no electricity they have no access to media, television, etc., they have no sense of the picture in all its forms (their image, the public presentation of a photo, the dissemination of their words, appearance, etc.). Therefore, all the codes of filming acted quite differently, I would say they were not "burdensome". We turned on the cameras to record and they immediately ignored their presence in the room. It was all the same for them whether there was a camera or table in front of them. They talked to us as they would talk to each other or to a lady-friend. And even when they saw a picture of them on the camera screen, they could not imagine what would happen, namely, how far it would go, who and how many people would see it, etc.  

The girls talked about circumcision with the same comfort and pride with which a girl from the West talks about her wedding and the christening of her children. For them, circumcision is a sign of great pride they themselves require it from their fathers. Of course, there are exceptions and these are mostly girls who attend school and choose not to undergo circumcision.

As a woman, how did you feel when they described the procedure and especially when you filmed it?

It happened gradually because I had conducted a piece of research in Athens, long before leaving for Kenya. I remember that every additional piece of information shocked me even more, for example, 140 million women worldwide have been circumcised, and 6,000 undergo amputation every day.

When we saw how exactly the procedure is done we all got sick, both men and women. I cannot put it into words, because it shook all levels of my existence, my mind, emotions, consciousness and body (nausea, vomiting, tension in every muscle...). It took me a long time to recover. At this point, you just clench your teeth because you cannot interrupt the procedure nor can you leave. Then you simply let your whole body collapse.

How do women in Africa perceive this cruel tradition?

They are very proud of it. Circumcision is an ordeal that they must overcome in order for society to accept them as grown-up and responsible women. They must experience this pain to be accepted by society and be considered strong enough by its members.

What are the consequences of circumcision on their lives?

Tags: SocietyFemale circumcisionKenyaDocumentaryExcisionVicki Vellopoulou
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