|Collé confronts the exciseuses in Moolaadé by Ousmane Sembene
Since the emergence of an international campaign to confront the practice of female genital cutting, African policymakers, feminist groups, grassroots organizations, and cultural producers have developed initiatives to raise consciousness about its harmful effects, especially as it relates to the health and bodily integrity of the woman and girlchild. On 6 February 2003, during a conference organized by the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (IAC), First Lady Stella Obasanjo of Nigeria made an official declaration on "Zero Tolerance to FGM." Soon afterwards, the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation was adopted by the UN Sub-Commission on Human Rights and thus, the UN-sponsored awareness day of 6 February.
African film professionals have been visible in this effort, both filmmakers and actresses, women and men. Perhaps the most recent film, Moolaadé (2004) by the pioneer of African cinema, the late Ousmane Sembene from Senegal, is emblematic in many ways. One of the most important voices of African cinema used what would be his last film as a cri de coeur. He states: It is not about whether one is for or against the eradication of excision. It is that women in the village do refuse. And this refusal is an act of courage. To stand against a group is sheer madness. But to mobilize the others, that is courage. Daily struggles, one step, then another, then another. This is what brings about the evolution of attitudes. (Référence Sembène (2002) by Yacouba Traoré)
Moolaadé is significant as well for its inclusion of two women who in their private lives advocate for the eradication of the practice. Fatoumata Coulibaly, the embodiment of courage and rebellion in the role of Collé, the heroine, and Naky Sy Savane, as Sanata, the griot. In the 1998 film, La Jumelle by Lanciné Diaby, Naky interprets the role of Awa, a mother who takes her daughter's life rather than have her submit to excision. Her perspectives on female excision add an important viewpoint to the discourse on African women's participation as cultural producers in the eradication of a practice they view as harmful to women and girls. She had this to say about her role in the film: Believe me it was a great pleasure for me to play such a role because there are certain things that we cannot say in Africa. For instance, the fight against excision, we cannot talk about it, we must each fight in our own way, and as best we can. For many years, I have been fighting against this practice for my daughter, because she risks being excised... We did not know where to go. (In Sisters of the Screen by Beti Ellerson). Aware that the practice continues in France among the immigrant population, as director of Groupe femmes pour l'abolition des mutilations sexuelles of Marseille, Naky continues the fight that she led in her country, Côte d'Ivoire. At the intersection of advocacy, activism and cultural production, she wrote a play about "all the types of violence endured by all women": "Femmes déchirées" (Women Torn Apart)1, reflecting on the piece in this way: "traditionally, excision and forced marriage often go hand in hand and since they are cultural issues, one must use cultural tools to deal with them." (Violences coutumières: Une blessure qui ne va jamais guérir)2.
For Fatoumata Coulibaly, who interprets the role of Collé, the formidable heroine of Moolaadé, the film is a reflection of her own life. Having been excised herself, since 1994 she has been actively involved in a woman's association that fights against excision. Similar to the theme of the film, she attempts to raise the consciousness of village dwellers--the village chiefs and excisers alike. As a young radio announcer in the early 1980's she was one of the first women to talk about the harmful effects of excision on the air. After her debut role in Guimba (1994) by Cheick Oumar Sissoko, Fatoumata has hosted the television show "Bee Kunko Do" (This Concerns Everyone). One theme of the week: Excision. The subject always comes back. One day, after meeting Kadidia Sidibé, président of AMSOPT (Association Malienne pour le suivi et pratiques traditionnelle/The Malian Association for the Monitoring of Traditional Customs), Fatoumata began her fight for the excised mothers who die in childbirth and the excised girls who die from hemorrhaging. At present, she has taken on other causes as well, her computer is her weapon. (See: Une star contre l'excision)3.
Chadian filmmaker Zara Mahamat Yacoub, who currently works in radio communication, has used her camera to raise the consciousness of her viewers and to advocate against the practice. After the release of Dilemme au féminin in 1994, she paid a heavy price for her self-defined role as communicator, whose duty is "to inform people and to make them aware of the problems that need attention." Condemned by the Imam's Council on Islamic Affairs, a fatwa was issued against her. While her objective was to present a balanced view of the pros and cons of the practice, it was not excision itself that came under the wrath of the Muslim authorities, but rather that, in presenting the actual procedure, the nude body of a Muslim girl was shown publicly. Though she proceeds with caution, Zara continues as activist, campaigning to raise consciousness about the psychological and physical consequences of female genital cutting.
Whether behind the camera or in front of it, African women understand the importance of culture, of cinema, as a tool, a weapon to combat against customs and practices that have a negative impact on women and all members of society.
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1. http://femmes-dechirees.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=10&Itemid=3 [NO LONGER AVAILABLE]