This is our truth, tell us yours
You cannot spend anytime in the trenches of the battle for sex workers rights without quickly realizing that those who would save us cause immense damage. From Kristoff to Bindel or Murphy the world is full of people making a good living, non consensually, off the labour of sex workers, labour they refuse to even recognize. Their voices are more powerful than ours, they get invited to speak despite having nothing but a prurient interest in the sexual activity of strangers and a belief that they should control said activity.
Given this background my spidey sense starts to tingle when people unrelated to an issue start putting themselves front and center of any campaign, and alarms of all kinds are currently going off at the fact female genital mutilation seems to be the new cause celeb of those wanting to do good. Cameron has apparently declared it must be eradicated in a generation, and sees arresting parents and profiling those at risk as the way to achieve this.
A white middle class man believing incarceration and racial profiling are useful tools is of course not a surprise, but there are other issues with this rescue the poor brown children narrative. There are many women of colour fighting against FGM, some of whom are survivors of it themselves. They understand the complexity of the issues, and can speak with the voice of experience. When however Cameron, and others, take center stage then there is a huge risk of this becoming an us versus them narrative, the civilized west versus the primitive and superstitious savage.
The new law on the arrest of parents seems to highlight this most clearly. The demonization of parents who are not white happens in a number of contexts. We had it in Cambodia with Somaly Mam and her lies. The idea that parents allow FGM because they are unloving or evil is not only unhelpful and racist, but will most likely lead to girls hiding what has happened to them and medical advice not being sort when it is needed. Cultural traditions are not just something to give window dressing at the opening ceremony of sports events, understanding them is vital to avoid measures which harm.
Yesterday for a short while the news services ran a story that ISIS had announced that all women and girls in Mosul had to undergo FGM. It turned out to be false. However if we continue down the current path of making this about white people telling people of colour what to do this runs the risk of becoming an issue those opposed to the west will use. This is not helped by the usual mainstream feminists deciding it is their latest way to attack trans women, defending the “lady parts” of real women, yet another example of the bodies of women of colour being the battle ground of white feminism.
Female genital mutilation as far as I can see is wrong, it causes pain, trauma and often lifelong medical conditions. However the people who need to be listened to here are not white and western, they are the women in the communities in which it occurs. I fear that just as with sex work their voices will be lost, downed out by those who have deemed themselves saviors.