Commentary By Dr. Nanah Sheriff Fofanah-Sesay
Female genital mutilation (FGM) comprises of all procedures involving partial or total removal of the female external genitalia such as the labia majora, labia minora, clitoris and other injuries to the female genitalia for non-medical reasons as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Proponents of this act often engage in these behaviors to adhere to and preserve an ongoing cultural tradition that failed to take into consideration the dignity, physical trauma, emotional trauma, and human rights of young girls and women.
In a recent article titled SALWACE’s “imitated not mutilated” Campaign, the author/s referred to Bondo (a society for the performance of FGM) as “the recognition of adult women to choose what they want to do with their own bodies.” The author/s further describes the act of FGM as “labiaplasty” and “clitoroplexy” and other forms of “so-called female genital cosmetic surgeries.”
The Patriotic Vangaurd
Statement by Dr. Kizzi Besigye, leader of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) in Uganda on Thursday's polls and results:
We have just witnessed what must be the most fraudulent electoral process in Uganda. We participated in this process to highlight and show the world quite how fraudulent this military regime is. The Electoral Commission is not independent and its technical incompetence and partisanship has been made clear for all to see. The voting material was not delivered in (...)
The Patriotic Vangaurd
By Gibril Koroma
Uganda politician Kizza Besigye (photo-Al jazeera) is a man that has seen it all when it comes to political harassment and persecution.
As recently as Monday February 15 he was arrested TWICE in Kampala, the country's capital, as he tried to move from one location to the other to hold rallies for the general elections scheduled for Thursday February 18. Before Monday, he had been arrested and detained numerous times since 2001. He has been in exile twice.
The Patriotic Vangaurd
by Kurt Muller in Toronto
When I was a small child, sitting in the back seat of my father’s car on a street in Cape Town, South Africa, I said something to my father that helped convince him to leave the country.
I pointed to a mixed-race police officer directing traffic and said, “Look Daddy – a coloured policeman!”
My father realized the apartheid system, with its overt and implicit racism, was already infecting my three-year-old mind.
Despite being too young to tie my own shoelaces, it was already clear to me that some jobs were reserved for whites, and that, as a “coloured” young boy, my future was limited. A non-white police officer? That was a novelty – something at which to marvel.
My family left for Canada soon after that day. We loved South Africa, and we would be leaving behind everything we had ever known for an uncertain future. But my parents felt we had no choice. The injustice that caused us to leave filled my father with rage for the rest of his life. He never set foot in South Africa again.
There is a sinister movement underway across the African continent that bears a striking and tragic similarity to the days in which apartheid ruled South Africa. But this time, authorities are using sexual orientation, not skin colour, as an excuse to segregate, oppress and demonize.
African countries including Uganda, Nigeria, and Gambia have introduced draconian laws criminalizing homosexuality. Punishments include life in prison or even the death penalty. Attacks against homosexuals are rising – and many have been forced to leave, fearing for their safety.
More than a dozen groups supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights wrote a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama last year drawing attention to the rising tide of homophobia.
“Unfortunately, across much of the African continent today, the contributions of LGBT communities are denied or denigrated; their relationships and organizations are criminalized; and hostile political rhetoric seeks to deny their rightful place in African society,” reads the letter from groups including Amnesty International, Advocates for Youth and the Council for Global Equality.
What’s Behind the Laws?
The documentary God Loves Uganda lays a significant portion of responsibility for the political push to deny basic human rights of gays and lesbians at the feet of U.S.-based evangelical groups and American Christian missionaries working in Africa. Filmmaker Roger Ross Williams draws a direct line between their ideology, which denounces homosexuality, and a climate of hate where gays and lesbians become legitimate targets.
The American missionaries and church leaders shown in the film are candid about their desire to export their values and religion to Uganda. One of the youth leaders even likens her message to DNA. In the same way DNA replicates itself, she wants her message to replicate and spread across Uganda and Africa.
In one chilling scene, prominent Ugandan pastor Martin Ssempa, who was trained in the U.S., shows his audience a scene from a gay porn video. This is what homosexuals have in store for Ugandan children, he claims.
One of Ssempa’s critics in the film argues Ssempa’s hateful message is imported directly from American evangelical churches, including leaders such as Scott Lively and Lou Engel, both of whom have been active in Uganda.
While God Loves Uganda has received near-universal praise, it has been criticized by some for being too sweeping in its indictment of western churches. Consider this excerpt from John G Stackhouse Jr.’s review of the film in Christianity Today.
“… Anti-homosexuality is clearly not a distinctive Western value. It is rife in tribal cultures in Africa and already in the outlook of Ugandans when the recent wave of American evangelical extremists arrived. Only such facts can explain the receptivity given to such people as Scott Lively (who apparently spoke for five hours with the Ugandan Parliament),” he writes.
“By comparison, when evangelicals did dominate North American societies in the 19th century, sodomy was illegal, but was not punished by anything approaching life imprisonment, let alone the death penalty. So the tired trope of imperialistic foreigners corrupting the noble savages rears its head again and must once again be dispatched by a little careful thought.”
Stackhouse seems to be saying, yes, evangelicals have a history of promoting an anti-gay agenda, but never to the extremes practiced in Uganda.
With all respect to Stackhouse, this is hypocrisy. Using faith as a vehicle for bigotry, hatred and fear is a perversion of that faith, regardless of whether bigotry existed prior to the church, or the extent to which bigotry takes hold in society. To decry the worst abuses of homophobia, while at the same time insisting that homosexuality is “against God’s will” is disingenuous.
Time to End Homophobia
Until religious leaders tell their flocks there is nothing sinful or unnatural about homosexuality, they are to some extent responsible for a world in which suicide rates among gay and lesbian youth dwarf that of their heterosexual peers, and homosexuals are seen as second-class citizens.
Peddling intolerance disguised as religion is not new to churches in Africa. The Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa has admitted to using the Bible to justify apartheid, and to its responsibility for the injustice and inequality inherent in such a system.
The end of apartheid only came about because of pressure from the rest of the world (with Canada helping to lead the way) and the courage of activists inside South Africa. This pressure included disinvestment, where companies, universities and nations stopped doing business in and with South Africa until its brutal, racist regime was defeated.
It’s time for similar measures to fight the scourge of homophobia in Africa. Democracies, like churches, have a duty to fight inequality in all its forms. To do anything less is un-Christian.
Kurt Muller has spent 20 years working as a print and television reporter in Manitoba and Ontario, and now works as a journalism educator. He graduated with an MA in Journalism from the University of Western Ontario in 1993. He was a reporter with CFTO News in Toronto from 1994 to 1997 and spent seven years as a writer for CTV News.
by Vicky Tobianah
Multiculturalism may be one of the tenets of Canadian national identity, but it may be doing more harm than good, said Irshad Manji, best-selling author of The Trouble with Islam Today, at a sold-out event last week at the Toronto Public Library. “It’s time to declare the policy of multiculturalism as having had its day,” she said. “For the last 40 years, multiculturalism has been a good policy, but we have to transition to an era of global citizenship. We can’t participate openly, fully if you’re afraid of what somebody is going to pounce on you for.” The event, moderated by TVO host Steve Paikin, was titled “Is multiculturalism bad for women?”
Ms. Manji’s suggestion to dismantle the multiculturalism policy made famous during Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s leadership goes against one of the core attributes of what it means to be Canadian, but she said this multiculturalism policy is hurting the most vulnerable of our population – women and children.
Mr. Trudeau’s multiculturalism vision is nothing like we have today, she argued. “Instead, we have group think. We have fear of being non-conforming, fear of being told that what you just said is racist or bigoted.”
Ms. Manji moved to Canada from Uganda when she was four. Now based in New York, she grew up in Canada, and experienced the effects of Canada’s multiculturalism policy first hand. Instead of encouraging people of different races, faiths, and skin colours to get to know one another, she argued that the policy made people afraid to ask questions about others for fear of offending them, and because of that, people see others according to the labels or preconceived notions we have, rather than as individuals.
Former Prime Minister Trudeau announced that multiculturalism and bilingualism would be official Canadian policies in 1971, respecting and recognizing the many customs, religions and languages of diverse Canadians. In 1988, the Multiculturalism Act was passed into law. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms also maintains that the rights should be interpreted in light of multiculturalism – and a respect towards one’s customs. This, Ms. Manji argued, is the real problem.
The problem with multiculturalism
“The vast majority of cultures around the world are patriarchal. Let’s couple that reality with the policy of multiculturalism. The chief aim of the policy of multiculturalism is to preserve cultural traditions from which immigrants came,” she said. “(Because of this), the ideal of gender equality bumps up against the ideal of multiculturalism.” In this sense, multiculturalism policy encourages respect for some patriarchal traditions. “Cultural sensitivity, if taken to thoughtless extremes, winds up being the opposite of cultural sensitivity, which is tolerance for abuse of power,” said Ms. Manji.
Instead of seeing one another as unique individuals with unique stories to share, the multiculturalism attitude has encouraged Canadians to pigeonhole people of other faiths and backgrounds, make judgments based on labels, and has made people fearful of asking real questions about other religions and customs for fear of offending someone. “What we don’t get are vibrant conversations,” she said. “Why is comfort the standard for what we say or don’t say?”
Transition to global citizenship
Instead of existing under a multiculturalism policy, Ms. Manji argued that it’s time to transition to global citizenship. This transition would focus on diversity – of thought, of different points of view, and appreciating others’ beliefs.
Ms. Manji is not the first to criticize the effects of multiculturalism policy. In Culture and Equality: An Egalitarian Critique of Multiculturalism, author Brian Barry similarly argues that multiculturalism actually distances different cultures, rather than bring them closer together.
Ms. Manji also pointed out that the problem with multiculturalism is not unique to just Canada, but is a similar problem occurring in many Western countries, which is evidenced by the writings of BBC broadcaster Kenan Malik, who also critiques the failures of multiculturalism, in an essay called Multiculturalism and its Discontents. “Today multiculturalism is seen by growing numbers of people not as the solution to, but as the cause of Europe’s myriad social ills,” said Mr. Malik. “I am hostile to multiculturalism not because I fear immigration, despise Muslims or want to reduce diversity but, on the contrary because I favour immigration, oppose the growing hatred of Muslims, and welcome diversity.”
A new beginning
Over 20 per cent of Canada’s population is born abroad – the highest proportion of foreign-born citizens out of all the G8 countries - and this number is expected to increase. That’s why Canadians have an opportunity to start getting to know the many people that make up Canada, argued Ms. Manji. “Instead of waiting for other people to learn something new about you, be up front,” she said.
“Because they see my gender, or see my skin colour, that’s where they pigeonhole me, and guess what? I’m about so much more than that.”
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit