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In Tanzania, film is a powerful tool to end FGM

Canada in Tanzania
Gender equality
August 2018

12-year-old Rosie Makore and 13-year-old Neema Chacha at the Zanzibar International Film Festival. [Photo: Samson Kapinga]

“We need to stress that FGM is not a requirement by any religion… It is child abuse, and we all have a part to play to end it.” – Giselle Portenier, film director

What is FGM?

Confronting the prospect of a rusted blade and a crude surgery, many young girls in northern Tanzania are faced with a terrible choice: to stay, or to run.

Female Genital Mutilation, or FGM, alters or injures the female genitalia for non-medical reasons. In some parts of the world, it is traditionally believed to double a girl’s value for marriage, but the United Nations warns the human rights violation can lead to extreme bleeding, infertility, increased risk of complications during childbirth, and even death. Around the world, there are over 200 million survivors of FGM and more than 3 million girls at risk for FGM every year.

To protect young girls from the fate of being “cut” or fleeing home, activists and filmmakers in Tanzania and Canada are taking action. Through powerful first-person narratives, the film In the Name of Your Daughter tells the stories of girls forced to run away from home to escape FGM and the human rights advocate sheltering them in her safe house.

Alongside the filmmakers, local activists, and FGM survivors, the High Commission of Canada in Tanzania helped bring this compelling film to thousands of people, changing perceptions and lives across Tanzania.

Sharing their stories

Children in Zanzibar wait for a screening of the film to begin. [Photo: Samson Kapinga]Children in Zanzibar wait for a screening of the film to begin. [Photo: Samson Kapinga]

The High Commission flew the film’s Canadian director, Giselle Portenier, to Tanzania and ensured many of the documentary’s main subjects were able to attend the screenings.

From small, rural screenings across Tanzania to an attention-grabbing presence at the Zanzibar International Film Festival, girls who fled FGM and the adults who protected them had the chance to share their own stories.

“Because the audiences engaged hugely with the film, and the protagonists were there, the screenings ended up being a real and live celebration of the courageous girls and women who are fighting to end FGM in their community,” Portenier said.

The message clearly struck a chord with many – at the Zanzibar International Film Festival, the audiences lining up for In the Name of Your Daughter shattered the festival’s previous attendance records.

Real-life impact

For the girls who ran away from home to avoid being “cut”, a safe house provided them with shelter and security in case they were followed by their parents.

Rhobi Samwelly, who runs the safe house featured in the film, said the screenings “showed the reality of the difficult situation that is faced by girls in our community.”

“The film should be shown in every village in Tanzania where FGM is still prevalent,” she said.

“It is encouraging other organizations to join hands in the fight against this terribly harmful practice. ”

Given the chance to hear from the film’s protagonists, audience members asked the girls what they would do “if they were president.”

“I would educate the communities about the harmful effects of FGM, arrest and punish those who continue with the practice, and make sure that any politician who speaks out against FGM in public but supports it in private gets booted out,” said Rosie, age 12.

Ending FGM by 2030

Director Giselle Portenier addresses a crowd at a film screening. [Photo: Samson Kapinga]Director Giselle Portenier addresses a crowd at a film screening. [Photo: Samson Kapinga]

Canada’s outreach did not stop with film screenings—the High Commission wants education about the dangers of FGM to be accessible to as many people as possible.

Director Giselle Portenier joined the film’s protagonists, Rhobi, Rosie and Neema, for a radio interview with BBC Media Action. They shared their insights on FGM practices and how it affects girls and women both physically and psychologically. Four million people across Tanzania tuned in.

After screening the film in major centres like Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam, In the Name of Your Daughter is now touring some of the regions where FGM is most common.

In the Name of Your Daughter was shown in regions where FGM is most prevalent.In some northern regions, up to 70% of girls and women experience FGM, much higher than the 15% national average.

Across Tanzania, about 15% of women and girls have undergone FGM. But in the north of the country, FGM is a reality for up to 70% of girls.

“We need to stress that FGM is not a requirement by any religion, but is a harmful cultural practice engaged in by members of several religions including Christianity and Islam. It is child abuse, and we all have a part to play to end it,” Portenier said.

By supporting activists like Portenier, Samwelly and Rosie, Canada is working to achieve UNICEF and UNFPA’s vision to end FGM by 2030.

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