Female circumcision – also called genital mutilation by the World Health Organization – was brought to the attention of the world’s media largely thanks to Waris Dirie, a Somali-Austrian model and human rights activist. Her book “Desert Flower,” and the film of the same name, have reached millions and empowered small organizations worldwide to work toward ending this custom. Female circumcision is banned by the United Nations, but it is estimated that about 140 million women and girls have experienced the practice, which may cause life-long suffering, deep feelings of inferiority and pain, and even death.
In September 2013 the Desert Flower Medical Center was opened in Berlin. It is the first medical center in the world to offer treatment and care for victims of female circumcision. It’s significant that a desert flower is able to survive even in the most difficult surroundings and the roughest climate.
At the core of Ms. Dirie’s work is not only the implementation of physical support for victims, but also a long-term reform of thought – recognizing that genital mutilation is a cultural practice not supported by any religious text – which is helping religious communities worldwide to take a clear stand against the practice.
In praying for ways to support this important and worthwhile endeavor I came across a statement from Hadja Kaba, a colleague of Ms. Dirie. She explains why this practice is so deeply rooted in certain societies, and why women rarely fight it: the belief that “man is of God, but woman must be purified. Woman must learn to endure pain. Pain is part of woman’s culture. That is the reason why nobody speaks about the catastrophe of mutilation” (Armin Lehmann, “Cuts in body and soul,” Der Tagesspiegel, Sept. 7, 2013).
Here is a chance for Christian thought to support the healing of all humanity through merciful, active prayer. As I prayed, I started to wonder: What if we all cherished more deeply than ever before that both men and women are of God? What if we were all more alert to small, erroneous suggestions that there is a difference in value between the sexes? What if we all exchanged the notion of a human hierarchy for a more egalitarian view of the children of God – a view in which no considerations of gender, race, age, or religious background enter into the dimensions of Life?
Not everyone can open a center to help victims; not everyone will encounter a victim of female circumcision and hear her story personally. Yet everyone can join the ranks of those who work for a better world! We can start today on a journey to move away from a material framework of thinking and living, toward a spiritual definition of God and His/Her creation, where the dignity and safety of each idea originate. All human rights activists agree that we shouldn’t wait for good things to happen; we should work to make them happen. Can we, then, become mental activists? We can, knowing that the equality of man and woman is a spiritual fact; knowing that there is a God, Spirit, in whom all being originates.
The Bible has these reassuring words for us, written hundreds of years before the advent of Jesus Christ: “Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee.... Fear not: for I am with thee: I will bring thy seed from the east, and gather thee from the west; I will say to the north, Give up; and to the south, Keep not back: bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 43: 4-6).
This newspaper’s founder, Mary Baker Eddy, devoted her life to proclaiming the spiritual heritage of men and women. She wrote: “Truth, defiant of error or matter, is Science, dispelling a false sense and leading man into the true sense of selfhood and Godhood; wherein the mortal does not develop the immortal, nor the material the spiritual, but wherein true manhood and womanhood go forth in the radiance of eternal being and its perfections, unchanged and unchangeable” (“Unity of Good,” pp. 42-43). What a strong basis for our prayers!