Theater of Cruelty

Feminism in Practice

Norwegian feminists prevent circumcision in Oslo.


[9. March 2007] As usual, Women's Day has been used for party speeches about everything we want to happen, and as an opportunity to put forward political measures on how to do it. On March 8, Development Minister Erik Solheim and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs presented a new action plan for women and gender equality in developing countries. It proposes that "Norway should say from where others are silent". The action plan goes further than Norway has done in the past, and states that Norwegian aid policy will be more about so-called controversial issues such as abortion and gay rights.

In the introduction to the report, Solheim writes that "Norwegian policy to integrate women's rights and gender equality into development cooperation has been characterized by a lot of good will, but the efforts have not been systematic enough." He is right in that. The road to hell is, as is well known, paved with good intentions. The Minister is also right when he sees that money must be tied to the requirements. We meet the good intentions and promise to follow them closely to see if they are followed up in practice. Norway's exercise of its role in the world is a key instrument for spreading equality as ideals and practices.

The same is the role of the world in Norway, concretized by the role of minorities in Norway. Norwegian feminists have, on the occasion of the Women's Day, been subjected to criticism for being introverted and navel-gazing, for being too concerned about their own abdomen and to look no further than their own nose tip. We believe it is sensible and justified to be concerned with one's own body when the assault rapes hit girls across the country and one in five women is subjected to violence. But we also believe that the same critics should see the important work being done among Norwegian feminists on the issues they should probably rather be concerned about.

A good place to start looking is at the Somali Women's Association. They have joined the Islamic Council of Norway, the Imams are to mission against circumcision of women. For a number of years, these women have worked through dialogue and public education to explain that circumcision has nothing to do with religion. The head of the Islamic Council says on the contrary, it is a pity to injure oneself or the body of others.

The Women's Association's talks with minority women have, in collaboration with the Primary Medical Workshop, saved many children from circumcision over the years, and many mothers who have changed their minds are now voluntary interlocutors for others. Dialogue takes time and is not as easy to sell as a "brave settlement with Islam". But it works better when Islam is not necessarily the problem.

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