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The Four College Rose Against Female Genital Mutilation Colloquium

Written by Saarrah Ray, DPhil Law, Christ Church, posted on Tuesday, May 24, 2022

The Four College RoseOn Friday 20th May 2022, feminist activists, scholars and students gathered together in Christ Church to raise awareness about female genital mutilation (FGM) and demonstrated collegial solidarity against this harmful practice in the form of creating art which became The Four College Rose.  The four colleges in this title refers to Christ Church, University College, Oriel College and Corpus Christi College. I am very grateful and thankful to the Four College Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Fund for sponsoring the curation of this ​​colloquium.

Students were invited to draw roses with an array of art materials. The rose is an important symbol in the campaign to end FGM. The rose is universally recognised as a representation of female genitalia. Throughout western literary history the rose evoked an organ that was fragile, dangerous, incredibly alluring yet disgusting and damned to be shamed. However, the rose has been reclaimed by artists and activists against FGM.

Now, the rose is powerful, worthy of respect and precious without modification. Whilst students created their beautiful roses, they were also learning from the guest speakers who shared their insightful knowledge about FGM through feminism, art, fiction, medicine, sociology, politics and law.

The colloquium opened with my introduction on what FGM is, why FGM is performed and FGM as a criminal offence in the jurisdiction of England and Wales. Dominica Debczak-Debski, Head of Development and Programming of the anti-FGM charity The Vavengers, discussed what The Vavengers do and how they empower FGM survivors through their services.

Nurse, educator and FGM survivor, Hoda Ali, shared her experience of the cruel cut. She also delivered a presentation about her ground-breaking project on teaching children and their parents in London schools about the implications of FGM.

Professor Tobe Levin, associate of the Hutchins Centre for African and African American Research at Harvard University, gave a captivating presentation on fiction, art and advertising to end FGM which focused on the cultural representations and mythologies of “the rose”.

Professor Hilary Burrage, adjunct Professor at Northwestern University, conceptualised FGM going beyond a form of violence against women and girls but rather as a form of ‘patriarchy incarnate’; a term she has coined in her article (she prepared for this colloquium) The Hierarchy of Harms and Patriarchy Incarnate.

Janet Fyle MBE, midwife and professional policy advisor to the Royal College of Midwives explained how and why midwives ought to be acknowledged as integral activists for obstetric care of FGM survivors.

Finally, gender specialist Hauwa Suleiman, from the anti-FGM charity Oxford Against Cutting, provided an analysis of the experiences of FGM survivors in diaspora through an intersectional feminist lens.

I am sure that I speak on behalf of the students too when I say that we were privileged to have received an interdisciplinary education about FGM from the guest speakers. The guest speakers were impressed by the curiosity and ferocity of the students who engaged in the colloquium.

As a treat, Professor Levin and Professor Burrage entered their authored books into a raffle for students to win. Angali Rawat (Exeter College) won Female Mutilation: The truth behind the horrifying global practice of female genital mutilation, by Hilary Burrage, Emma Myers (Sommerville College) won Rose Lore: Essays in cultural history and semiotics, in which a chapter is written by Tobe Levin and Rachel Ojo (University College) won Eradicating Female Genital Mutilation: A UK perspective by Hilary Burrage. 

The Four College Rose intends to be displayed in Christ Church on every 6th of February which is a really significant day. It is the International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM. This is a wonderful opportunity, I hope, to start a new tradition at Christ Church one that demonstrates unwavering support for women’s rights.