Traditional and religious rites of passage are so deeply ingrained in some cultures. Sometimes it’s very hard for us to comprehend as an outsider. In the eye-opening and powerful documentary, In The Name Of Your Daughter, we are struggling to understand the reasons behind age-old ceremonies of female genital mutilation. However, this remarkable documentary is truly an inspiring one with some of the bravest girls in the world. BTW, there is a one-time screening here in Toronto on Thursday, June 13 at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema.

FGM happens in many countries. Some believe that that by cutting the girls clitoris’ would keep them from having multiple partners – that pain will not allow them to naturally enjoy sex – ever. In places like Tanzania, it means the cut girls would be valued higher for potential suitors. Upwards of 10 to 12 cattle is a high trade for a young female who’s gone through the cutting ceremony — you’ll get 6 if you’re lucky as a family of a girl who’s intact. But it’s not just the men who think this way. It’s also the grandmothers, mothers, and aunties. And the age is getting younger and younger…as young as day old babies.

What’s even more shocking is what we’ve learned right on home soil. According to the press info provided, we’ve been told there’s been a law against FGM in Canada since 1997, but there hasn’t been a single prosecution. Unlike other Western countries, in Canada there are no protocols to save girls from FGM; no training for teachers, no systems in place to spot girls – and save girls – who are in danger. For survivors who came here already cut – and that includes young women who arrived here as small children – there is virtually no specialized help. No specific counselling, no specially trained doctors, nurses or midwives.

The documentary was made by Vancouver-based filmmaker/journalist Giselle Portenier, a two-time Peabody Award winner and former producer for BBC in London.

“I made In The Name Of Your Daughter because I wanted to give a voice to the girls, children whose voices have not been heard in literally thousands of years,” said Portenier. “Children who are quite clear that this is not about culture-it’s about human rights. Our film is heart-breaking—but also heart-warming, and inspiring; to see girls as young as eight risk their life and family to avoid FGM and child marriage, is truly a miracle.”

We had a chance to interview her recently…

There are customs and traditions carried through by many cultures, and many will bring up circumcision. What can you tell us? 

GP: Female Genital Mutilation is not seen as ‘culture’ by human rights activists—it’s seen as a human rights abuse, child abuse, plain and simple. The girls are mutilated without informed consent, the harmful effects are lifelong and include difficulty urinating, menstruating, and painful sexual intercourse. Girls also die during the process itself sometimes If they did to boys what they do to girls they would be cutting off the head of a boy’s penis.

The focus in this film is on Tanzania where FGM is illegal yet still happening, does that surprise you?

GP: FGM is illegal in Tanzania and many other countries where it happens—but it has been going on for literally thousands of years and without enforcement of the legislation, it is difficult to stop it. In the same way that drunk driving is illegal here—FGM is illegal there, with spotty enforcement of the law. So it’s not surprising that it continues. A huge concerted multi-pronged strategy needs to be deployed to end female genital mutilation worldwide. And FGM is now a global issue, yes, a global issue—its happening from Peru to Malaysia, from Iran to Kenya, from Egypt to Russia. And it’s happening in Canada too.

But you also show us hope. Young girls are being educated and in turn, they are educating others — including their elders, what was it like for you to witness this?

GP: Seeing the courage of young girls, girls as young as eight, standing up for their fundamental human rights is incredibly moving and inspiring. The girls in our film don’t just stand up for their rights-eventually they start educating others, and that’s where the hope is. These girls are not just the leaders of tomorrow—they are the leaders of today. Our film really speaks to teenagers–  in Denmark and Vancouver children as young as 12 called the film ‘life-changing.’

The woman featured in the film that works with the Safe House what can you tell us about her? She’s had to stand up to village leaders and parents which is remarkable.

GP: Rhobi Samwelly who runs the Safe House is one of the most charismatic and passionate human rights activists I’ve met in a 30-year career. She herself underwent FGM at the age of 13 and nearly died. So she comes by her passion to save other girls honestly. I spent to months at the Safe House, watching her dedication, her commitment to her young charges, and I can only say that her work is incredible.

FGM just doesn’t happen in faraway lands, we understand that the tradition has followed some who have immigrated to other countries including Canada and US. What should we know?

GP: We need to understand that FGM is a global issue. In the last few years, we’ve learned that forms of FGM are happening in dozens of countries, not just Africa. Singapore, Peru, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, India, Pakistan—and the West too. FGM was practiced among some fundamentalist Christian communities-indeed, it’s possible this continues today.
And for sure, FGM is an issue among immigrant from practicing countries. In Canada, we have upwards of 100,000 survivors and girls at risk, and yet there are few support systems for survivors, and no protocols in place to save girls from what’s called ‘vacation cutting.’

Shocking, really. How long did it take you to film this documentary and what challenges did you face?

GP: This film is both the most important and the most difficult of my career. The most important because it aims to change the conversation around female genital mutilation to be about human rights. I want to help this issue—the worst systematic human rights abuse committed against girls in the world today-be recognized as a global issue that needs to be prioritized world-wide.

And it’s the most difficult because no Canadian broadcaster wanted-and that continues-to screen the documentary. That meant launching an Indiegogo fundraising campaign to raise the money for the filming. Afterwards European broadcasters including BBC came on board and, indeed, the film has shown around Europe both on TV and in Festivals. But we still don’t have any broadcaster in North America that has undertaken to screen In The Name Of Your Daughter.

Altogether, it took three years from the initial idea to getting it to the World Premiere in Copenhagen last year.

If you ever come across the opportunity to see this important documentary, please do! Here’s the official trailer:

Want to learn more and find out what you can do? Link here.