Dr. Ellen Gruenbaum and F.A. Cole at the University of Michigan, “FGM Beyond Borders”

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Event Description:


FGM Beyond Borders was a discussion focused on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM): what it is, why and where it is practiced, its consequences, and the future around the practice. The event featured guest speakers F.A. Cole and Dr. Ellen Gruenbaum and was moderated by Critical Thinking Fellowship Fellow Halimat Olaniyan at the University of Michigan.

F.A. Cole is an award winning humanitarian, author, speaker and anti-FGM activist. By the age of eleven, F.A. Cole had survived sexual molestation, rape, and FGM. Her book, Distant Sunrise – The Strength in Her Pain to Forgive, speaks to her personal experience and the experience of other women who have undergone FGM and other human rights violations – such as rape and abuse – and survived.

Dr. Ellen Gruenbaum is a professor and inaugural head of the Department of Anthropology at Purdue University.  Dr. Gruenbaum is a culturally-oriented medical anthropologist with primary areas of expertise in women’s health issues, gender, religious practices, and development in Africa and the Middle East. She uses a feminist anthropological framework to conduct research on FGM practices to promote change towards ending the practice. Her work is mainly in Sudan and Sierra Leone.


F.A. Cole began by explaining how the practice of FGM is not biased: “I was raised Catholic… [FGM] is not a Muslim thing. FGM does not recognize your religion. It does not recognize age. It does not recognize socio-economic backgrounds.”


F.A. Cole then described the circumstances in which she and her sister had undergone FGM, how traumatic the experience was and still is for her, and what she’s doing now to help others. Dr. Gruenbaum introduced herself focusing on the work she does in Sudan and what she has learned about the slow process of getting communities to change their practices. She emphasized how change comes from leaders in the community and how it can start with just one person.

After their talks, the audience watched a clip from the Documentary The Cruel Cut about engaging young men to end the practice of FGM in their communities. The event ended with F.A. Cole and Dr. Gruenbaum answering questions on how FGM is related to culture/religion, how it is not similar to male circumcision, and why it is a violation of human rights. The overall message was that FGM, especially as practiced on little girls who cannot consent, needs to end.