In their exceptional and personal documentary Habibata Ouarme and Jim Donovan gives a voice to those women who have been victims of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Koromousso: Big Sister—an immensely powerful film.
Canada-based co-directors Habibata Ouarme and Jim Donovan capture personal stories and profound moments of support in a small community of women from West Africa who are confronting social norms and embracing the inherent power in pleasure and love for their bodies.
For many of us in Western nations, Female Genital Multilation (FGM) would not be something we would be overly aware of. Still, it has long been standard practice for those in communities from Africa, Asia and South America. In Koromousso: Big Sister, we see not only how such practices were made to control women from having free reign over what they can do with their bodies but how nefarious the reason has been for generations in doing so.
What is welcome to see in Koromousso: Big Sister is how these women have taken control of the narrative of their own stories. Yes, they are victims, but they are not looking for pity from us; they are instead looking for us to understand and to be beside them as they fight to ensure that not only help is there for those who have had FGM but that we become an increasingly more connected world that such practices can be abolished from these communities. So that women can be respected for who they are and not endure such pains, so women are not having their sexuality controlled by outer forces.
Habibata Ouarme taking the lead in the documentary was a great decision to have an anchor to these personal stories from a woman who has gone through the trauma of FGM herself, allowing for the film participants to be more open. As a result, they are not being judged, but in some cases, helped in their journey of opening up about the barbaric practice. Without her at the helm, the film would not work as particularly well as it does.
There is a very frank conversation around the middle of the documentary that feels like a slap in the face. When talking about sex and how painful it is because of the surgery, there is a recantation of a conversation with a man about it. He is flippant to the pain that is having sex and is more concerned about how it feels for him. There is no concern for his current or former partners; how pleasure for his partner in those intimate moments is more of her issue than his. Her surgery is standard, and if she has pain just from wiping after going to the toilet, then that is on them. It is perhaps a small moment in the overall piece, but it epitomises the struggle that Ouarme is putting across in her film. If some partners of women who have been victims of the surgery do not care, how much more difficult will it be to change people’s opinions on a broader scale in those communities?
Ouarme and Donovan also provide the unfortunate issue that arises for those that leave their homeland and move abroad. In Ouarme and other Canadian African women’s cases, they would be significantly helped by surgery to help fix or alleviate the pain of what was done to them, as most of those surgeries are as basic and as botched as you can imagine. They may not be able to correct everything, but they will allow women to feel comfort in simple things that are not even sex-related, such as sitting down for a period of time without having to endure swelling. When their agony is broken down in these ways, you can only feel for them. No one should have to cope with that because that’s the norm in their community.
As FGM is not something routinely seen in the country, it is more challenging to get the treatment they need to live the life they deserve. But, like all Western countries, has a way to go to facilitate this, and with hope, documentaries such as Koromousso: Big Sister will cause a big step in the right direction to get that ball rolling for female health.
Ouarme became the dissenting voice to this practice that we needed to hear. She guides us through Safieta’s reconstructive surgery and supports Safieta, who states that because she was cut, she has felt like a veil has been over her her entire life, as if she was half the woman compared to a non-cut woman. Having such surgery to correct (as much as possible) the FGM makes her feel how she should, to feel like a woman. If all this documentary does is highlight to those who have been victims of FGM that there are ways to help them, it has succeeded. But Koromousso: Big Sister will do much more than that. It is absolutely integral that you watch this documentary.
All films at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival are screening at the Barbican, and available from 20-26 March to stream from the festival website. https://ff.hrw.org/london#festival_schedule
Coverage from the Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2023
I Didn’t See You There
Seven Winters in Tehran
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