For hundreds of years, the Embera Chami, an indigenous group in Colombia, have preserved a sacred, gendered practice called “the cure,” what it more commonly known across the globe as female genital mutilation (FGM), the partial or total removal of a female’s genitalia. Today, this “purification process” is being challenged by indigenous women in the community.
Midwives, Embera women’s primary assistants during childbirth, are coming together to hold workshops and discussions about the dangers of FGM, how and why women should protect themselves and to demystify what has long been held as a venerated cultural practice.
“We learned that the tradition should generate life and not pain and death,” Alberto Wazorna, an Embera-Chamian who was the former senior advisor to the indigenous people of Risaralda, told El País.
The perception around genital mutilation in this Colombian region changed from reverence to taboo in 2007, when a newborn Embera girl died after the procedure. She was taken to a hospital in Pueblo Rico, where a doctor noticed her clitoris had been removed. After a local official tipped off national media about the girl, Colombia became the first South American country to have a reported case of female circumcision.
The news quickly generated further investigation, which found that other girls, and most women, in Embera Chami had also been mutilated.
Since then, the tradition, which was brought to the tribe 500 years ago by European colonizers, has been resisted in a way that both educates and empowers indigenous women.