Violence is Not Culture: Feminist Philanthropy Draws the Line

Feminist activists and philanthropists are helping to recognize FGM as a form of violence against women. (Image Credit: Global Citizen Video, The Truth About Female Genital Mutilation)

Recently I read a post on by Rupa Shenoy entitled “The US movement against female genital mutilation is at a crossroads,” which discusses how laws to prevent FGM are developing and facing challenges in the US. The article is very informative about the status of the issue at this time, and helps to explore different ways to address the problem including community education and prevention efforts.

A salient point was made by one of the experts interviewed for the article, Mariya Taher, one of the co-founders of the anti-female genital mutilation advocacy group Sahiyo.  With regard to the doctor who performed the genital cutting surgery that was the subject of a federal prosecution on FGM, and who justifies the act as part of a cultural practice, Taher said:

“We’re at this tipping point,” she said. “We are seeing that communities are recognizing, and others are recognizing, that this is harmful, and I don’t think any form of harm to a child should be allowed by any culture or religion.” Taher said stronger laws would send the message that culture shouldn’t be confused with violence. (emphasis mine)

One thing I have noticed in studying feminist philanthropy is how gender equality funders pay particular attention to distinguishing between violence and culture. Because of the recognition of relationships, progressive women funders are able to see more clearly the harm that some cultural practices do to women, and to begin to open up new alternatives that don’t involve violence. This is the concept behind the Women’s Global Education Project and its alternative rite of passage for girls who are at risk of FGM — finding a self-affirming, non-violent way to ritualize the transition to adulthood. As another piece of evidence of feminist strategy that helps distinguish between violence and culture, check out this video by Global Citizen, which makes crystal clear the damage to women done by FGM.

This discernment between violence and culture is also evident in a recent announcement by Deacon Patrick Moynihan, President of the Haitian Project, a nonprofit providing solutions to poverty in Haiti. Moynihan recently refused a $100,000 donation from Robert Kraft because he does not accept Kraft’s behavior related to sex trafficking in Florida at the Orchid of Asia Salon.

Says Moynihan in a recent post about refusing the donation: “…And the women performing [sex trafficking] are expected to go from room to room like an assembly line. When you think about the gravity of the inhumanity of that there is no way with that out there and unaddressed that we could ever take these funds.” He said further: “We are in the very direct business of educating men and women to go on to healthy productive lives, and the opposite [of] that would be a life in prostitution or involved in the sex trade, and so given the current situation it was just not possible for us to accept that gift with a lack of clarity.”

These are just two examples of what I would argue is a feminist philanthropy mentality — one that is particularly attuned to the relationship of the grantee to the grant-maker, and recognizes how that relationship reflects on the work they do and the mission of their organization. Both examples exhibit the critical differences of distinguishing between violence and culture, and of giving higher value to relationships of all kinds, in the effort to end violence at every level of society.


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Author: Kiersten Marek

Kiersten Marek, LICSW, is the founder of Philanthropy Women. She practices clinical social work and writes about how women donors and their allies are advancing social change.

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