An English professor at William Woods University found herself speaking before a United Nations sub-committee instead of a classroom full of students last week when she was called upon to testify about female genital mutilation in African and Middle-Eastern countries.
Catherine Pesce, adjunct professor of English, was flown to New York as a result of a class assignment she made last spring. She had asked her students to write a paper on a controversial topic. One student, Sheila Wanyama of Kenya, wrote about the custom of female genital mutilation.
“I had known about this issue, and thought about it for years,” Pesce said. “It was Sheila’s paper, however, that ultimately made me realize I could no longer ignore the issue and moved me to action.”
Pesce went to the Internet to learn more. There she explored the U.N. website and contacted the sub-committee investigating the issue.
“I saw something in the articles of the U.N.’s constitution that conflicted, and also discovered that the perpetrators of this practice claim it is a religious issue, when in fact it is not,” she said.
The United Nations has been working to enforce the laws that are in place to prevent FGM, but because of its prohibition against violating cultural and religious practices, has had difficulty ending the practice.
However, Pesce found another section that requires the United Nations to provide protection for children, no matter what. Her feeling was that this section should take precedence over the other.
“I e-mailed them with my findings and they quickly e-mailed me back and asked me to write a report. My report spawned several questions, and they decided I needed to meet with them to discuss the issue.”
Arrangements were made and postponed several times due to security concerns. Finally, the meeting took place Oct. 13.
“This is a volatile issue, and many have lost their lives in the battle,” Pesce said. “But if we are trying to better the lives of these people, as we claim we are, this issue must be addressed.”
After hearing testimony, all agreed that the military committees also needed to play a role in the efforts to end FGM.
“Overall, I am very pleased with the outcome of the meeting, and feel confident that more action will be taken to end the mutilation,” Pesce said.
Pesce, who is in her second year of teaching at William Woods, received her B.A. at Union College, her M.A. at Murray State University and is completing her Ph.D. at Southern Illinois University.