This Egyptian photographer is exploring the effects of female genital mutilation

Sabrine, 23, doesn’t know why she was circumcised, but knows it was inevitable. (Somaya Abdelrahman)

On Dec. 12, the international nonprofit Too Young to Wed, along with Canon USA, presented its first Emerging Photographers Fellowship Award to Egyptian photographer Somaya Abdelrahman for her work on female genital mutilation, “A Permanent Wound.” Abdelrahman’s work, made with support from the Arab Documentary Photography Program, established by the Beirut-based Arab Fund for Art and Culture, in partnership with the Prince Claus Fund (Amsterdam), and the Magnum Foundation (New York), explores her own experience with the practice, along with those of other women and girls who have experienced it.

Abdelrahman writes, in an artist statement, about her work:

“I was circumcised at 10. I remember the day as the worst of my life. To heal myself and my mind, I made a visual documentary of stories of women and girls who experienced FGM at some point in their lives. I firmly believe that visuals bolster a cause, and this is my means to encourage survivors, and more men, to rebel against the practice.”

The other day, while working the morning shift, I was listening to the BBC News Hour on NPR when a report caught my attention. It was about Olympic athlete John Carlos, who along with Tommie Smith, shocked the world as they stood on a podium to accept their gold and bronze medals for the 200 meter race at the 1968 Olympics. The two stood without shoes, only in socks, and raised their fists in the Black power salute.

Carlos spoke passionately about using his platform as an athlete to fight for justice. As I listened, I wondered how many of us truly have the courage of our convictions? A lot of people go into journalism because they have ideals that include shining a light on the human condition and calling for justice. Sometimes, however, those ideals get lost, obscured by a whole host of things including personal ambition, politics and business. While that is true, it is also true that much good is done every day. Even so, I sometimes have doubts, because I’m human.

Even though I have doubts from time to time, at the end of the day, I am also periodically reminded that there are people who have the courage of their convictions. This was the case when I opened up my email to a message introducing the inaugural Emerging Photographers Fellowship and saw Abdelrahman’s work.

As I took in the darkly poetic images in “A Permanent Wound,” it struck me that Abdelrahman has the courage of her convictions. The images would be enough to prove that. But Abdelrahman’s background adds further proof. According to a news release accompanying the announcement of the fellowship, Abdelrahman was forced to flee Egypt to Turkey after facing grave adversity while working as a journalist.

The photos in “A Permanent Wound” not only tell Abdelrahman’s story, but also the stories of others who have experienced genital mutilation. By bringing those stories to light, a practice that is rooted in superstition, religion and the subjugation of women, among other ideas, is brought into the open. It is a practice that only does harm to women, as Abdelrahman and the people she gives voice to let us know. That is like standing on the podium with a fist raised in public, for all to see. It is using one’s platform to fight for justice. It is having the courage of your convictions.

Abdelrahman’s persistence in the face of adversity helped transport her to where she is now, as the first recipient of Too Young to Wed’s Emerging Photographers Fellowship Award. Along with the fellowship, Abdelrahman will also have the benefit of being mentored by Stephanie Sinclair, the Pulitzer Prize-winning founder of Too Young to Wed, as well as the highly regarded photojournalist, Tasneem Alsultan.

You can find out more about Too Young to Wed on its website, here.

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