By Breanne Smith
Students kept the questions coming for much longer than the time allotted following Edna Adan Ismail's keynote address at Friday's African Health Summit on the Athens campus. And Ismail, former foreign minister and minister of family welfare and social development for the Republic of Somaliland, didn't seem to mind.
"We have time for one more question," Director of African Studies Steve Howard said.
"Two!" was Ismail's reply.
Among the estimated 100 audience members, international students were particularly vocal about Ismail's topic of female genital mutilation (FGM).
Selam Gerzher-Alemayo, a graduate student from Ethiopia studying education, was persistent in her attempt to find out why the term "mutilation" is used despite many women's aversion to it.
"The World Health Organization agreed to the term in an effort to deglamourize the practice," said Ismail, who has served as a WHO representative to Djibouti in eastern Africa. "Mutilation, circumcision, excision, cutting -- a rose by any other name is still a rose. Damage by any other name is still damage."
Howard said the summit -- sponsored by the university's Institute for the African Child, the Center for African Studies and the School of Health Sciences -- was an "effort to try to bring many people together to focus a light on the remarkable health interests we at OU have in Africa."
Howard had met Ismail at various conferences and saw FGM as one of those health interests. Her address led off the summit, which also included a reception and panels on the impact of care-giving on the health and well-being of Kenyan Luo grandparents, the impact of orphanhood on Luo children, and HIV/AIDS and other heath issues in Africa. Panelists included faculty and students in the colleges of Education, Osteopathic Medicine, Health and Human Services, Communication, and Arts and Sciences.
Ismail has focused much attention on the effort to eliminate FGM. A victim of the practice herself, she is a nurse, midwife and founder of the Edna Adan Maternity and Training Hospital in Hargeisa, Somaliland. The hospital's aim is to bring better health standards to people whose lives have been traumatized by civil war and to train nurses and midwives to continue to make improvements to the area.
"She suffered the birth pangs of the country and is a midwife to (Somaliland) in so many ways," Howard said.
Ismail's work on behalf of her home region follows her belief that it is necessary to educate others in order to end FGM. She has traveled the world to spur opposition to the practice, and contents the next step is to educate older women and matriarchs in areas where it is practiced.
"Denying education ... denies the right to be gainfully employed and denies the right to a voice for women," she said.
Erika Yokoyama, a graduate student from Japan studying health and international studies, was the first to ask what the rest of the world can do, as Ismail repeatedly encouraged audience members to "come home to Africa" to help the situation.
"We now live in a global village," Ismail said. "Use anything that you think is going to work to win the battle."