Teenage students in West Africa sit in desks in a classroom


Georgetown Student to Study Female Genital Cutting in Guinea

By: Amy Vander Vliet

May 9, 2022

Madeline (Mady) Hart (SFS’23) has been selected as the Berkley Center-Pulitzer Center international reporting fellow for summer 2022. Her project will explore religious groups fighting female genital cutting and child marriage in Guinea.

The fellowship, made possible through a partnership between the Berkley Center and the Pulitzer Center, offers one Georgetown student annually the opportunity to pursue a journalistic project that investigates the religious dimension of an international issue. Projects aim to bring to light what is often overlooked, untold, or misunderstood.

"Approximately 97% of women and girls in Guinea are victims of female genital cutting (FGC), and 63% are married before age 18," explains Mady.

Among the various types of FGC, Type II, which is most common in Guinea, is particularly dangerous, as the cutting rarely takes place in a medical setting and often leads to severe complications. In popular media, criticism of FGC and child marriage is often seen as a Western imposition. However, in the case of Guinea, local interreligious groups, rather than international human rights groups, constitute the main forces combatting FGC and child marriage.

Local Muslim and Christian groups—and women in particular, alongside the Guinean government—work together to end FGC and child marriage. Since local Guineans see FGC as a religious rite, and child marriage as sometimes religiously permissible, this is a meaningful change.

"My reporting will be focused on amplifying the voices of Guinean people and religious groups fighting FGM and child marriage," says Mady. 

Hart, who is majoring in international politics and minoring in religion, ethics, and world affairs at the School of Foreign Service, explored the ways in which religion can be utilized as a positive force for change or weaponized to justify human rights violations as a student in Berkley Center Senior Fellow Jocelyne Cesari's Religion and Governance of Global Issues course. Hart found that the course challenged her to think critically about the role of religious groups in the human rights sphere, and she is eager to uncover how religion is being utilized in the fight against FGC in Guinea.

Through interviews with religious representatives and Guinean women, I will investigate how these different groups join together, what strategies they use, and what effect they have on the population. Exploring the issue from an interfaith perspective will show a local, religious response to a problem that is often overlooked at the international level.

As part of the fellowship, Mady will work closely with Pulitzer Center staff and mentors to craft journalistic pieces reporting on interreligious efforts to combat female genital cutting and child marriage in Guinea. She will receive assistance from the Pulitzer Center in trying to place articles in high-profile news outlets.

The fellowship also gives Mady the opportunity to participate in the Washington Weekend hosted by the Pulitzer Center, where fellows gather to share their experiences and receive practical advice on pursuing careers in journalism. She will become part of a growing network of promising international journalists, which includes past Georgetown fellows Syed Taha Kaleem (SFS‘22), Rhya Evans (NHS‘22), Kaitlyn Johnson (G‘20), and Julia Friedmann (SFS‘19).

Learn more about the Berkley Center-Pulitzer Center International Reporting Fellowship.

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