SNP Spotlight: The academic and life journey of Mame Kani Diop

by Lyndal Khaw, Students and New Professionals Representative, NCFR Board
NCFR Report
Content Area
Professional Ethics and Practice

As the outgoing Students and New Professionals (SNP) board representative, I have been privileged to meet many wonderful NCFR SNP members along the way in the past two years. SNPs are innovative budding scholars, advocates, and practitioners with a dedicated passion for the field and future of family science. No doubt some of the world's best and brightest SNPs call NCFR their professional family and home.

As any proud family member, I want to brag about our rising stars in our new "SNP Spotlight" segments. In future issues, you will see many more SNPs featured here. If you know of an SNP who should be featured in a future segment (or want to share your own story), please contact the incoming SNP board representative, Rachel Jordan or NCFR Report News Editor Charlie Cheesebrough.

Because our 2014 conference theme focused on global perspectives, I thought it would be fitting to shine our first spotlight on an international SNP. Here is Mame Kani Diop's story.

Mame Kani Diop (Kani) is a Ph.D. Fellow in Family and Child Studies at Montclair State University in Montclair, New Jersey. Born in Senegal (West Africa), Kani was raised in a culture where patriarchal ideologies were deeply rooted in her traditional household and violence against girls and women was a cultural norm. She refused to adhere to such norms and instead sought a good education, for which she received much backlash.

"I was told that school was no place for a woman and that instead I should be at home caring for a husband and children," she says. Scorned for her insistence on going to school, Kani was deprived of any support for fear that an educational journey may liberate her. Despite such setbacks, Kani pursued her education and later emigrated to the United States in August of 1993 in search of a better life for her and her family.

Since her arrival, Kani has spent her adult life in New Jersey, determined to educate the public about African realities, specifically, the disturbing status of women in African societies, where young girls are given in early marriage and women exploited and oppressed under polygamy's institutionalized regime. In 2004, she published a children's book titled Eye On Africa (Africa Books, available on Amazon.com), which depicts the mixed feelings of frustration and fulfillment of an immigrant African woman in the United States. The purpose of this book was to refute widely held misconceptions of Africa. At the same time, Kani's "cultural baggage," as she calls it, puts her on a mission to raise awareness about African family values and traditional practices that are detrimental to women's physical, psychological, and sexual health. She became committed to the research on female genital mutilation (FGM) and heavily involved as a community organizer in international grassroots organizations such as the Commission Pour l'Abolition des Mutilations Sexuelles, which fights for the abandonment of FGM worldwide.

Every day, countless African women are deprived of their human rights and condemned to a life of dire poverty and no education. The field of family science has helped shape Kani's understanding of these women's lives and of their families, relationships, and cultural practices. Kani found her calling and obtained both a bachelor's and a master's degree in Family and Child Studies. Currently working on her Ph.D., Kani examines the practices of FGM through the social justice lenses of family, diversity, and humanity. According to Kani's advisor and mentor, Dr. Pearl Stewart: "One of Kani's greatest strengths is her ability to conduct research on FGM in ways that promote the rights and integrity of girls and women while acknowledging and respecting their cultural contexts."

At NCFR, which has been Kani's professional home for three years, she has presented her research work on FGM and children's well-being, and polygamy practices in West Africa in past conferences. This year in Baltimore, she presented her work on men's role in the perpetuation and eradication of FGM.

Kani's research and activism efforts in the areas of FGM and polygamy have garnered much attention. She has coauthored a manuscript on polygamy that is currently in press in the Encyclopedia of Family Studies, a global collaboration project organized by the International Sociological Association. Kani has also been invited to share her knowledge about FGM in various local, national, and international venues.

This November, Kani was invited by the Rotary Club to speak to an audience of over 1,300 attendees at the Rotary International United Nations Day in New York. Upon completing her doctoral degree, Kani is interested in evaluating anti–FGM organizations to determine their efficiency and efficacy in the process of eradicating FGM. She plans to continue teaching, researching, and writing about the phenomenon of FGM until this cultural practice is completely eradicated throughout the world.