Female Genital Mutilation
Imagine a young girl; the harsh African sun is kissing her bronzed skin. The warm golden sand tickles her petite and tattered feet. The immense gold earrings she wears beats against her slender neck. Her stature is of a queen, yet she walks to an uncertain death. She stands in front of a small hut, or a tent. She glances back and sees the majestic sun that had once kissed her neck now set and somewhat leave her abandoned. She exists alone in front of that diminutive hut or tent and out comes a man. He is exhausted and is ready to go home to his companion and his supper. He looks a bit annoyed that she has come so late. His hands are stained with a ruby tint and his clothes the same. He motions the young girl in. Hesitantly, she makes small and meager steps to the entranceway. She steps into a minute room with little or no lighting. She stares upon two women and a rusty table that holds the screams of the girls that went before her. The man motions her to sit in the table. She slowly places her body on the stained and rusty table. She is a bit afraid that the table will not hold under her weight; nevertheless, she is held up. The man places his cold and clammy hands on her collarbone and pushes her back to the table. As she lies there she looks to her left and sees his instruments; a bloody and rusty razor blade. She sighs with relief. She has heard that a razor blade is the best instrument to use. She knew of women that had to take a piece of glass. She has prayed for courage and strength, yet it does not seem to arrive. The man runs his hands down the sides of her body. Has he pushes her skirt up he looks at her and says to her, “Don’t move.” He opens her legs and begins to operate. The glare from the poor lighting obstructs his view, but he continues any way. The heat has gotten to him and he is not as awake as he was in the morning. He blinks to regain some concentration and he takes his blade in his hands. He thinks about cleaning the blade first but the thought immediately escapes from his mind. He does not want to waste any more time on this girl. The young girl sees the man raise his blade and she begins to squirm. With their hands, the women hold her legs to gain sight of his target. As the sun finally sets and the night creeps upon them, the earth and all its inhibitors are disrupted by a shrill. The screams bellow out into the night and echoes in the stars. Moments later the young girl stumbles out of the hut or tent. She is now a woman. Imagine this happening to over 100 million women around the world.
This is called Female Genital Mutilation or FGM. It is an invasive procedure performed on girls before puberty. Part or all the clitoris is surgically removed leaving them with reduced or no sexual feeling. FGM is very emotional because many women do not have the confidence to talk about their feelings and what happens to them during the circumcision. The stories that some women have are very gruesome and extremely painful. Yet if the procedure is not done, the women have to live with being called names and being rejected. The term FGM covers three main varieties of genital mutilation: Sunna circumcision, Clitoridectomy, and Infibulation. Sunna in Arabic means “tradition” and the Sunna circumcision consists of the removal of the prepuce and/or the tip of the clitoris. Clitoridectomy, which is also call excision, is the removal of the entire clitoris (both prepuce and glans), and the removal of the adjacent labia. Infibulation is also called pharaonic circumcision. This is the most extreme form and it involves removal of the clitoris, the adjacent labia (majora and minora), and the joining of the scraped sides of the vulva across the vagina, where they are secured with thorns or sewn with catgut or thread. A small opening is kept to allow passage of urine and menstrual blood. An infibulated woman must be cut open to allow intercourse on the wedding night and is closed again afterwards to secure fidelity to the husband.
Though FGM is practiced all over the world, it is most prevalent in Africa. According to the State-Agency for International development’s Intra-Agency working Group on Female genital mutilation, at least forty percent of Nigerian women are victims of FGM. In Africa it is practiced in the majority of the continent including Kenya, Nigeria, Mali, Upper Volta, Ivory Coast, Egypt, Mozambique, and Sudan. A variety of forms of FGM is practiced in Middle Eastern countries: the two Yemens, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Jordan, Syria, and Southern Algeria. FGM has found its way into the United States and Europe because of immigration. Although FGM is illegal in these countries, the ritual is being practiced secretly. Some claim that FGM is a religious tradition, however, there has been no proof from both of the dominant religions, which is Christian and Muslim. In most African countries the reason for the practice of FGM has nothing to do with inter-sexuality, but more of traditional beliefs.
The process is done in unsanitary conditions in which a midwife uses unclean sharp instruments such as razor blades, scissors, kitchen knives, and pieces of glass. These instruments are frequently used on several girls in succession and rarely cleaned, causing the transmission of variety of viruses such as the HIV virus, and other infections. Antiseptics techniques and anesthesia are generally not used, or for that matter, heard of. This is just like your doctor uses one instrument on all of patients without any sterilization procedure. Besides of the obvious initial pains of the operations, FGM has long-term physical, sexual, and psychological effects. The unsanitary environment under which FGM takes place causes infections of the genital area and surrounding areas. Some can have primary fatality as a result of shock, hemorrhage or septicemia. Long-term consequences are sexual fidgety, genital malformation, delayed menarche, chronic pelvic complications, recurrent urinary retention and infection, and an entire range of obstetric complications where the fetus is exposed to a range of infectious diseases as well as facing the risk of having its head crushed in the damaged birth canal. In these cases, an infibulated woman is opened further to insure a safe birth of her child.
In various cultures there are “justifications” for practicing the dangerous practice. A girl who is not circumcised is considered “unclean” by the local villagers and by that is not worthy of marriage. A girl that does not have her clitoris removed is considered a great danger and ultimately fatal to a man if her clitoris touches his penis. Some have said, “She loses only a little piece of the clitoris, just the part that protrudes. The girl does not miss it. There is hardly any pain. Women’s pain thresholds are so much higher than men’s.” Others have said, “The parts that are cut away are disgusting and hideous to look at. It is done for the beauty of the suture.” Many women of the local villages that FGM takes place say that it is a tradition and they do not want to be the ones to break a tradition. Family honor, cleanliness, protection against spells, insurance of virginity and faithfulness to the husband, or simply terrorizing women out of sex are sometimes used as excuses for the practices of FGM.
This practice has been committed for years now. It was said to begin in the Egyptian times and has grown from there. About two million women a year undergo a knife, a shard or a piece of broken glass to uphold this barbaric tradition. Of this shocking number, fifteen percent will die as a direct result of this practice. Of those that survive, they will have to live with infections, hemorrhaging, bladder, kidney, and urinary disorders, extreme complications during intercourse and birth and a loss of sexual sensitivity.
I decided to talk about this because this is something that I can relate deeply too. No, I am not a victim of Female genital mutilation, but I am a female and just the mere contemplation of this excruciating practice happening to someone my age is heartbreaking. I was first introduced to this problem when I was a junior in high school. We did a segment on traditions throughout the world, and genital mutilation came up. I became interested in the female aspect of genital mutilation. I was reintroduced to the subject of female genital mutilation my first year in college. I worked in the media resource center and a young woman was also interested in FGM. We exchanged information and from then on I have been passionate about the subject. To think that somewhere in this world, even after all of the technology that we have experienced and discovered, a dangerous and painful unsanitary pr5actice is actually being practice is very sad. I honestly believe that official across the world should pay close attention to this tradition that is hurting at least two million women a year and killing fifteen percent of that two million. These women are our mothers, our friends, our daughters, our sisters, or they can even be us. I understand that it is important to hold on to traditions and keep the roots of your ancestors close at hand, but we must consider a different approach once the tradition starts taking away women across the world. Studying this has opened my eyes and made me realize that the world is still grieving and searching for justice. I hope soon that the world finds it.