Female Genital Mutilation:
When I taught this course face-to-face I had at least two (2) students (male or female or both) in my class who were affected by FGM. Some quarters students would speak up and share their experiences with this issue and their stance on it. Needless to say, I as well as the students in the class was very proud of them for speaking up about a procedure that is supposed to be kept a “secret”, and for many many years it was. Then I was introduce to Mimi, and for years she willingly presented in my class. What a powerful presentation to hear. She has had lifelong reproductive organ chronic and painful medical problems because of this being done to her at six (6) years old (full external genital removed with a non-sterile razor blade, on the ground, no anesthesia, no gloves or washing hands, sewing up the would with cows hide and leaving only a tiny hole for excretion of urine and menstruation)…to the point that she no longer is physically able to present. Because my course in now in an online format, I promised her that I would continue to bring attention to this in my Human Sexuality classes in the future. To that end, she provided me with videos to do so. She is a pioneer, going against her culture to bring awareness and it is because of her years of activism, talking out loud about this, we now have laws against it, more and more women are educated and informed, and are now speaking out in an international way.
FGM stands for Female Genital Mutilation, which consists of the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia. It is also known by other names including “cutting”, “female circumcision” and “initiation”. FGM is a medically unnecessary and irreversible procedure that damages the health of millions of girls worldwide. Until recently, there have been no awareness raising component in the communities and villages that perform this.
Which countries practice FGM? The practice takes place in many parts of the world but it is most common in Africa, Asia and the Middle East and is practiced by certain communities in the following places:
Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Ivory Coast, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda and Zambia.
India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Yemen, Oman, Iraq, Iran, Palestine, Israel, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates.
Georgia and Russia.
Colombia, Ecuador, Panama and Peru
And in many Western countries, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United States and the United Kingdom, FGM is practiced among diaspora populations from places where it is common.
FGM is being practiced right here in the Bay Area…just because a family is now living in the U.S. doesn’t mean they will stop practicing their cultural traditions, they still prepare & eat foods indicative of their homeland, practice their religions, maintain their beliefs, etc…Mimi Ramsey (in the videos) was highly instrumental in advocating for stopping FGM in California and across the nation…an Ethiopian woman subjected to infibulation (and who experiences painful chronic female reproductive issues consequently), came to America as teenager in an arranged marriage, was appalled to discovered that FGM was being done here and became determined to stop the procedure. The laws that we have in California, in America, and across the world is because of her activism!
The motivations and justifications given vary and often overlap. Among them are:
Controlling female sexuality: FGM has been closely associated with the control of female sexuality. According to the World Health Organisation, in different cultures, some believe the procedure curbs women’s sexual urges, and thereby help ensure a woman remains a virgin until marriage. Hygiene. Some communities believe that the external female genitals that are not cut (the clitoris or the labia or both) are unclean. Religion: FGM is practiced within both Muslim and Christian communities, as well as by followers of some indigenous religions. Although neither Islam nor Christianity endorse it, religious doctrine is often used to justify it. Social obligation: Partly because of its association with religion, many societies consider FGM an essential part of raising a girl and preparing her for womanhood and marriage. With its direct link to beliefs about premarital virginity and marital fidelity, the social pressure to adhere to the practice can be intense. Economic factors: And because of these associations, in many communities, FGM is a prerequisite for marriage. In places where women may be financially dependent on marriage, economics can become a justification for FGM. Aesthetics: In some communities, the practice is presented as a form of beautification. Belief: that FGM increases sexual pleasure for the man.
Forms of FGM
The cutting is often done with reused broken glass, razor blades, or knives. The tools may not be sterilized between cuttings. In type III, the sewing may be done with thorns or needles from indigenous plants and without sterile thread. In most of these countries, it’s usually done on a dirty floor, table, or the ground. According to the World Health Organization there are three (3) main categories
- Type I: Often referred to as clitoridectomy, is the removal of the clitoral hood only (which is the same as the foreskin for men)
- Type II: Also known as excision, is the removal of the clitoris (which is the same organ as the penis for men) and the labia minora (inner vaginal lips)
- Type III: Also referred to as infibulation consists in the removal of all the woman’s external genitalia and the narrowing of the vaginal entrance.
Who performs it? It is normally carried out by older members of the community, often women who lack proper medical training. Sometimes it is carried out by traditional health practitioners, herbalists, or occasionally a female relative. At what age does FGM take place? It varies from place to place, but the practice is typically performed on girls between infancy and the age of 15. It is sometimes carried out as early as a couple of days after birth.
How many women and girls are affected? Approximately 6,000 girls are subjected to FGM every day, with the average age for this procedure being done is 6 years old. More than half of those live in three countries: Indonesia, Egypt and Ethiopia. However, due to population growth, based on current rates the number of girls and women undergoing FGM is expected to rise significantly over the next 15 years.
Where did the practice of FGM originate? It is not clear when or where the practice of FGM originates. But we know it was practiced by the Pharaohs in ancient Egypt. The United Nations has also reported that forms of FGM were practiced in parts of Africa, the Philippines, by certain tribes in the Upper Amazon, in the Arunta tribe in Australia, and by some early Romans and Arabs. However, the practice has not proven to have any medical validity.
How does FGM affect women and girls? FGM has no proven health benefits. But it can cause serious and lifelong physical and psychological harm. The extent of the damage caused can depend on the type of FGM performed, and on whether the practitioner had medical training and used sterile tools. In the case of Type III, it also depends on whether a small hole was left for the passage of urine, menstrual blood and intercourse (which is often extremely painful for women, but men love it because its a tight orifice for the penis…(I’m sorry men…not bashing it’s just fact).
Some of the most common problems caused by the practice include:
- Serious/severe bleeding, pain and shock
- Infection of wound
- Urination and menstrual obstruction
- Increased risk of urinary tract infections and HIV
- Mental health problems, including PTSD/Trauma. Girls are held down often against their will and may not understand why.
- Sexual dysfunction, including dyspareunia
- Complications in pregnancy and childbirth, leading to death
- Severe pain. Girls usually don’t get any pain medicine before or after they are cut.
- Problems going to the bathroom, including burning and pain
- Death. Few records are kept, and deaths that may have been caused by FGM are often not reported.
Assignment: (no reference required)
Give your thoughts and opinions to the following questions:
1.) How does (in other words in what ways) FGM violate the human rights of women and children?
2.) Does the medical community or government have any responsibility for eradicating FGM? If so what are your suggestions?
3.) Does anyone have the right to interfere in age-old cultural traditions such as FGM? In other words what right do Western people have to impose their cultural views on another culture/society?