Female Genital Mutilation

Female Genital Mutilation
Female Genital Mutilation is believed to have started in Egypt 2,000 years ago and spread from there. Only a few years ago, FGM was considered a cultural tradition, but now the United Nations has labeled it as a violation of human rights. Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, and the United States has declared Female Genital Mutilation grounds for seeking asylum and is a punishable offense (1).

Many of us never heard of Female Genital Mutilation until the story of Kauziya Kasinga, a woman from West Africa. Her father did not believe in polygamy, forced marriage, or “female circumcision”. He died when she was 17 and the father’s sister inherited the home, banished the mother, ended Fauziya’s schooling, and arranged a marriage as a fourth wife to a man she had never met. The aunt scheduled her for the circumcision and she ran with 3,000 dollars that one of her aunts had saved.
What is female circumcision?The female genital mutilation term covers three main varieties of genital mutilation (2). There is the “sunna circumcision”; this consists of removal of the prepuce and/or the tip of the clitoris. Ironically, sunna in Arabic means “tradition”. This is done because it is believed that the clitoris is a very dangerous part of the female anatomy. In our culture, Freud stated in his book, Sexuality and the Psychology of Love, that the “elimination of clitoral sexuality is a necessary precondition for the development of femininity. In 1979, the “Love Surgery” was performed on women in the United Sates. Dr. James Burt, the “Love Surgeon”, introduced “clitoral relocation” (sunna circumcision) to the medical field. He believed and acted upon the idea that excision does not prevent sexual pleasure, but enhances it. Dr. Burt practiced in Ohio for almost ten years before he was exposed after which he gave up his license.

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Clitoridectomy, also referred to as excision, removes the entire clitoris and the removal of the labia. Thirdly, there is a procedure called an infibulation. This is the most extreme form of circumcision, it consists of the removal of the clitoris, the labia, and the joining of the scraped sides of the vulva across the vagina, where they are secured with thorns or sewn with thread. A small opening is kept to allow passage of urine and menstrual blood. A woman with this type of circumcision must be cut open to allow intercourse on the wedding night and is closed again afterwards to secure fidelity to the husband. It is sometimes opened to allow childbirth, but is sewn up again. In some cultures, the husband will cut her open to have sex with her. In males, you would have to remove the entire penis and testicles (castration) to compare this with infibualtion (3). This was done in the Catholic Church to get men to sing soprano. It is no longer permitted and has been outlawed by the Pope. It was also done to men who worked in harems so that they would not have sex with the girls.

Female genial mutilation is mainly practiced in the African culture. It is also practiced in Christian, Judaism, Aboriginal, and Islamic cultures. FGM is not religious, but is a social custom (4). In some countries it is almost universal. There are over 30 million women currently living in Nigeria that have been circumcised and 24 million in Ethiopia and Eritrea. Some groups say that 114 to 130 million women worldwide have had the operation. FGM has spread worldwide with immigrants coming from Africa and other nations that accept this practice. It is outlawed in the United States, but the practice is still done. Specialists in Denver, CO reported in 1998 that at least 6,000 immigrants have settled in the area from African countries, which widely practices FGM. Dr. Terry Dunn, director of a women’s clinic in that city commented: “I know of one patient where it was clear it was performed in this country.” About 4 mutilation cases are seen each year at the clinic (5).

Female Genital Mutilation can be done at any age depending on the culture. Most cultures do it at the age of puberty; some do it at birth. The justification for the operation appears to be largely grounded in the desire to terminate or reduce feelings of sexual arousal in women so that they will be much less likely to engage in pre-marital intercourse or adultery. The clitoris has a lot of nerve endings, and this gives feelings of sexual arousal when stimulated.

Women in countries that practice FGM who don’t get circumcised have a hard time finding marriage partner and being chastised by other women and men. If you are not married say in an African tribe you have no usefulness. Family honor, cleanliness, protection against spell, insurance of virginity and faithfulness to the husband or simply terrorizing women out of sex are sometimes used as excuses for the practice of FGM. In Muslim countries men prefer circumcised wives because they are more likely to be faithful. Other claims in support of FGM are (6):
a. The clitoris is dangerous and must be removed for health reasons. They believe that if it is a poisonous organ, which can cause a man to sicken or die if contacted by a man’s penis. Others believe that men can become impotent by contacting a clitoris, or that a baby will be hydrocephalic (born with “water on the brain”) if its head contacts the clitoris during birth. Some believe that the milk of the mother will become poisonous if her clitoris touches the baby.

b. If the clitoris is removed along with the labia is eliminates bad genital odors.

c. FGM prevents vaginal cancer
d. An unremoved clitoris can lead to masturbation or lesbianism.

e. FGM prevents nervousness from developing in girls
f. It prevents the face from turning yellow.

g. It makes the woman’s face more beautiful.

h. If FGM is not done, older men may not be able to match their wives’ sex drive and may have to resort to illegal stimulating drugs.

i. An intact clitoris generates sexual arousal in women can cause neuroses if repressed.

These claims appear to have little support outside of countries where FGM is common.

FGM was started during the “al-gahiliyya” (translates into “Era of Ignorance”). The Bible is silent on the subject, but the Sunnah (words and actions of the Prophet Mohammed) contains a number of references to female circumcision. One passage is recorded between Mohammed and Um Habibah, a woman who performed infibulation on slaves. She said she would continue to do it unless he forbade it and until Mohammed ordered her to stop doing it. He replied, “Yes, it is allowed. Come closer so I can teach you; if you cut, do not overdo it because it brings more radiance to the face and it is more pleasant for the husband”(7).


Nawal El-Saadawi, a Muslim circumcised woman, stated (8):
“The importance given to virginity and an intact hymen in these societies is the reason why female circumcision still remains a very widespread practice despite a growing tendency, especially in urban Egypt, to do away with it as something outdated and harmful. Being circumcision lies the belief that, by removing parts of girls’ external genital organs, sexual desire is minimized. This permits a female who has reached the dangerous age of puberty and adolescence to protect her virginity, and therefore her honor, with greater ease. Chastity was imposed on male attendants in the female harem by castration, which turned them into inoffensive eunuchs. Similarly female circumcision is meant to preserve the chastity of young girls by reducing their desire for sexual intercourse.”
The danger in FGM is the unsanitary conditions that these procedures take place in. A midwife or holy woman uses an unclean sharp instrument such as a razorblade, scissors, kitchen knives, and pieces of glass. These instruments are frequently used on several girls in succession and are rarely cleaned, causing the transmission of a variety of viruses such as HIV or hepatitis. Beyond the pain, there are long-term physiological, sexual, and psychological effects, which have been reported from those who have been circumcised. The infections are the biggest problem. There are reports of death from shock and hemorrhage. Long-term complications include sexual frigidity, genital malformation, chronic pelvic complications, recurrent urinary infection and retention, and all obstetric complications, such as the fetus being exposed to disease, having the child’s head crushed in the birth canal. Some women must undergo another operation to be “opened” to let the baby out.

When Fauziya Kasinga let her story be known the United Nations and other countries decided to take this problem head on. They have refused to give loans to nations that refuse to stop the practice of FGM. The New Woman Research Center in Egypt says the decision to codify FGM instead of criminalizing it had nothing to do with religion or morality, but is instead “a decision to codify the control of women, and codify violence against them, in addition to decodify the inferior status in society” (9).

The UN Human Right Conference in Vienna, has classified as a human rights violation and is a criminal offense and against the statutes of national and international medical associations.

UNICEF and UNDP want to stop this. They say that it is “absolutely certain that if similar tortures were inflicted on boy children the whole world would rise up to stop it by all means”.


Works Cited
1. Atrocities Against Women: Female Genital Mutilation. Mason, Marcia L. Sept. 1995. HTTP://WWW.WORLDCITIZEN.ORG/ISSUES
2. FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION: AN INTRODUCTION. National Organization of Circumcision Information Resource Centers FGM Awareness and Education Project. Box 2512 San Anselmo, CA 94979
3. Female Genital Mutilation. http://www.hollyfeld.org
4. Female Genital Mutilation. http://www.hollyfeld.org
5. Associated Press Article, Feb 1998, web site found at http://www.feminist.org/news/newsbyte/february98/0218.html
6. Female Mutilation in Africa, Middle East and Far East; anon. http://www.religioustolerance.org/fem_cirm.htm
7. ABU-SAHLIEH Sami, “To Mutilate in the Name of Jehovah or Allah: Legitimization of Male and Female Circumcision: available online at Http://wwwhollyfeld.org
8. Nawal El-Saadawi, “The Hidden Face of Eve, Women in the Arab World,” translated and edited by Sherif Hettata, Zed Press, London, 1980, pg.33
9. The Women’s Watch, Spring 1996 Vol. 22 No. 2, pg.44-49. Fran Hosken, Editor.

Female Genital Mutilation

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.

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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.

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