In the West African nation of Gambia, 76 percent of the women have had to undergo female genital mutilation (FGM), a process which involves cutting off the labia and clitoris at a very young age. But as of November 2015, this horrific practice, the cause of infection, disease, severe bleeding, and other medical complications, has finally been banned by Gambian President, Yahya Jammeh. For survivor and anti-FGM crusader Jaha Dukureh, there could be no better news. Gambia became the 18th African nation to ban FGM, following Nigeria early this Summer.
But even as Jaha Dukureh gets the opportunity to draft the legislation to outlaw FGM, Sierra Leone cabinet minister Moijua Kaikai stated on 21st December that FGM ‘will never die,’ rubbishing any rumours that his country was moving toward a ban. “It is part of our culture but it should be practised responsibly,” said Kaikai. A shocking statement indeed, made worse by the fact that he heads the country’s Social Welfare and Gender Ministry!
So when the UNFPA has stated that “Medicalized FGM gives a false sense of security,” and the World Health Organization has categorically said there are no health benefits to the procedure, why should FGM continue?
Thirteen of all African countries still have no laws against this practice, and Dukureh’s own home-village Gambisara has a near total (99%) FGM rate. Forced onto over 100 million girls, FGM is an outright manifestation of the desire to control female sexuality. It is used to deter a woman from becoming sexually active before she can be claimed as a wife, and it reduces a woman to nothing but her reproductive capacity.
“For families, it is an assurance [that the] the girl child [is] shielded against any sexual encounter before her marriage,” writes Lata Jha. “The process is reversed only on the day of the wedding when the vaginal opening is restored through another painful surgery […] It is only after she undergoes this procedure that an excised bride is considered ‘free’ and ready for her first sexual experience that usually takes place the very same night after cutting.”
Multiple organizations, like Tareto Maa and others, have been required to provide health and educational support to those affected by this non-medical procedure, and rehabilitate those who have escaped from the threat of FGM and the communities that condone it.
While their work has been indispensable, and fresh legislature in all countries known to practice FGM are a cause for celebration, these bans will mean nothing until the people of every community begin to recognize this crime and violation for what it is. Without understanding that women’s bodies are their own, and that their pleasures and their choices are their own, no community – in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, or even Sweden for that matter! – will ever cease committing acts of violence on its women.