By Sarah Marzouk for Cake:
“This old lady sawed away at my flesh for what felt like forever, and then when she was done, she threw that piece of flesh across the floor as if it was the most disgusting thing she’s ever touched […] I feel like I’m not a woman because of what was done to me, I feel incomplete.” This is what Khadija Gbla, the director of No FGM Australia, said in a TEDxCanberra talk. In her speech, Khadija talked about her experience with Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), and the consequences she’s been living with every day because of it.
How would you feel about someone who gives himself the right to do whatever he wants with your body, claiming that he’s preserving your honor? What would you feel if someone just slaughtered a piece of your own body, and threw it away as if it were something impure? Sadly, at least 200 million women and girls worldwide have literally experienced this kind of practice.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), FGM – also called Female Genital Cutting or Female Genital Circumcision – is the process that includes “all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons” and it has four major types:
I. Clitoridectomy: Partial or total removal of the clitoris, or in rare cases, the prepuce.
II. Excision: Partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia manora, whether with or without the labia majora.
III. Infibulation: Narrowing the vaginal opening with a covering seal through cutting or repositioning the inner and outer labia.
IV. Other: Any harmful procedure to the female genitalia without any medical purpose.
The trauma doesn’t stop at the point when the cut is made causing immediate physical and psychological complications, it also follows you in your everyday life causing long-term and sometimes deadly issues. The risks depend on the type of cutting and the health condition of the girl or the woman who undergoes the procedure.
The immediate risks exceed the shock, severe pain, bleeding, infections and vulnerability to HIV – sometimes it can end in the death of the victim. The long-term risks are painful and even harder to deal with. They include chronic pains, keloid, cysts and abscesses, reproductive tract infections, sexual diseases such as HIV, chronic pelvic infections, urinary tract infections that sometimes ascend to the kidney and can cause failure, septicemia, and death. Furthermore, FGM can cause difficulties in childbirth, infertility, and the death of a newborn.
The removal or damage of these sensitive tissues, especially the clitoris, has its effects on the quality of the victims’ sexual life. Women and girls who undergo FGM may suffer from anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and even fear of sexual intercourse.
Although WHO stated that FGM is considered as a “violation of the rights of children. The practice also violates a person’s rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death.” The rates of prevalence are pretty shocking. The procedure is most commonly performed in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. It is also being performed in the European community as a result of the increasing number of immigrants that carry the FGM culture along with themselves.
FGM is prohibited by law in many countries, but it’s still performed with high rates in some of them. According to the UNICEF the practice of FGM is most common in 27 countries: In Somalia, the prevalence is 98%, in Guinea 96%, in Djibouti 93% and in Egypt 91%. In Eritrea and Mali, the prevalence rate is 89%, and 88% in both Sierra Leone and Sudan.
It’s horrifying that the UNICEF’s latest statistics show that at least 200 million girls and women alive today in 30 countries have gone through this horrible experience, and half of them are in Indonesia, Egypt, and Ethiopia. This means that despite all the efforts that have been spent over the past years to eliminate FGM, the rates are still high. According to the new data collected by the UNICEF, around 70 million more girls and women in Indonesia have undergone these procedures in spite of a ban in 2006.
The main reasons for performing FGM are a mix of social, cultural, and religious beliefs, and it differs from one place to another. It’s commonly believed that FGM empowers women as it reduces her libido and therefore, preserves her ‘honor’. In some African cultures, it’s believed that FGM is performed as a transformation step for girls, from childhood to womanhood, and it prepares her for marriage. Men are more interested in circumcised women, and if a man finds that the woman he got married to is not circumcised, he sent her back to her parents’ home and asks for the dowry he paid. In Sudan it is believed that if the clitoris is not cut, it will grow until it gets as big as a man’s penis.
There are many practitioners who believe that FGM has religious heritage, however, there is no strong proof that it is a religious requirement for Muslims, Christians, Jews, and even native religions, such as Animists, who believe in the existence of the individual’s spirit and supernatural forces.
In Islam, there is no proof in the Qur’an that FGM is required, however, some people justify this practice by saying that the Sunna (the words and actions of the prophet Mohamed) asks for minor cutting of the clitoris. According to Judaism, circumcision isn’t allowed for women, and it’s only performed among an Ethiopian group called “The Falashas” or “Beta Israel” who have been isolated for thousands of years and didn’t have access to Jewish texts. Even in Christianity, FGM has no foundation in the religious texts as the Christian dogma emphasizes “the sanctity of the human body.” But of course, a huge part of the responsibility lies with the religious figures who remain silent.
Apparently, law enforcement will not be enough until people understand women’s rights to their own bodies, that a woman’s honor is not anybody’s to preserve, and that every woman has the same right to pleasure and sexual choices as men do. There are many countries that still don’t have laws to prevent FGM, and these countries require special focus. Besides the laws, huge steps need to be taken to deal with these solid cultural beliefs to increase awareness about human rights, and the procedures’ risks. The initiatives that have been carried out by the UNFPA, UNICEF, and other concerned organizations, don’t seem to be enough as the progress is still very slow in ending FGM.
Religious figures need to break their silence and participate in spreading religious awareness. It’s important to know that these barbaric rituals won’t be eliminated without spreading a wide range of awareness, education, and law enforcement at the same time.