‘Womanhood’ is often celebrated in many cultures around the world. One’s life begins out of the female womb but what happens before that is important because while some girls get jewelry when they get their first period, others, even at the age 5, are subjected to the act of genital mutilation. Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a spread practice. This article explains some aspects of FGM: what it is, its links to ‘womanhood’, and its harms.
WHEN WOMANHOOD IS SACRED
Genital mutilation means the ablation (cutting out) of the clitoris and sometimes the outer and inner lips of the vulva. In places where FGM is commonly practiced, a girl that doesn’t undergo this procedure is seen as dirty, even dangerous. This practice can even be found in Ancient Egypt and it was only in 2008 that it was banned in modern-day Egypt. It is practiced in many other countries and regions of the world too. Although illegal, many families still make their daughters undertake the cutting. Many men ask for their future wives to be cut, as a sign of chastity. What’s interesting here is that although men ask for this, it is often women who have also suffered it which proceed to the cutting and perpetuate the tradition. When it comes to young girls who are unwilling to be mutilated, it is mostly their mothers, aunts, and other women that convince them that FGM is something they must do. The fact that after getting cut most of the young women spend about a month in pain, unable to even pee, sit right or bath -as making contact with water is painful- is simply accepted.
FGM is often thought of being a practice taking place in Africa, the Middle East and other regions of Asia, but what many fail to realize is that FGM happens in other ‘Western’ countries as well. Many of the families who came from countries where FGM was an act of rite, continue doing this in their new countries. London, New York, Paris, the creme de la creme of towns, are no strangers to these acts. Genital mutilation is not an actual medical procedure. There are no positive effects, only lasting damage. It’s usually at home that the cutting takes place at. Men stereotype what is ‘decent’ and what makes a woman and years of tradition end up normalizing their viewpoint. Women who themselves had to undergo the mutilation tell their daughters to go through the same thing hoping that if they were able to live through it and with it, so will their daughters. After all, what mother wants to see her daughter suffer needlessly?
TRADITION vs. SANITY
Women fighting against FGM in regions where it is still an established practice are risking a lot: their careers, their family’s pride, their livelihood, etc. FGM does not only cause physical trauma but psychological trauma as well. For example, there was a case in Ghana recorded by a dutch urologist Hans de Wall who one day was visited by a twenty year old woman in despair that had nowhere else to go to. She had been mutilated with a piece of broken glass when she was only ten years old. When she gave birth, she gave birth to still-born babies. Since giving birth she began suffering from fecal and urine incontinence (lack of voluntary control over urination or defecation) because of the fistula that had been forming. This is not a unique case. Numerous women have suffered in this way -or even worse- and the damage done could not be repaired no matter how many surgeries these women had to take. Sometimes the very act of having a baby is not possible because of the damage that the cut has done to the genitals. Thus, the life of many women is ruined because tradition called for it.
While the world knows what’s going on and mostly reacts in a ghastly shocked manner whenever new news breaks out, FGM is still too often overlooked and ineffectively challenged. According to Amnesty International’s report from 2002, between 1 and 1,4 million girls have lost their genitals due to FGM. Many of these women suffer from long-lasting health problems and they are often turned away from their husbands and families, their communities and being viewed as failures for not being able to bring new life. Tradition asked you to let them cut you, mutilate you and tradition then told you that you are not worth enough because your body suffered and didn’t pull through, tradition now says you and solely you are wrong for this.
This, unfortunately, results with many women being ashamed of who they are. We should all act to end this practice and support and embrace the women who might be suffering the consequences of FGM. We cannot stand aside and expect that others will fight for FGM’s complete elimination, everybody in all parts of the world should commit to end FGM.