The Evils of Female Genital Mutilation

By Susan Orakwe

The Telegraph Newspaper of London recently reported the sentencing of a mother of a three year old for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in the UK following a failed attempt to cover up the victim with witchcraft. The mother who is Ugandan woman and her Ghanaian partner, both from Walthamstow, East London, were accused of cutting their daughter over the 2017 summer bank holiday. The woman is facing a maximum prison sentence of 14 years as stipulated by the UK law for carrying out FGM. The story of out of England is just one of several similar cases around the globe. In Africa for instance, it is a cultural practice that has gone on for centuries. Extensive research and field work have established that more than 74 million women and female children are mutilated on the African continent alone.

Razor blades are crudely used for FGM

The practice, which is traditional in some cultures, young women for non medical reasons. It is illegal in many countries of the world. This is mostly practiced in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East and within the communities in which it is practiced. UNICEF in its findings in 2016 estimated that 200 million women living in 30 African Countries have undergone the process of female genital mutilation. The percentages in these African countries include; Gambia (56%), Sudan (32%), Ethiopia (24%) Nigeria (17%) and Egypt (14%). It is carried out by uncertified medical practitioners (traditional circumcisers) using a blade on their victims days after birth. In countries where statistics are available, most female children are cut before the age of five. Procedures differ according to the country or ethnic group. Tissues removed include clitoral hood, clitoral glands, inner and outer labia and closure of the valve. The last procedure (valve) known as infibulations is small hole left for the passage of urine and menstrual fluid.

Female protesters campaigning against Female Genital Mutilation

The practice (Female genital mutilation) is rooted in gender inequality. It is an attempt to control women’s sexuality and instead preaches veiled virtue of purity, modesty, and beauty. It is believed that failing to carry out Female genital mutilation on girl child will expose the girl child to social exclusion. There have been international efforts since early 1970s to persuade practioners to stop Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Fact is that, it has been out­lawed or restricted in most of the countries in which it is practiced, although the laws are poorly enforced. In 2010, United Nations have mandated healthcare providers to stop performing all forms of the procedure, including re infibulations after child birth and symbolic “picking” of the clitoral hood. The opposition to the practice is not without critics, particularly anthropologists who have raised questions about cultural relativism and the universality of fundamental human rights.

Procedures/ Types

Female genital mutilation is classified into 4 major types.

Type 1: Often referred to as clitoridectomy. This is the partial or total removal of the clitoris (a small, sensitive and erectile part of the female genitals), and in very rare cases, only the prepuce (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris).

Type 2: Often referred to as excision. This is the partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora (the inner folds of the vulva), with or without excision of the labia majora (the outer folds of skin of the vulva).

Type 3: Often referred to, as infibulations. This is the narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the labia minora, or labia majora, sometimes through stitching, with or without removal of the clitoris (clitoridectomy).

Type 4: This includes all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area. Deinfibulation refers to the practice of cutting open the sealed vaginal opening in a woman who has been infibulated, which is often necessary for improving health and well-being as well as to allow intercourse or to facilitate childbirth. No health benefits only harm Female genital mutilation victims. It only demoralizes women and girl child in all ramifications, and interferes with the natural functions of girls’ and women’s’ bodies. Generally speaking, the risks increase as a result of the severity of the procedure.

Immediate complications include:

■ Severe pain

■ Excessive bleeding (hemorrhage)

■ Genital tissue swelling

■ Shock

■ Death

■ Fever

■ Infections e.g., tetanus

■ Urinary problems

■ Injuryto surroundinggenitaltissue Wound healing problems.

Long-term consequences include:

■ Urinary problems (painful urination, urinary tract infections);

■ Vaginal discharge, itching, bacterial vaginosis and other infections

■ Painful menstruation, difficulty in passing menstrual blood, Scartissueandkeloid;

■ Sexual discomfort (pain during intercourse, decreased satisfaction, etc.);

■ Increased risk of childbirth complications, excessive bleeding, caesarean section, Psychological problems (depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, low self-esteem, etc.); Cultural and social factors for performing FGM.

A Gambian teenager being prepared for her circumcision

The reasons why female genital mutilations are performed vary from one region to another. It includes a mix of socio-cultural factors within families and communities. The most commonly cited reasons are: Where Female genital mutilation is a social convention (social norm), the social pressure to conform to what others do and conform to what others do and have been doing, as well as the need to be accepted socially and the fear of being rejected by the community, are strong motivations to perpetuate the practice. In some communities, it is almost universally performed and unquestioned.

A sad mother comforts her daughter after circumcision

Female genital mutilation is often considered a necessary part of raising a girl, and a way to prepare herfor adulthood and marriage. Female genital mutilation is often motivated by beliefs about what is considered acceptable sexual behavior. It aims to ensure premarital virginity and marital fidelity. As in many communities, it is to reduce a woman’s libido and therefore help her resist extramarital sexual acts. It is to discourage extramarital sexual intercourse among women. FGM is associated with cultural ideals of femininity and modesty, which include the notion that, girls are clean and beautiful after removal of body parts that are considered unclean, unfeminine. Though no religious scripts prescribe the practice, practitio ners often believe t h e practice h a s religious leaders, religious leaders, and even some medical personnel can contributetoupholdingthe practice.

A delegate lending her voice against FGM at an International Conference

In most societies, where FGM is practiced, it is considered a cultural tradition, which is often used as an argument for its continuation. In some societies, recent adoption of the practice is linked to copying the traditions of neighboring countries. Sometimes it starts as part of a wider religious or traditional revival movement. World Health Organization response in 2008 passed a resolution WHA61.16 on the elimination of FGM, emphasizing the need for a concerted action in all sectors – health, education, finance, justice and women’s affairs. WHO (World Health Organization) efforts to eliminate female genital mutilation will focus on:

strengthening the health sector response: guidelines, tools, training and policy to ensure that health professionals can provide medical care and counseling to girls and women living with FGM;

building evidence: generating knowledge about the causes and consequences of the practice, including why healthcare professionals carry out female genital mutilation, how to eliminate it, and how to care for those who are victims experienced of this inhuman practice.

Increasing advocacy: developing publications and advocacy tools for international, regional and local efforts to end FGM within the shortest possible time.

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