Thursday, October 18, 2007

Spritual Rape: a look at female genital mutilation

It is a cultural practice that could result in serious infections, HIV, abscesses, small benign tumors, hemorrhages, shock, clitoral cysts, kidney stones, sterility, sexual dysfuntion, depression, various urinary tract infections and even death.

Female genital mutilation, also known as FGM.

FGM originated in Africa. Most people have the misconseption the practice is religious and its early rise came from Islam. Wrong. It is not a religious practice. It is a cultural rite of passage that initiates women into their society. According to Relgious Tolerance, every 15 seconds a child is victimized. Nearly 6,000 girls worldwide undergo FGM every day.

What is femal genital mutilation? FGM is the removal of all the external parts of a female's genitals. In some cases, just part of the female genitalia is removed. These "surgeries" are done using razor blades, broken glass, knives or anything that is sharp. Anesthesia or sanitation measures are not taken. There are three different types of procedures, according to Hanny Lightfood-Klein. Sunna Circumcision involves the removal of the prepuce, which is also known as the hood or the "tip" of the clitoris. Clitoridectomy involves the removal of the entire clitoris and the surrounding labia (the inner and outer lips). Infibulation, which is viewed as the most vulgar procedure of the three, involves performing a clitoridectomy, then having the vagina stiched up, only leaving a small hole for urine and menstual blood flow. The result: dreadful pain, massive bleeding and horrendous infection.

What drives the cultures and societies to continue this practice? They believe removal will reduce a woman's desire for sexual pleasure prior to, during, or after marriage. Some view the clitoris and labia (inner lips) surrounding it as male parts on a female body. Some suspect the female is unclean if she does not recieve FGM. One argument or superstition in support of this practice is if the baby's head touches the clitoris during labor it will die; another is if the head of the penis touches the clitoris, the man will die. Other myths, according to the members of Tripod, a group devoted to women's right include:
1. Females cannot concieve without the clitoris removed.
2. Removing it will prevent vaginal cancer.
3. Leaving it intact can lead to homosexuality.

The justification for these procedures continues to circulate and misinform generation after generation. Is this a human rights issue? According to human rights experts, "The issue of FGM has garnered increasing global attention over the past several years." Amnesty International, one of the research groups that conducts and campaigns on these issues, has taken steps to ensure the government criminalizes FGM in America. In other countries, human rights groups are working to establish asylums or safe havens for those who may be subjected to mutilation. Unfortunately, legislation against FGM is forcing the activities underground. This might result in young women not seeking the medical attention they need, fearing their parents might be charged with a crime.

Contrary to expectations, this ancient custom is not defended by men. It is supported by its survivors, the elders who insist that girls who are not circumcised become plagues among their culture as unmarried women. FGM and its atrocities affects its victims in ways beyond our imagination. The physical scars. The mental anguish. It's a suffering that will haunt them for the rest of their lives. We as a community, even as a nation, cannot entirely stop FGM. But AWARENESS can get us one step closer.

For more information about FGM, visit


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A. said...

Regarding "FGM and its atrocities affects its victims in ways beyond our imagination", you might be interested to read the blog of a young French woman of Senegalese descent. She has related her thoughts from the time she decided to have reconstructive surgery to the present. The comments make interesting reading too, because she is far from the only one. It is all in French but I am keeping an English translation, Papillon's blog" on my own blog.

Just one other point to make, the reason that Papillon and others can have reconstructive surgery is based on the fact that the clitoris is actually quite an extensive organ, reaching far beyond the external part. It is not all removed in clitoridectomy, far from it, and so it can be reconstructed from what remains.

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