Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation

As people around the world celebrate love on Valentine's Day, I feel it is important to bring attention to a day that has probably never made the American evening news and will certainly never pop up on trendy blogs. A few days ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) brought attention to the 8th annual International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation.

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a barbaric custom actively practiced in 28 countries in Africa and the Middle East and which occurs "under the radar" in other countries with high numbers of immigrants from these areas, including the United States. FGM encompasses the removal of the clitoris and usually some of the labia via a razor blade, knife, or broken piece of glass. FGM is performed on girls ranging in age from infancy to 12 years old with no anesthetic and no proper wound dressing.

It is crucial to understand the difference between male circumcision and Female Genital Mutilation. In male circumcision, which is equally appalling, the foreskin of the penis is removed. The removal of the clitoris in the female is equivalent to the removal of the head of the penis, not just the foreskin.


FGM proponents in these developing countries claim the purpose of FGM is to prohibit a female from enjoying sex as an adult, thereby reducing the chance that she would take lovers outside of marriage. The custom is so entrenched in these cultures that it is the mothers and grandmothers who force the girls to be mutilated -- they tell the girls they will be considered "ugly," "unclean," or undesirable to a potential husband if the girl is not cut.

An important site working to end this practice is the Female Genital Cutting Education and Networking Project. On their site, they explain three kinds of Female Genital Cutting (FGC) that are routinely performed in Africa and the Middle East.
"The first and mildest type of FGC is called 'sunna circumcision' or Type I. The term 'Sunna' refers to tradition as taught by the prophet Muhammad. This involves the 'removal of the prepuce with or without the excision of part or all of the clitoris.'

"The second type of FGC, Type II, involves the partial or entire removal of the clitoris, as well as the scraping off of the labia majora and labia minora.... Clitoridectomy was invented by Sudanese midwives as a compromise when British legislation forbade the most extreme operations in 1946.

FGC Ed. & Networking
"The third and most drastic type of FGC is Type III. This most extreme form, consists of the removal of the clitoris, the adjacent labia (majora and minora), and the joining of the scraped sides of the vulva across the vagina, where they are secured with thorns or sewn with catgut or thread. A small opening is kept to allow passage of urine and menstrual blood. An infibulated woman must be cut open to allow intercourse on the wedding night and is closed again afterwards to secure fidelity to the husband." 
Rights groups are working tirelessly to bring awareness to the issue of FGM, and some countries have adopted new laws that prohibit FGM. However, the fight is an uphill battle for two reasons. First, the practice of FGM is socially and culturally tied to tribal initiation traditions. Secondly, the women in the tribes are brainwashed by the ingrained misogyny of the culture.

Indian Muslim Observer
Imagine if your mother said the only way you would be considered beautiful is if you have your external sex organs slashed away in a hatchet job? That is the mentality that is perpetrated on these girls, who grow up to repeat the cycle with their daughters and granddaughters.

The effects of the mutilation not only effects the girl who is  subjected to the assault, but also to other girls. FGM is not usually performed in sanitary conditions, and the mutilator usually does not wash the cutting implement after each cutting. The transmission of disease can occur not only at the time of the mutilation, but later as the wound becomes infected due to lack of medical treatment.

Death is also a consequence of FGM due to the girl going into shock or developing internal hemorrhages, bleeding out, as well as becoming septic. Aside from the wound itself becoming infected, the urinary tract, bladder, and the entire pelvic region is susceptible to infection.


In an interagency statement between OHCHR, UNAIDS, UNDP, UNECA, UNESCO, UNFPA, UNHCR, UNICEF, UNIFEM, and the World Health Organization, these organizations officially call for the end of FGM:
"This Statement is a call to all States, international and national organizations, civil society and communities to uphold the rights of girls and women. It also calls on those bodies and communities to develop, strengthen, and support specific and concrete actions directed towards ending female genital mutilation."
The full document is available on the WHO's website in several languages, including Arabic, English, Freech, and Portuguese.

For the record, I find any form of circumcision to be barbaric, whether it is the Jewish tradition of circumcising newborn males that has been adopted in so-called Christian countries, including the United States, or Female Genital Mutilation that occurs in patriarchal, developing countries, and now in so-called democratic, "free" countries. The misconceptions of being uncircumcised are as unsubstantiated by science and rational thought as the notion of FGM making a girl "beautiful" is simply ridiculous.

Support women and the beauty of women's sexuality by doing your own research about this horrendous practice and bringing an end to Female Genital Mutilation around the world.

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