Female circumcision, female genital cutting (FGC), or female genital mutilation (FGM), is the partial or total removal or cutting away of a woman’s external genitalia is still practiced widely today. It is performed ritually in 28 countries all over the content of Africa as well as several Middle Eastern countries such as Egypt, the Republic of Yemen, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Israel, and is found in some Muslim groups in Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, and India. Scientists say that there is no real medical evidence to support the performance this invasive act and that the risks associated with it greatly outweigh the benefits. Education through public information campaigns is vitally important to end this harmful practice.
People give may reasonsfor why this tradition is still upheld today; these include: psychosexual and sociological ones, ones regarding hygiene and aesthetics, as well as mythological and religious reasons for why it exists. Although no religion requires explicitly that this malicious act be performed, many support it as part of their cultural identity and it is seen as a way to prevent promiscuity and ensure a woman’s “purity” before and sometimes even after marriage. Some cultures see it as a rite of passage while others simply use it as a means to maintain control over the women in their society, as the decision to become circumcised is usually made by a woman’s father or by some older relative from the father’s side or the family.
This extremely harmful and painful procedure can be performed at any point during the female’s life including: during infancy, adolescence, or even after her first pregnancy, however it is usually performed anywhere between toddler-age, around four, up to early teenage years before marriage, around age 14. The tradition of “cutting” is often strongly influenced by members of individual communities and is encouraged if not mandated by elder family members, men and women alike.
This procedure is physically and emotionally traumatic for these young girls and is usually performed by untrained medical midwives or an elder village woman as part of a group tribal ritual. They are often performed under extremely unsanitary conditions with almost no supervision. Female circumcisions are often carried out to differing levels of sophistication based on the geographic location in which they’re being performed.
Strickland writes, “circumcisions or infibulations may be performed with primitive instrumentation such as knives, glass, or razors without the benefit of anesthesia or aseptic techniques. In more populous areas, circumcision may be done with modern aseptic techniques, but conditions vary widely and the procedure is unstandardized or unregulated.” The context or environment along with the absence of qualified doctors in this field for which these circumcisions are being performed, open doors for serious and potentially fatal contamination of the genital region; even if no infection occurs, the act of genital cutting in and of itself causes permanent physical damage.
Women who have received even the less extensive of circumcisions, in addition to possibility of infection often leading to toxic shock are also susceptible to complications such as inability to pass urine, often leading to urinary tract infections, hemorrhage, nerve-ending damage as well as intense pain and swelling of the effected genital region. As infibulation is the most intrusive form of circumcision and includes the covering of the urethral opening, the health complications associated with it are that much more sever and life threatening. Complications include: repeated urinary tract infections, bladder stones caused by the obstruction, reproductive tract infections, vaginal scaring leading to keloid formations and cysts, and lowered fertility or even sterility. This type of mutilation can also lead to sexual dysfunction and pregnancy or birth-related complications. For these women who have been subjected to this most serious form of cutting, attempting to endure intercourse with their husband is traumatic in its own right. Sexual relations in this form are not at all pleasant for either woman or man, in that it causes both extreme pain and discomfort for both participants. In those cases in which the woman’s opening is too small that consummation is physically impossible, it is not unheard of at all for the man to reopen her wound right there in order to perform the marital act. This is not seen as radical or uncommon among these cultures because in the majority of these patriarchal societies believe that it is his right as her husband to consummate and claim her “purity”. In many instances, these women are so socialized to accept this circumcision tradition as an inevitability in their lives and as part of their culture; therefore, they often don’t make the cognitive link between the ritual act that was performed and the physical symptoms they experienced as a result.
One of the biggest problems, globally regarding circumcision is that it had failed to gain public attention or support of those countries in which this ritual was not prevalent in their society. It is hard to quite understand the plight of a women that has been circumcised without having experienced the same fate or listening to the words of a broken woman that has. This excerpt involves a young woman who was able to successfully get people in the U.S. motivated into taking notice of the problem and taking action.
Both liberal and conservative Westerners alike take a strong opposition in regards to female genital mutilation, viewing it as sexually dehumanizing, immoral, politically unacceptable, without ever considering the tradition and culture that is encompassed in that act. They tend to take radical views and methods of change, neglecting to consider how these women feel; this approach to change has been inevitably hindered our success in achieving it, in that many Africans find this direct opposition to their way of life offensive and an insult to their culture.
Going through the government to institute change hasn’t worked in the past because if the larger majority still believes in practicing circumcision, then prosecuting those people and their families who have practiced and performed this ritual actively would be counterproductive to the cause. Thus, organizations have begun to mold their strategies by directing their efforts towards educating these women, not insulting them. Researchers suggest that public information campaigns and counseling families about the effects of the practice on children may be more useful. Using these strategies to inform and educate these affected women in respect to gynecology and promoting economic autonomy will most certainly be the most effective way for us to ensure the prohibition of female genital mutilation in Africa and other countries while still maintaining respect for their traditions and cultural beliefs.