Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

Whatever be your gender, male or female, or perhaps even both, keep reading…

One of my father’s wives was shaving my head. My own mother was busy preparing the place where they said we would celebrate today. They promised me they would give me good food and gifts. I was happy; I had never been to such a festival before. My aunts and elder cousins were all invited to join.

An aunt led me to a hut where she said the festival would begin. When I entered, I saw the girls and women dancing. But we did not dance. Instead, they held me to the ground. I was shocked. Before I could speak, one of my biggest aunts sat on my belly while others held my arms and legs spread tightly. I tried to move but they were stronger. I panicked. Suddenly, I saw someone approach my legs. She started cutting me down there. The pain was excruciating, atrocious. I was alive—didn’t she know? “Will you kill me?” I shouted at the excisor, but no one moved.

I kept shouting. I cried with all my force. I really thought they would kill me. What were they punishing me for? Where was my mother? How could they do this to me? I felt alone. I felt betrayed. I felt hated. I could not stop wailing.

When they finished, they let me go. I stood in a bath of blood, my own blood.

They went back to celebrate. This time again, I was alone, except with the pain. That unbearable pain. I wanted to run away from there, but I could not crawl. Then, the woman who promised to take care of me when I was born came and told me: “now, you are a woman…”

I was mutilated.

Story adapted from Seita Lengila from the Samburu district of northern Kenya, who was circumcised at the age of 16.

Every day 6000 girls and women are at risk of being mutilated, i.e. of experiencing a trauma similar to what Seita went through. According to UNICEF, an estimated 140 million of the world’s women and girls have undergone FGM (Female Genital Mutilation), and 2 million are added to that number each year. 

FGM is the removal of parts or all of the female genitalia. WHO identifies four types of genital mutilation:
-Type I, or "clitorectomy": Excision of the skin surrounding the clitoris with or without excision of part or the entire clitoris.

-Type II, or "excision": Removal of the entire clitoris and part or all of the labia minora.

-Type III, or "infibulation": Removal of part or all of the external genitalia and stitching together of the vaginal orifice, leaving only a small opening. One out of every three girls dies as a result of infibulation, also known as pharaonic mutilation.

-Type IV: Various other practices, including pricking, piercing, incision and tearing of the clitoris.

Contrary to popular beliefs, FGM is a cultural, and not religious practice. It is spread in many parts of the globe, even in the ‘developed’ nations. Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Somalia and the Sudan account for 75% of all cases. FGM is also carried out in parts of Arabia, India, the USA, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Around 66 000 women and girls living in Britain have been mutilated.

FGM is an extremely dangerous process that can result into serious health complications and even death. The psychological trauma is never erased. Condemned by many physicists, doctors and religious bodies, it is being abused and perpetuated by many patriarchies and sadly, by females too. Tools can range from surgical equipment to anything rudiment: razor, glass, tin.

Tools generally used for mutilation

Read more about the assigned ‘justifications’ and health consequences of FGM:

Even though today efforts are being made to condemn and where they are successful, to outlaw this practice, 2 million victims per year remains a genocide case. This is because FGM can effectively be dealt with only at its roots—people. Ignorance should be overcome so that perpetuators learn to let go of this barbaric act. But for this ignorance to be diminished, awareness must spread first.

Outside intervention by humanist organisations and powerful nation states is often shunned as culture imperialism. Because culture is unique and reminiscent of a tribe’s or a country’s history, it is an asset jealously guarded by generations, especially those who have lagged behind in world development. But what people fail to realize is that culture is ever-changing—it has to change, because people change, technology changes, circumstances change. Leaving our few brutal practices does not equate to disrespect. Today will make history tomorrow. Choosing the best for today is ensuring a better life for future generations. Progress will be slow, perhaps even stagnant, if ignorance from the past is carried forward to the future.

Four women journalists who reported on FGM were kidnapped by women, stripped naked, and paraded through the streets by women as punishment for their bravery in the African city of Sierra Leone.

Nor is home politics likely to solve this problem, especially in corrupt nations where politicians value their votes more than innocent lives. Governments speak words of hope, but act in despair. In 2008, the Sierra Leone government said it would ban FGM, but instead, the circumcisions of 15 000 girls were sponsored in order to buy votes, and threats were given to “sew up the mouths” of those who preached against FGM. Where laws have been enforced in Kenya, follow-up has been meager leading to this practice going underground.

Jomo Kenyatta, the revered leader of Kenya stated in his book Facing Mount Kenya:
“No proper Kibuyu would dream of marrying a girl who has not been circumcised.”

Societal pressure forces parents to abide by this practice. Unless their daughters have gone through this ‘initiation rite’, they shall not be married. The smaller a girl’s vaginal opening is (for cases of infibulation where it has been sewn), the more virtuous she is considered to be—and the greater the bride-price is received for her. Bride-price is an important source of revenue for families who have barely to eat. Mothers who are concerned for the lives of their daughters are powerless in front of the orders of the master of the house. Girls have tried to escape; few only succeeded, others did not. The change they could bring was one in trends: the average age at which girls are being mutilated is decreasing. It has been observed that females who have undergone this trauma have generally adopted more “docile” and “subservient” behaviours. Old men want to marry younger girls, and have control on them. That is why they have a preference for “docile” and “subservient” wives to healthier ones.

There are many ways to tackle this problem, but the most effective one is the one least undertaken—through the males. They are the ones who can bring a change for real. FGM is not a taboo subject—and should not be considered as one. It’s a pure and devastating product of ignorance. And that is why it is crucial to talk, to explain to others and ask them to explain their peoples. If men stop their demands for mutilated wives and fathers protect their daughters from barbarity, then actually will the need for such an inhumane practice be suppressed. We are blessed to be living in a cosmopolitan world where language and distance are no longer barriers to communication. You may not be directly related to this dark portion of the world, but you can bring some light to it. There are, of course, many articles to spread awareness about FGM on the internet, but people are too busy watching videos on youtube, and reading every body’s status updates on Facebook and Twitter that they do not have time left for anything else.

Talk to your friends on campuses, in gatherings, at work, to your neighbours so that when they go back to their native land or tribe, they can share it with others. It does help. History provides evidence to the fact that many of the world’s drastic changes have been brought about by the common man, sometimes only one of them. Men must play their part in breaking the cycle of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), a Bristol detective has said [BBC News]. Transgressions are like weeds: they spread everywhere if they are not uprooted in time. Indeed, like Einstein rightly said, "the world is not dangerous because of those who do harm but because of those who look at it without doing anything."

Existence is unworthy if you cannot do anything to change the world that you share with others. Remember, while you will be hesitating between whether to talk about it or not, each single day 6000 girls will be travelling on the fine thread that separates life from death.

BBC News: Men 'must help stop female genital mutilation' By Jane Onyanga-OmaraWorld Health Organisation, Media Centre 
Dailymail: The unspeakable practice of female circumcision that's destroying young women's lives in Britain
Mashua, voice for the voiceless
Human Rights