Sometimes in life we come across something so horrifying and grossly inhuman that it makes us doubt humanity. Out of all the terrifying things done in the name of rituals FGM or Female Circumcision is one of the worst. FGM or Female Circumcision is the ritualistic removal or the cutting of all the external female genital organs.
Organizations such as the World Health Organization have urged that all medical practitioners and traditional circumcisers to stop performing these procedures for a number of reasons, one of which being that this procedure violates the human rights of the girls that FGM is practiced on. FGM reveals the gender inequality that exists in the world.
As westerners we need to understand what FGM is and why this practice is still in use today so we can come together as women and mothers and help to educate and spread information so we can see an end in these types of practices in our lifetime, and that starts with educating yourself.
As of 2016 UNICEF has given us the estimate that more than 200 million women had undergone FGM in 27 counties (Africa is one of the hotspots) along with Yemen, Indonesia and Iraqi Kurdistan. About 80 to 98% of women in Guinea, Sudan, Djibouti, Egypt, Somalia are circumcised. This practice is also found in other regions and specific communities of Asia and Middle East.
UNICEF also states that the exact number of women who have undergone FGM is unknown, but there is at least 30 countries that are still using this practice today. When girls and women have access to the data about FGM, they believe the practice should stop. In recent years there has been a decline in the practice, but not all countries have moved in the direction of ceasing the practice entirely.
The circumcision process is done by a traditional circumciser using just a blade. FGM is considered a ritual that is performed days after birth to the period before puberty. As far as we can understand from the figures, most girls in the above mentioned countries undergo circumcision before the age of 5. Of course the specific details of the age and the person doing the circumcision depends on the specific country or the ethnic group in question.
In some countries, girls or women are given medication to dull the pain and make the procedure as painless as possible, but the amount of countries who do use pain medication is also an unknown. As stated above, because these practices may be performed by a local practitioner and not necessarily a medical professional.
There are many reasons as to why women get circumcised and they vary from culture to culture. Circumcision ensures virginity and purity of the woman before marriage and can ensure the woman’s fidelity. Circumcision can also increase the sexual pleasure of the male and can secure the economic future. The clitoris is prevented from growing long and the female genitalia (considered to be ugly) is removed.
The female is supposed to become cleaner and more hygienic after being circumcised. Traditional, cultural and religious dictates of both Islam and Christianity support it. Most often, girls feel that they must do this due to the amount of pressure put on them to conform to social norms in their society, whether they really want the procedure or not.
When we talk about FGM, it becomes important to understand exactly what female external organs are removed and why. The first organ to be removed is the clitoris…both the hood and the glan. As we know a major portion of pleasure that an adult female derives from sexual intercourse is dependant upon the clitoris.
The next organ to be cut is the inner and outer labia along with the closure of Vulva. Traditionally the cutter usually performs the whole process without anaesthesia.
In most cases the person who performs the procedure also plays other central roles in the community. These individuals have some amount of status in the community and are even found at childbirths.
While most cutters who perform the circumcision are females, in some cases the male barber assumes this role. With traditional and typically backward communities non sterile devices like sharpened rocks, fingernails, knives, scissors, razors are used to cut the external organs. We have come across live quotes from nurses in Uganda who said that a cutter is likely to use the same knife on 30 girls at a stretch.
In most countries where FGM is a ritual, there is tremendous social pressure to get circumcised. The decision is almost never individual as the girl (or even her parents) have very little say in it. The uncircumcised girl has very low societal respect, zero marriage prospects and her family ends up being shamed.
With so much pressure around these deep rooted beliefs, the girl in question mostly ends up being proud of being circumcised. Afterward she is accepted into her community and her prospect of finding a husband increase.
It may surprise you to hear that there are some medical practitioners who perform this procedure as well, which is why the WHO has strongly urged medical professionals to abstain from performing female genital mutilation on girls of any age.
With the progress of time, medical health professionals had begun to be involved in FGM in areas like Kenya, Egypt, Sudan and Indonesia. Between the period 2008 and 2016; 50% to 77% of FGM procedures were done by medical professionals. Local anaesthesia was also used in these cases.
FGM is by no means a standard process and when United Nations set off on its research, the questionnaires asked women about 4 categories. 1 (symbolic circumcision or pricking/ minor cut), 2 (cut with removal of some flesh), 3 (sewn and then closed) and 4 (undetermined circumcision). WHO has classified FGM into 4 types.
Type I is removal of clitoral hood and/ or clitoral glans. The clitoris is usually amputated after being pulled out manually.
Type II refers to the complete removal or part removal of labia along/without the clitoral organs.
Type III FGM refers to the process of infibulation where the external genital organs are cut and the wound is sewn. The inner and outer labia are removed while clitoral gland removal is optional. Type IIIa is removal and closure of just labia.
Type IV circumcision is defined by WHO as all abrasive/ mutilative processes done to the medical genitalia for purposes other than purely medical ones. Purposes like piercing, cauterisation, pricking, incising or nicking are also included here. In some tribes of Uganda women are encouraged to stretch their labia using dubious massage techniques and sticks
For these processes the girl in question has to be secured in the lithotomy position by ropes as she often (naturally) struggles violently during the process. In countries like Somalia the glans of the Clitoris is removed and displayed to elder females of the tribe who then nod their approval.
The sewing in type 3 or type 3a is done by agave or acacia horns and then covered by a poultice of sugar, raw eggs and herbs. The entrance to the vagina is secured by a patch of skin leaving a small orifice through which urine and menstrual blood can pass. As a part of the healing process, the legs of the girl are tied together from hip to the ankle for 6 weeks (bindings are loosened after the first 2 weeks)
While we know that FGM has no possible health benefits, there can be no over stating the fact that it produces severe emotional, psychological and physical side effects. The short term and long term complications depends on the kind of FGM process performed. Common complications are swelling, healing delay, urine infection, heavy bleeding, anaemia, gangrene, septic, necrotising fasciitis and endometriosis.
The practice of using the same instrument on multiple women creates complications like HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C. The chance for infection rises when the tools used to perform FGM are not sterilized or cleaned well enough to be used multiple times. This can result in fever swelling and tetanus.
We have seen that there are many long term complications that develop because of FGM. Epidermoid cysts, scars, keloids, obstructive structures and neuroma formations are just some of the side effects.
Urinary stones and rectovaginal fistula along with pain during intercourse are other side effects. In some cases, the woman in question suffers from hematocolpos and painful periods, while in others, the abdomen of the woman swells because of menstrual blood accumulation. It is estimated that about 10 to 20 out of every 1000 babies delivered by FGM affected women are stillborn.
There are a long term psychological side effects of FGM and they continue to haunt the woman for her entire life. Often the FGM affected woman is anxious, depressive and suffers from post-traumatic stress. These women suffer from betrayal and shame especially when confronted with other cultures that do not practice FGM.
Some long term medical complications as a result of FGM are urinary problems, vaginal problems, scar tissue, and the possible need for surgeries later in life. Other long term side effects include loss of sexual desire and lessened sexual pleasure are very common effects, and in some cultures, these are actually intended aims.
In a poem written by Dahabo Musa in 1988, Feminine By Origin, describes the three feminine sorrows. The first sorrow is the FGM surgery, the 2nd the first time she is penetrated on her wedding night and the third sorrow is her childbirth. The popular perspective in the areas of society where FGM is performed is that the process de-masculinizes women.
The very idea of infibulations draws upon the idea that a woman should be, “like a closed space."
The surveys have revealed that in some areas like Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Egypt and other countries there is a concept that female genital mutilation is a religious requirement. The origin is probably pre-Islamic, but the practice is often linked with Islam as the latter focuses on women’s chastity.
In 2007 the supreme Court of Islam Research “Al -Azhar” ruled the fact that this practice has no base in core Islam. Similarly, no reference of female genital mutilation has been found in the Bible. Judaism practices male circumcision but is against female genital mutilation.
Desert Rose is a very moving and sensitive film showing the plight, fight and ultimately the victory of a woman who suffered from female genital circumcision. The movie is reportedly a true account of a Somali model.
If we are to eradicate this social evil called female genital mutilation, then the first step is awareness and sensitization which can happen through watching informative content on this subject. A short account of the movie and access to it can be obtained by a quick Google search.