By Maria Montano, University of Southern Mississippi
Our society does not conceive female circumcision, also called Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), as a regular practice. Actually, a large number of people in the western hemisphere do not even know about it. This rare practice is common in the Middle East and Africa. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) “Female genital mutilation comprises all procedures involving partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” The procedure has been a reality for millions of women in the past and it is shocking to know that it is still being practiced. Female circumcision is an atrocious act that has irreversible physical, emotional, and psychological consequences. Nevertheless, it is practiced by societies in Africa in order to maintain their patriarchal control.
Circumcised women seek purity for their daughters and consequently they can marry a man that can support them financially. Not only in Sudan, but also in the rest of Africa and the Middle East, women suffer the consequences of this “purification.” The WHO has classified female genital mutilation in four groups for purposes of terminology. The first type includes the removal of the prepuce and subtraction of all or part of the clitoris. When the elimination of the labia minora of the genitalia is included in the first type it becomes circumcision type two. The third type includes the removal of the clitoris and the suture of the vagina, leaving just two small holes for menstruation and urine. Finally, the last type involves “pricking, piercing or incising of the clitoris and/or labia; stretching of the clitoris and/or labia; cauterization by burning of the clitoris and surrounding tissue.” Chemicals are often used to reduce the size of the vagina, making it tighter. In Sudan most of the cases are associated with circumcision type three on young girls as a virginity warrant (Satti, 307). Chaste girls are more likely to find a successful man financially able to support them. Since males dominate these cultures, women have secondary roles and therefore need to find a man to support them.
Men in African cultures are not only seeking chastity, but also cleanliness and attractiveness of the female genitals. Among Sudanese people there is a belief that mutilated genitals are more beautiful. Along with this awful form of “beautification” girls are being cleaned. For some reason, mothers think that they are removing a source of “bad smell” by eliminating the clitoris. Several studies show there is a general belief that “genital alterations improve their bodies and make them more beautiful, more feminine, more civilized…” (Little, 32). Particularly in a study made in Sudan, an interviewed woman explained that one of her reasons for circumcising her daughter was that “she had a nasty smell” (Berggren, 30). She also explained that uncircumcised women are less accepted by men than the ones that had undergone the horrific procedure. Even though in Sudan these beliefs are still among people, the bottom line is still the satisfaction of a man.
While satisfying males’ wishes, females with modified genitalia can experience lack of desire and reduced pleasure. It is common knowledge that the clitoris has thousands of nerves that allow sexual stimulation. As a result of the clitoris being removed during female circumcision, it can be difficult for women without that sensitive part to have a pleasant sexual life. In countries such as Sudan, the purpose of FGM is to suppress sexual drive in young girls. However, they may feel frustrated after becoming sexual active since they are deprived of one or more of the four phases of sexuality, which are excitement, plateau, orgasm and resolution (Ahmed, 2002). In the same study made by Berggren, an interviewed woman said that “circumcision makes the woman hate the sexual act” (30). Avoiding premarital sexual activity through mutilation will make females more suitable for marriage and sexually unhappy at the same time.
Through genital mutilation, women get so into the satisfaction of their partners that they fall in the field of objectification. In the patriarchal society, the ultimate goal of female genital mutilation is to get the approval of men and to provide more satisfaction during intercourse. Women become an object in the effort to please men. As discussed previously, it is harder for females to enjoy sex when their genitals have been changed. In the same study a woman expressed “Sexual pleasure is far away from me… …I feel I am just a tool for my husband’s sexual pleasure” (Berggren, 24). This is a sad reality that millions of females suffer every day, and one that more will every year.
Besides the satisfaction of men, the need of financial support makes female circumcision a common practice among women with poor and uneducated parents. Rural zones of Sudan have a greater incidence of female genital mutilation. The majority of people in these areas are very poor, so they want better for their children. Since Sudanese society revolves around men, their sons have a better chance of success just because they are men. Daughters, on the contrary, need to reflect the image of a dedicated housewife and mother. Their success is going to be proportional to the success of their future husband. So, when they have a daughter they circumcise her following the traditional beliefs that it will bring a good partner. Parents, besides financial stability, also lack important knowledge about this practice, which could put their female descendants at risk.
In fact, this horrible practice causes medical complications to circumcised women in a large number of cases. This procedure is often preformed with “razor blades, knives, pieces of broken glass, and sharpened flints” (Daley, 2004). Complications can arise because aseptic techniques, such as disinfection of the chirurgical instruments, are not often applied during the mutilation process. According to the WHO, hemorrhages, infections, urinary retention, shock, and death can result after the procedure. The transmission of HIV is common when using the same instruments in several patients. Another important threat for their girls is their mental health. FGM is mostly performed without anesthesia, so the removal of the clitoris, a very nerve rich organ, will be very painful. The extreme pain that these girls have to go through can be enough trauma to cause a mental illness. Despite these problems, a big number of African girls continue to be victims of this repulsive act.
Females with modified genitalia can experience severe complications during pregnancy. Because in Sudan circumcision type III is preferred by the parents, c-section is wished while having a baby. When natural birth is used, the mothers will have another surgery to close their genitalia after having the baby to make it like it was before the pregnancy. On the other hand, infertility can be a result FGM, which can have severe psychological consequences. In countries like Sudan, reproduction is very important for men; women are blamed when a child cannot be conceived. When a girl becomes infertile as a result of circumcision, her husband can have a very negative reaction towards her. In some cases, social isolation is the result of the rejection of her husband and the extended family (Whitehorn, 167). Being unable to please her partner’s wishes will affect every aspect of her life.
Despite the fact that there is not legislature forcing women to circumcise their daughters, they still do it. In 1946 Sudan banned FGM; however, the current law does not exclude its exercise (Satti, 308). Instead, they have an extended body of rights to protect their women. Right to privacy and right to life are two examples of this. Having a constitution full of rights protecting women will guarantee their acceptance in the international community. On the other hand, removing the explicit prohibition of this practice will make traditional families happy. This is a double face game from the leaders of this country to please everybody. The government in Sudan seems to be hypocritical about the legal matter when protecting females with rights but not making an official penalization. The punishment could include fines, incarceration, or even the removal of medical license from health professionals circumcising girls. Women will keep putting their daughters at risk until they understand, even by imposition, how dangerous and unnecessary circumcision is.
Through evolution, societies have been capable of removing violent rituals from their regular practices. Nevertheless, it is amazing how in Africa, especially in Sudan, female genital mutilation is still among the daily life of women. In this day and age, it is inconceivable that every year a large number of girls have to go through the suffering that circumcision provides. Infertility, deadly infections, and unpleasant sex are just a few examples of potential results of this abominable practice. It is unimaginable how a mother that has been through that painful process will make her daughter feel like she did. Even if it is a tradition, having the medical facts and personal experience should be more than enough to stops this madness. Moreover, the government of Sudan should make a clear statement of whether they support this practice or not, and stick with it. Instead, they should ensure the safety of their women and picture the center of their society based on females and males as equal individuals. Institutions, such as UNICEF and WHO, are making a great effort to eliminate this practice form the global image. It is time to take into account only what matters: the life of the girls that have been and will be affected by the performance of FGM.
- Ahmed, Magied, and Musa. “Sexual Experiences and Psychosexual Effect of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) or Female Circumcision (FC) on Sudanese Women.” The Agfad Journal 19.1 (2002): 21-29.
- Berggren, et al. “Being Victims or Beneficiaries? Perspectives on Female Genital Cutting and Reinfibulation in Sudan.” African Journal of Reproductive Health 10.2 (2006): 24-36.
- Daley, Anna. “Female Genital Mutilation: Consequences for Midwifery.” British Journal of Midwifery 12.5 (2004): 292-298.
- Little, Cindy. “Female Genital Circumcision: Medical and Cultural Considerations.” Journal of Cultural Diversity 10.1 (2003): 30-34.
- Satti, et al. “Prevalence and Determinants of the Practice of Genital Mutilation of Girls in Khartoum, Sudan.” Annals of Tropical Paediatrics 26 (2006): 303-310.
- Whitehorn, J., Ayonrinde, O., and Maingay, S. “Female Genital Mutilation: Cultural and psychological Implications.” Sexual and Relationship Therapy 17.2 (2002): 161-170.
- WHO. “Female Genital Mutilation.” World Health Organization. 2001. Fact Sheet no. 241.
- WHO. “Clasification of Female Genital Mutilation.” World Health Organization. 2008. 16 Apr. 2008 <http://www.who.int/reproductive-health/fgm/terminology.htm>