By Lori Howell, University of Southern Mississippi
Female Genital Mutilation, fgm, is a procedure where the exterior sex organs are partially or fully removed for reasons that are non-medical but traditional. It is widely practiced in Africa, but is not restricted to just that country. World Health Organization, WHO, have said that up to 140 million females in the world have been through this brutal procedure, and around 3 million are in danger of going through it every year. The problem with this issue is that there are absolutely no health benefits one can gain from it, only harm. The only reason fgm is still common in places like Africa, is because of tradition, ignorance, and superstition. The women who fall victim to this tradition only do it because their ancestors did it. They do not even know what the clitoris is nor do they care to know. They see the event as a birthday and feel honor when they get done, but that’s not the case with everyone. Most found it traumatizing and were regretful. The superstitions that get women to go through with it are: the clitoris will make a man impotent, could kill a baby as he/she is being born and that a woman with a clitoris will become a nymphomaniac. There are four different types of procedures done to mutilate the vagina.
One of the mildest forms of vaginal mutilation is circumcision. This is where the midwife partially or fully removes the clitoris, the female sex organ. Obviously, this is a very painful act that can contain many physical consequences. How a circumcision takes place is the girl is held down by four women while the midwife cuts off the clitoris. The object she uses to cut with ranges from a razor blade to a stone to a can top. Keep in mind that there is no anesthetic to numb the pain. Afterwards, the girl is led back to her home by the older women in town who yell and sing praises in her honor. Then she is required to lie down in her home for seven days so that the scar tissue may form properly over the wound. A female who has had this type of mutilation is considered lucky because the others are more gruesome.
The second type of female genital mutilation is known as excision. This is when the clitoris and either part or all of the labia minora is removed. There is an exception on whether the labia majora, the two outer folds of the vulva, is partially or fully removed.
The next type of fgm is the most dreadful of them all. It is called infibulation and it is said to take anywhere from fifteen to twenty minutes to complete. What takes place is a combination of the three previous mutilations except in this one all of the mentioned sexual organs are fully removed. After all of that takes place, the two sides of the vulva are pinned together with thorns. This sows up the vaginal opening completely except for a small hole towards the end, which is left exposed so urine and menstrual blood can flow. The method used for preserving this hole is by inserting a small piece of wood or reed into the break so it will not close up. This whole tradition is done so that the girl will be seen as pure and will have no problem with getting married. If a girl is not put through genital mutilation she becomes an outcast. No circumcision means no husband, no land, and no respect. Once the procedure is done and the girl is healed, she is able to get married. One girl from the territory Dijibouti in Africa describes her wedding night not too long after she went through the infibulation surgery. She said that her husband beat her with a leather whip and then opened up her vagina with a dagger. He then had sex with her numerous times which were lengthy and painful over the course of eight days. This is so the wound will not heal up and bind itself back together again. The morning after the girl’s wedding night, her husband attached his bloody dagger to his shoulder and walked around the village to show what he did and that people should give him respect. Meanwhile the woman had to lie still at home to keep the wound from healing back together. When men were asked about what they thought on this subject, they agreed that it was a positive thing, and they liked it because it make the women weaker so that they could dominate them and make them feel dependent.
The last type of mutilation is known as intermediate. This is when the clitoris, the labia minora, and parts of the labia majora are removed. Then the rest is just random mutilation that depends on the girl’s family. Other things that could be done are pricking, piercing, scraping and burning with a hot object.
When word started to spread that female genital mutilation was a bad thing, some of the countries made it illegal. Sadly enough, this does not stop the tradition from being carried out. Even though it is illegal in some places, the majority of the women in those towns are still getting it done. They are not phased by the numerous health risks that come into play. Some health risks are trauma, hemorrhaging, bleeding to death, infections, complications with childbirth, becoming sterile and, of course, death. Around fifteen percent of the women that get this done die as a result. An issue that arises between circumcised women and non-circumcised women is hate. Women that do not get a circumcision are ridiculed, spit and cursed at. They are thought of as ugly and impure. It is bad enough that they are not able to find a husband and are outcast by their families, but to be constantly mocked by all the other women in their village is a hard thing to go through.
Women in Africa, as well as other parts of the world, are still being put through the violent tradition of circumcision, excision, infibulation and intermediate. Even though there are four different types of mutilation, none of them are healthy or have a good fate for any woman to go through. Since there is no health benefit in having it done, organizations are going throughout the effected villages and educating them on the health hazards of this procedure. There are growing numbers of people who have changed their minds on passing this tradition down in the family which gives organizations, such as WHO, a great hope in stopping the procedures entirely.
James, Stanlie M. Genital Cutting and Transnational Sisterhood. Chicago: University of
Illinois P, 2005.
McLean, Scilla. Female Circumcision, Excision, and Infibulation: the Facts and
Proposals for Change. London: Minority Rights Group, 1980.
Walker, Alice. Warrior Marks. San Diego: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1993.