Female genital mutilation: A horror of dominance
Warning: This article contains descriptive language of female genital mutilation.
When a girl in the United States and the western world, prepares for marriage, she plans her trousseau and shops for her wedding gown. I recently learned from Angela Peabody, author of “When the Games Froze,” that in parts of Africa, the preparation for marriage is far removed from trousseau and wedding gowns.
For too many, the practice of female genital mutilation (FMG) is at the top of the list for marriage preparations. FGM is the intentional removal of external parts of the female genitalia for non-medical reasons.
There are four related types of procedures:
Clitoridectomy: Partial or total removal of the clitoris (a small, sensitive and erectile part of the female genitals) and, in very rare cases, only the prepuce (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris).
Excision: Partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (the labia are “the lips” that surround the vagina).
Infibulation: Narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the inner or outer labia, with or without removal of the clitoris.
Other: All other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area.
Commonly, the question asked is, “Why is this done?” Some African men believe the woman is not marriageable if she hasn’t been mutilated. They believe the clitoris and labia are male parts on the woman, and should be removed. Others believe that pleasurable sexual activity is a privilege exclusive to men.
While FGM is a tradition of more than 5,000 years, it’s difficult to eradicate this time-worn tradition in Africa. More than 30 African nations still uphold the principles of FGM and it’s a primary source of income for the “Zoes” that perform it.
An estimated 8,000 girls experience this cruel ritual annually, while over 90 million African women are victims of it. Worldwide, 100 to 140 million girls and women live with the physical repercussions and the psychological trauma caused by such a horrific procedure — the kind of emotional scars that never really heal.
A 76-year-old former “Zoe” said she stopped performing FGM in 2003, upon learning how harmful the practice is. She said, “I used to circumcise 15 to 20 girls a day during FGM season. It was a source of income.” She now condemns FGM and, despite any personal hardship, vows never to return to the practice.
FGM is practiced mostly in developing nations in Africa, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, and in Asia. Other smaller pockets of this practice exist in the Middle East and North America. FGM in North America is typically limited to immigrant cultures which have brought this brutal custom with them.
FGM has absolutely no health benefits and violates the fundamental human rights of security and integrity of females. Without proper education of men and women alike, females in Africa will remain powerless victims of FGM and its twin-tradition of early marriage. These traditions deny girls the most effective remedy to FGM — the pursuit of higher education.
In a recent speech, Eva Flomo, a brave FGM survivor, said, “I am an avid fan of the perfect woman created by God. She has no defect. Her genitals were created for a purpose. Why must that perfect woman go through needless pain because someone wants to ‘fix’ her for a man? If God needed our opinion to alter something about His creation, He would have offered the chance to do so.”
We live in an “enlightened era,” but how can we claim enlightenment when millions of girls exist in the bondage of FGM?
Dr. E. Faye Williams is National Chair of the National Congress of Black Women, Inc. www.nationalcongressbw.org. 202.678.6788.