Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a cultural practice that started in Africa approximately 2000 years ago. It is primarily a cultural practice, not a religious practice. But some religions do include FGM as part of their practices. This practice is so well ingrained into these cultures, it defines members of these cultures. In order to eliminate the practice one must eliminate the cultural belief that a girl will not become a women without this procedure.
What is Female Genital Mutilation?
Female Genital Mutilation is the term used for removal of all or just part of the external parts of the female genitalia. There are three varieties to this procedure.
In Africa 85% of FGM cases consist of Clitoridectomy and 15% of cases consist of Infibulation. In some cases only the hood is removed.
- Sunna Circumcision - consists of the removal of the prepuce(retractable fold of skin, or hood) and /or the tip of the clitoris. Sunna in Arabic means "tradition".
- Clitoridectomy - consists of the removal of the entire clitoris (prepuce and glands) and the removal of the adjacent labia.
- Infibulation(pharonic circumcision)-- consists of performing a clitoridectomy (removal of all or part of the labia minora, the labia majora). This is then stitched up allowing a small hole to remain open to allow for urine and menstrual blood to flow through.
What is the age, the procedure used and the side effects?
The age the procedure is carried out varies from just after birth to some time during the first pregnancy, but most cases occur between the ages of four and eight. Most times this procedure is done with out the care of medically trained people, due to poverty and lack of medical facilities. The use of anesthesia is rare. The girl is held down by older women to prevent the girl from moving around. The instruments used by the mid-wife will vary and could include any of the following items; broken glass, a tin lid, razor blades, knives, scissors or any other sharp object. These items usually are not sterilized before or after usage. Once the genital area for removal is gone, the child is stitched up and her legs are bound for up to 40 days.
This procedure can cause various side effects on the girls which can include death. Some of the results of this procedure are serious infections, HIV, abscesses and small benign tumors, hemorrhages, shock, clitoral cysts. The long term effects may also include kidney stones, sterility, sexual dysfunction, depression, various urinary tract infections, various gynecological and obstetric problems.
In order to have sexual intercourse the women have to be opened up in some fashion and in some cases cutting is necessary. After child birth some women are re-infibulated to make them (tight) for their husbands.
Is this practice a cultural or religious practice?
In an FGM society, a girl can not be considered to be an adult until she has undergone this procedure. As well as in most cultures a women can not marry with out FGM.
The type of procedure used will vary with certain conditions and these conditions could include the females ethic group, the country they live in, rural or urban areas, as well as their socioeconomic provenance.
FGM is a culture identity practice. The fact that the procedure helps to define who is the group, is obvious in cultures that carry out this procedure as an initiation into womanhood. Most FGM societies feel that unless a girl has this procedure done she is not a woman as well as removal of these practices would lead to the demise of their culture.
FGM societies have many claims of why this procedure should be done and these are as follows:
FGM does predate Islam, but most Muslims do not practice this. FGM was also practice by Falasha (Ethiopian Jews). The remaining FGM society's follow traditional Animist religions. To see a list of groups click here.
- In most FGM societies one important belief is that this procedure will reduce a women's desire for sex and in doing so will reduce the chance of sex outside the marriage. This is vital to this society as her honor for the family is depended on her not to be opened up prior to marriage.
- Some view the clitoris and the labia as male parts on a female body, thus removal of these parts enhances the femininity of the girl.
- It is also believed that unless a female has undergone this procedure she is unclean and will not be allowed to handle food or water.
- Some groups believe that if the clitoris touches a man's penis the man will die. As well as the belief that if a baby's head touches the clitoris that the baby will die or the breast milk will be poisonous.
- The belief that an unmutilated female can not conceive, therefore the female should be militated in order to become fertile.
- Bad genital odors can only be eliminated by removing the clitoris and labia minora.
- Prevents vaginal cancer.
- An unmodified clitoris can lead to masturbation or lesbianism.
- Prevents nervousness from developing in girls and women.
- Prevents the face from turning yellow.
- Makes a women's face more beautiful.
- Older men may not be able to match their wives sex drive.
- Intact clitoris will generate sexual arousal and in women if repressed can cause nervousness.
In countries where Muslim's practices FGM, they can justify it, in the words of the Prophet Mohammed, in these two controversial sayings that are found in the Sunnah (words and actions of Mohammed)
These passages are regarded to have little credibility or authenticity with in the Muslim religion and is contradiction in the Qur'an:
A discussion was recorded between Mohammed and Um Habibah (or Um'Alyyah), a women performed infibulation on slaves. She said that she would continue the procedure "unless it is forbidden and you order me to stop doing it". He replied (according to one translation) "Yes it is allowed. Come closer so I can teach you: if you cut, do not over do it, because it brings more radiance to the face and it is more pleasant for the husband."
Mohammed is recorded as speaking of the Sunna circumcision to Ansar's wives saying: "Cutting slightly with out exaggeration, because it is more pleasant for your husbands."
God apparently created the clitoris for the sole purpose of generating pleasure. It has no other purpose. There is no instructions in the Qur'an or in the writings of the Prophet Mohammed which require that the clitoris be surgically modified. Thus God must approve of its presence. And also, it should not be removed or reduced in size or function.
the Qur'an promotes the concept of a wife being given pleasure by her husband during sexual intercourse. Mutilated genitalia reduces or eliminates a women's pleasure during the act.
There is an estimated 135 million girls and women that have gone through this procedure with an additional 2 million a year at risk. This procedure is practiced in Africa (28 countries), Middle East, parts of Asia as well as in North America, Latin America, and as well as in Europe. It is now believed that the practice originated in Africa and is a cultural practice. Follow this link to see some indicators supporting this conclusion.
Amnesty International now has taken up the fight to do away with this practice that mutilates millions of girls each year. Today FGM is seen as a human rights issue and is recognized at an international level. FGM was in the universal framework for protection of human rights that was tabled in the 1958 united Nation agenda. It was during the UN Decade for Women (1975-1985) that a UN Working Group on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children was created. This group helped to develop and aided to the development of the 1994 Plan of Action for the Elimination of Harmful Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of women and Children. the World Health Organization, the United Nations Children's' Fund and the Untied Nations Population Fund, unveiled a plan in April 1997 that would bring about a major decline in FGM within 10 years and the complete eradication of the practice within three generations.
Nahld Toubia, MD, a physician from Sudan and assistant clinical professor in CSPH's center for Population and Family Health states:
"Female circumcision is the physical marking of the marriage ability of women, because it symbolizes social control of their sexual pleasure-- clitoridectomy--and their reproduction--infibulation,"
Toubia also believes that female circumcision raises numerous human right issues, including reproductive rights, the protection from violence, women's rights and especially children’s rights since most circumcisions take place on girls who are four to ten years of age. Even though there is no theological basis for the practice of FGM, it will be hard to eradicate, until we have a better understanding of the cultural beliefs.
Professor Stephen Isaacs, J.D, who specializes in human rights issues states
"Human rights transcend cultural relativism by definition," and goes on to also state
"But the cultural-religious argument has to be taken into consideration for implementation of policy."
But with this Toubia maintains that the goal in ending FGM must never be compromised.
"No ethical defense can be made for preserving a cultural practice that damages women's health and interferes with their sexuality," "It is only a matter of time before all forms of female circumcision in children will be made illegal in Western countries and, eventually, in Africa."
Female Genital Mutilation
Female Genital Mutilation-Amnesty International
The Female Genital Mutilation Education and networking project
Female Genital Mutilation-At the crossroads of women's health and human rights.
Links to other FMG Sites
Female Genital Mutilation: An Amnesty International Site
The US bill to prohibit female genital mutilation:
Female Circumcision and Genital Mutilation site: from here leads to different resource sites
The female genital mutilation research homepage: a great location for information on this topic
Female genital mutilation in Africa, Middle East and Far East:
Female and intersexual genital mutilation in North America:
Female Genital Mutilation: At the Crossroads of women's Health & Human Rights :
FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION (FGM):
gives books and films done on this topic:
FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION AND THE UNITED NATIONS:: A CASE STUDY OF INTERNATIONAL SOCIALIZATION
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This article has been updated on April 10.2000
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