Who makes the decision about your body? Your parents? Your spouse? Your relative or a community member? No. No one but you can make decisions about your body. However, for some women around the world this right is taken away from them. Deeply entrenched social norms around religion, tradition and reputation are used to rationalize the deliberate violence.
Gender Violence in the Name of “Tradition”
What is “female genital mutilation (FGM)”?
“Female genital mutilation (FGM)” is the cultural custom of removing or injuring part or all of the female external genitalia. To those with such history and culture, FGM is “a celebration.” In the name of the coming-of-age ceremony, they celebrated the first step of girls becoming women by permanently altering their genitals.
This violent celebration leaves not only physical scars but emotional ones for all the women involved. While the community celebrates historical traditions young girls are forced to endure the pain of their flesh being cut by non-medical tools, held down by their family. And for what?
FGM is a dangerous practice with no health advantages, where safety can never be ensured even if it is performed by a medical professional. Most countries that carry out FGM perform it in an unhygienic environment with unsterilized tools by a non-specialist with no professional medical knowledge and without anesthesia. Women experience severe pain and complications including excessive bleeding, infections, and infertility, even leading to death in severe cases.
Types of FGM
Female Genital Mutilation is classified into four main types
1. Clitoridectomy. Removing part or all of the external clitoris and/or clitoral hood, the most sensitive part of the female genitals.
2. Excision. Complete or partial removal of the inner labia with the removal of the clitoris. The outer labia is also sometimes damaged.
3. Infibulation. Cutting and stitching both sides of the outer labia to leave only a small hole, covering the urethra and the vagina. Can also involve the removal of the clitoris and/or the inner labia.
(this is sometimes opened when the girl is older, and has sex with a man for the first time or during childbirth)
Other than the three types above, all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia are considered the fourth type of FGM. (E.g., Genital piercings, incisions, pricking, cauterizing etc.)
Dangerous Complications of FGM
What more can you say about FGM other than it’s pointless and harmful? FGM is not a medical procedure, and it has no health benefits. It harms young girls who have not yet fully grown and interferes with their sexual and urinary functions.
In addition, FGM is performed in an unhygienic environment by non-professionals, and many women suffer from the complications throughout their lives. There are immediate complications of FGM as well as long-term complications as young girls become adults.
- Severe pain.
- Excessive bleeding.
- Genital tissue swelling.
- Infection, e.g., tetanus.
- Urinary problems.
- Wound healing problems.
- Injury to surrounding genital tissue.
- Painful urination.
- Urinary tract infections.
- Vaginal problems (itching, bacterial vaginosis, and other infections).
- Difficulty in passing menstrual blood.
- Decreased sexual satisfaction.
- Childbirth complications (difficult delivery, excessive bleeding, etc.)
- Increased risk of newborn death.
Women can also experience complications of a fistula between the vagina and the anus or the vagina and the bladder. Fistula’s can lead to a disorder wherein defecation and urination are difficult to control or odor is generated due to discharge from the fistula such as ooze or pus. The odor due to complications of FGM becomes evidence of “the flow of impurity” due to social stigma and women can then be rejected by their spouses, family, and neighbors.
Women who have been rejected by those around them have low self-esteem and not only experience severe depression and anxiety but also have their livelihood threatened as they are unable to lead a basic economic life. As such, FGM can lead to physical problems as well as various psychological problems for women. Moreover, the memory of being forced into the procedure by their family and neighbors can be painful even when the young girls grow into adults.
Current Status of FGM
- 🌍 FGM is considered common in 30 countries in Africa, Middle East, and Asia including Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, and Nigeria.
- 🇸🇴 The country where FGM is performed the most is Somalia in Africa, where 98% of women undergo FGM and over 60% believe they must follow FGM as a ritual.
- 📊 Other than Somalia, women who have undergone FGM constitute 93.7% in Mali, 90% in Sierra Leone, 81% in North Sudan, 72.7% in Ethiopia, and 60% in Chad.
- 🇺🇳 According to the UN, more than 200 million women are suffering due to FGM.
- ⏳ Even at this moment, 1 woman every 9 seconds, 9,800 women a day, and 3.5 million women a year undergo FGM.
- 👧 The average age of girls who undergo FGM is 10 years old, and it is mostly carried out between the ages of 7 and 12.
- 🏚 7 out of 10 FGMs are carried out in a home without professional medical devices.
- 🛩️ FGM is also sometimes carried out in western countries, including Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Europe, by diaspora populations that have immigrated from areas where it is common.
What is this Tradition for?
FGM is illegal in most of the 30 countries where it is performed. So why is it that people insist on enforcing FGM due to religion, culture, and tradition despite it being illegal? Why, and for whom is this brutality that is done only on women in the name of “tradition”?
Groups who share the FGM culture believe that they need to control the sex life of women through FGM for a proper married life. It’s to protect women’s beauty, cleanliness, and purity for future husbands, which also protects the reputation of the family. To these people, the sexual desires of a woman are not significant as the first sexual experience of a woman must be saved for her future husband. When a woman refuses FGM, some condemn the woman for being unchaste and blinded by her sexual desire, and she is also considered to have tarnished not only her reputation but also that of the entire family.
FGM is also enforced mostly due to religious reasons despite not being required in any scriptures. This ultimately becomes one of the norms dominating such a society and the family do not have a choice but to force their young daughters to undergo FGM despite knowing the dangers of it. Refusing FGM can make marriage for their daughter difficult and tarnish the family’s social standing and reputation in the community.
Doctors for young girls cannot be found when performing FGM in homes or societies. In the end, FGM is another form of gender-based violence.
To Abolish FGM
Many people around the world, and various international institutions, are striving to help women suffering from FGM and to abolish the practice, which constitutes gender discrimination and gender violence.
UNICEF, the UNs Children’s Fund, held a conference in London, UK on July 22, 2014 to discuss the eradication of FGM and child marriage. World Vision, one of the largest relief and development organizations in the world, provides aid for the treatment and lives of victims and education to rectify false beliefs on FGM in the local communities. Plan International, a relief organization, informs listeners of the negative effects of FGM on women’s health through radio broadcasts in Somalia and is continuing activities to encourage abolishing FGM in communities.
The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa held a conference in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, on February 2 to 6, 2003 and designated the last day of the conference as “the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation.” Since then, there are calls for help in the international society through various activities to take care of victims and abolish FGM on February 6th every year.
- Female Genital Mutilation is the coercive gender violence inflicted on young girls under the guise of 'culture' or 'tradition’
- Everyone should acknowledge and respect that a woman has the right to make her own decisions about her body, and stand up for those without a voice.