Female Genital Mutilation

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Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), originally originating in Egypt 2,000 years ago and then spreading, was once seen as a cultural practice but is now recognized as a human rights violation by the United Nations. Countries such as Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, and the United States have deemed FGM as grounds for seeking asylum and as a punishable crime (1).

Female Genital Mutilation was once unknown to many of us, until the story of Kauziya Kasinga emerged. Hailing from West Africa, Kasinga’s father was against polygamy, forced marriages, and the practice of “female circumcision”. Unfortunately, her father passed away when she was only 17 years old. As a consequence, her father’s sister became the inheritor of their home, expelled her mother, terminated Kasinga’s education, and arranged a marriage with a man she had never met before. Furthermore, the aunt scheduled Kasinga for the circumcision procedure. In an act of desperation, she fled with $3,000 that one of her aunts had saved.

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Female circumcision, also known as female genital mutilation (FGM), encompasses three main types of genital mutilation (2). One form is called “sunna circumcision,” which involves the removal of the prepuce and/or the tip of the clitoris. Ironically, “sunna” means “tradition” in Arabic. This procedure is performed due to the belief that the clitoris is a dangerous part of the female anatomy. In our society, Freud discussed in his book, Sexuality and the Psychology of Love, that eliminating clitoral sexuality is a necessary step for femininity to develop. In 1979, Dr. James Burt, known as the “Love Surgeon,” performed a procedure called “clitoral relocation” (or sunna circumcision) on women in the United States. He believed and acted upon the notion that excision does not eliminate sexual pleasure but enhances it. Dr. Burt practiced in Ohio for nearly ten years until his exposure led him to relinquish his medical license.

The complete removal of the clitoris and labia, known as clitoridectomy or excision, is one form of female circumcision. Another extreme procedure is infibulation, which involves removing the clitoris and labia and then sewing or securing the scraped sides of the vulva together with thorns or thread. This creates a small opening for urine and menstrual blood to pass through. Women who undergo infibulation must be cut open for intercourse on their wedding night and then closed again to ensure fidelity to their husbands. Occasionally, the opening is expanded for childbirth but then sewn up once more. In certain cultures, the husband himself may cut open the woman for sexual intercourse. To compare this to infibulation in males, one would have to remove the entire penis and testicles (castration). In the past, castration was practiced in the Catholic Church to enable men to sing soprano; however, this practice has since been banned by the Pope. It was also performed on men who worked in harems to prevent them from having sexual relations with the women.

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a cultural practice predominantly found in Africa. However, it is also observed in various other cultures including Christian, Judaism, Aboriginal, and Islamic cultures. FGM is not a religious ritual but a social custom. Its prevalence is almost universal in some countries, with Nigeria alone having over 30 million circumcised women, and Ethiopia and Eritrea having 24 million. Estimates suggest that worldwide, as many as 114 to 130 million women have undergone FGM. The practice has spread globally as a result of immigration from African countries and other nations where it is accepted. Although it is illegal in the United States, FGM still occurs. In Denver, CO, specialists reported in 1998 that around 6,000 immigrants from African countries, where FGM is widely practiced, had settled in the area. Dr. Terry Dunn, director of a women’s clinic in the city, even stated that they had come across a patient who had clearly undergone FGM within the country. The clinic typically sees about four cases of mutilation each year.

Female Genital Mutilation, also known as female circumcision, is a cultural practice that can be performed at various stages of a woman’s life. While some cultures carry out this procedure during puberty, others opt for doing it right after birth. The rationale behind this operation seems to stem from the intention to suppress or diminish sexual desires in women, thereby decreasing the likelihood of engaging in pre-marital intercourse or adultery. It is worth noting that the clitoris, an organ with numerous nerve endings, is responsible for generating sensations of sexual arousal when stimulated.

Women in countries that practice female genital mutilation (FGM) who choose not to undergo the procedure face difficulties in finding a spouse and are criticized by both men and women. In African tribes, being unmarried is seen as having no value. Some justifications for FGM include preserving family honor, ensuring cleanliness, protecting against spells, guaranteeing virginity, and maintaining faithfulness to the husband. FGM is also seen as a means to frighten women away from engaging in sexual activities. In Muslim countries, men prefer women who have been circumcised as they believe they are more likely to remain faithful. Additionally, proponents of FGM argue that removal of the clitoris is necessary for health reasons, claiming that it is a dangerous organ that can cause illness or death if touched by a man’s penis. There are also beliefs that contact with the clitoris can lead to impotence in men or result in hydrocephalic babies if the head comes into contact with the clitoris during childbirth.

FGM originated during the “al-gahiliyya” or “Era of Ignorance”. While the Bible does not mention it, the Sunnah, which includes the words and actions of the Prophet Mohammed, contains various references to female circumcision. One particular conversation is documented between Mohammed and Um Habibah, a woman who practiced infibulation on slaves. Um Habibah stated that she would continue unless prohibited by him and only ceased when Mohammed commanded her to stop. He responded by saying, “Yes, it is permissible. Come closer so I can instruct you; if you perform the procedure, be cautious not to excessively cut as it enhances facial beauty and brings more pleasure to the husband” (7).

Nawal El-Saadawi, a Muslim woman who has undergone circumcision, argues that the significance placed on virginity and an intact hymen in certain societies is the primary reason why female circumcision continues to persist as a widespread practice. Despite a growing trend, particularly in urban Egypt, to abandon the practice due to its outdated and harmful nature, the belief remains that by removing certain parts of girls’ external genital organs, their sexual desire is minimized. This enables young girls who have reached puberty and adolescence to more easily protect their virginity and therefore their honor. In a similar manner to castration being imposed on male attendants in female harems, which rendered them harmless eunuchs, female circumcision aims to preserve the chastity of young girls by diminishing their desire for sexual intercourse. The danger associated with female genital mutilation lies in the unhygienic conditions under which these procedures occur.

The use of unsanitary tools by a midwife or holy woman, including razorblades, scissors, kitchen knives, and glass fragments, poses significant risks. These instruments are often used on multiple girls without proper cleaning, resulting in the transmission of various viruses like HIV and hepatitis. Aside from the physical pain, circumcised individuals also experience long-term physiological, sexual, and psychological consequences. Infections pose the most significant threat, with cases of shock and hemorrhage leading to death. Lasting complications include sexual frigidity, genital malformation, chronic pelvic issues, recurrent urinary infections and retention, as well as obstetric problems such as exposing the fetus to diseases and causing the child’s head to be crushed in the birth canal. In some cases, women require an additional operation to facilitate the delivery of the baby.

When Fauziya Kasinga shared her story, the United Nations and other countries took action to address the issue directly. They have implemented measures to withhold loans from nations that continue to practice FGM. The New Woman Research Center in Egypt asserts that the decision to legalize FGM instead of making it a criminal act is not based on religion or morality, but rather aims to institutionalize control over women, perpetuate violence against them, and reinforce their inferior status in society (9).

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Female Genital Mutilation. (2018, Dec 25). Retrieved from


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