The Fight Against Female Genital Mutilation
The Fight Against Female Genital Mutilation
The fight against the traditional or customary female genital mutilation rages on. The fight, which started from small beginning with few proponents, has grown up now involving world-wide organizations with strong outreach programs. The efforts, however, have demonstrated to be tough as perpetrators, for a fee or otherwise, stealthily find ways performing the irrational practice.
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Female circumcision is known differently in various countries, particularly in developing nations, where it is practiced. In Sudan and elsewhere, it is called Pharaonic circumcision. In the Muslim world the practice is referred to as Sunna circumcision. To make it official, the practice has been given the term Female Genetic Mutilation (FGM) or Female Genital Cutting (FGC). FGM was chosen as the adaptable term vis-à-vis female circumcision in 1990 during the third conference of the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (IAC) in Ethiopia. Much later, the World Health Organization a year after recommended the use of the term FGM and then used it in UN papers. Some organizations, however, are not comfortable with the term FGM due to some wild suggestions coming from the word “mutilation.” To do away having a judgmental and problematic suggestions from the term, the word “cutting” has come to the fore as a substitute. Now it is FGC or Female Genital Cutting. The practice is usually done when the females have reached the age from 4 to 10. Sometimes FGM/C is performed at much early age during infancy or later just before wedlock.
Cutting Tools and FGM/C Types
Observers have noted the use of various village cutting instruments used in performing female circumcision. With or without a fee, village excisors use shaving blades, knives, scissors, and in some cases, sharp broken glass for excising (BBC News). In other countries, physicians are sought or requested to perform FGM/C using sterile instruments and anesthesia. Numerous women have been subjected to this practice estimated at more than 150 million all over the world. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 3 million females, mostly under 15 years of age are subjected to cutting or mutilation each year (WHO, 2007).
WHO, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and other health institutions and organizations have classified FGM/C into four types according to the degree of harshness. Types range from one to four. Type 1 is otherwise known as clitorectomy where the skin around the clitoris is excised. The clitoris may be intact, partly or wholly excised. This type is also known as clitoridomy or in a slangy and informal use, hoodectomy. When the entire clitoris with the labia minora is partially or wholly removed, this procedure falls into Type 2. This type of excision allows the birth canal opening uncovered. This type is also called excision.
The harshest is Type 3 where the whole clitoris and the labia minora are partly or wholly removed, making raw surfaces, which are then stitched together. A small opening is just left for urinating and for discharging menstrual flow. Type 3 is also called infibulation. Type 4 exhibits varying degrees of severity, which the excisors may inflict to the female organ. Excisors, aside from cutting the clitoris, may also pierce, prick, stretch, scrape, and cauterize it. Corrosives may also be applied into the birth canal.
Various reasons, either traditional or customary, are given for the existence of the practice, which the cons have claimed not sensible and illogical. Opponents of the practice say that FGM/C is based on blind loyalty to tradition, which clouds the imitators passing the irrational practice to their descendants The likely fact is that the practice could have been prevalent during the time of prophet Mohammed, which He sanctioned it. This in effect became a social law, which holds true and should be followed according to the exigencies of that particular time. That was the condition during the time of Mohammed For those who believe in progressive revelation or progressive religion, these antiquated traditional laws must be abrogated and adjusted to the needs of our modern time. As social laws are the changeable aspects of a revelation or religion, these laws must be adapted to the requirements of the ever-changing society. Just like the laws on slavery, which prohibited and abolished this inhuman practice, the same disposition to FGM/C must be given the same destiny. And say good bye to it.
For various reasons, logical or not, real or imaginary, FGM or FGC continues inching globally, creating more cons advocates to check or completely prohibit the practice. Medical reports during the early parts of the past century cited some reasons for performing clitoridectomy. Some reasons surfaced like: reducing sexual activities; stopping masturbation; for hygienic grounds; increasing sexual sensitivity and pleasure; and more. Some of the mentioned justifications for having FGM/C, however, have become fizzy and have dissipated like the views on masturbation, hygiene, and increased sexual sensitivity. The induced sensitivity is just an ephemeral pleasure and aging would make the clitoris grow hard with waning sensuousness.
Crusades Against the Practice
It is noteworthy to cite some of the efforts done by various personalities and movements trying to efface customary or traditional genital mutilation. In Gambia, the Association Promoting Girl’s and Women’s Advancement was formed by some health providers, midwives, nurses, and by a woman sociologist in 1993. The association objective is mainly focused on abolishing genital mutilation, which is done through education or information workshops. Its founders also presented some alternatives ways of generating income for circumcisors.
The National Committee on Traditional Practices in Ethiopia (NCTPE), formed in 1987, trains and educates circumcisors including religion teachers and village elders about Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting. In Burkina Faso, the National Committee to Fight Circumcision was founded in 1988. They introduce the topic on FGM/C to the villagers in entertaining ways through music, movie, and stage performances.
In Kenya, East Africa, circumcisors have been decreasing in number resulting from the issuance of a presidential decree that bans Female Genital Mutilation/ Cutting. One of the cutters is named Mrs. Kemunto, who in earlier years made ways to meet, and then made substantial income from excising young girls (Lacey, 2002). In Senegal where 700,000 women or one-in-four have undergone the cutting ritual, the practice is similarly banned and the government called on the excisors to surrender their cutting instruments. A wipe-out campaign from one village organized by women was praised by its president Abdou Diouf saying that the village should be a model for the rest (BBC News, 1998a). Similarly, the practice is banned in Togo where human rights advocates say that FGM attacks women’s physical integrity (BBC News, 1998b).
Despite all the bans, the practice still continues creeping stealthily towards the community. According to a recent law passed by the Kenya Parliament, it prohibits subjecting a child to any traditional practice that affects the child’s physical and psychological development.
A woman, Regina Norman Danson, made FGM an excuse so that she could stay in the U.S.A. She is from Ghana, West Africa, who made a plea for political asylum due to her fear of genital mutilation/cutting. This woman was convicted instead of perjury, fraud, and fabricating lies or giving false statements to immigration authorities. Another woman who fled from Ghana to escape the traditional genital mutilation/ cutting and thinking that she would have a better life in the U.S.A., on the contrary, found herself in a detention center. The woman, Ms. Adelaide Abankwa, arrived at the Kennedy International Airport carrying false identification documents. She was later arrested and detained. Her plight attracted the media and later got supporters from some politicians, human rights organizations, and some movie celebrities. Her nightmare was ended when the immigration authorities granted her petition for political asylum. Her reason was based on her emotion caused by the possibility of danger and pain from genital mutilation/cutting upon her return to Ghana. And now, she is free after detaining for 2 years and 3 months. Her long and persistent fight to stay in the U.S.A has resulted in having many friends and supporters. Now, she continues her study and has become a volunteer for Equality Now, an association that opposes genital mutilation/cutting (Hu, 1999).
In a resettlement program involving some 12,000 Somali Bantu exiles, most of the families made way rushing young women to having the traditional genital cut before their resettlement to the U.S.A. Since FGM or FGC is not tolerated in the U.S.A., these Bantu families have greater possibilities of being excluded from the program, which may stop
One death has occurred in Sierra Leone, Africa arising from the practice of genital mutilation/cutting during initiation rites. For this case, local police force has arrested 10 women who allegedly performed the deadly ritual on the 14-year-old girl victim. Meanwhile, at the same place, police authorities are also searching for six women suspects believed to be involved in another initiation killing of another young girl. Such FMG/C rite is not supported by health authorities in and out of Africa and it is highly condemned. Surprisingly, however, the filing of criminal charges for the excisors is rare if not unusual.
Even the U.S.A. is not spared from the FGM/C problem and controversy. According to a report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, it disclosed that more than 150,000 females, young and old, of African origin living in the U.S. have already been genitally cut (Dugger, 1996).
Perpetrators of FGM/C are subject to criminal prosecution in various countries, which include UK, Norway, Australia, and U.S.A. Health authorities including the American Academy of Pediatrics have advised members and practicians to decline committing all superfluous ways of altering the female external sex organ.
According to the resolution of the European Parliament, it calls the member states of the European Union to punish the wrongdoers of FGM/C while giving rights to asylum for females at risk of being subjected to the ritual practice of genital cutting (UNFPA, 2007).
Workers Fighting Against FGM/C Practice
In Benin, Type 2 is commonly practiced. One of the foremost workers here fighting against the practice is Mrs. Isabelle Tevoedre. She founded the Benin chapter of IAC or the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children. She has been working against FGM/C for many years now, which all began during her stay in Geneva. She pushes awareness campaign through seminars, government representations, videos, movies, slides, etc., showing the actualities and consequences of the practice. Though Benin has a network of groups opposing this practice, a weakness exists in its organization concerning the effectiveness of seeking local police action.
Just like in Benin, Type 2 exists in Burkina Faso. Excisors perform the traditional practice for a fee, earning them some US$ 3 or more sometimes with added gifts in-kind like chickens, soap, costly fabrics, per female. One of the active proponents working against FGM/C in Burkina Faso is its own First Lady Chantal Compaore. She is the honorary chairperson of the National Committee to Fight Against the Practice of Excision (CNLPE). Through radio and seminar awareness campaigns, the committee has been waging war against the widespread practice. Admittedly, the committee itself has experienced the difficulty of resisting the practice due to powerful traditional belief that subjects young and old girls to the initiation rites.
In Chad, Type 2 and 3 are prevalent. A non-governmental organization ASTBEF or the Chadean Association for Family well-being leads the fight against this practice in this developing country in Africa. Together with other outreach programs and WHO, government and private entities have been mobilized to halt FGM/C.
In Cote d’Ivoire, the Ivoirian Association for the Defense of Women’s Rights (AIDF), a non-governmental organization, has been the leading organization fighting against FGM/C and violence against women. Just like in other African states, the traditional and irrational beliefs overpower the efforts in halting the practice. AIDF is also fighting against the medicalization of FGM/C from performing with unsanitary facility to more sterile conditions in hospitals and dispensaries. With such medicalization process, AIDF fears that this would give way to legalizing the traditional mutilation/cutting practice.
Other developing countries that have been fighting against the traditional genital mutilation/cutting practice include Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guinea, Indonesia, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Malaysia, Nigeria, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan, Togo, and Yemen, among others. The above-mentioned countries have their own programs and plans of actions tailored to their strategies in reducing or stopping FGM/C practice. Currently, appropriate laws have been proposed, enacted or being promulgated to reduce or completely prohibit this irrational and life-threatening practice.
Not only established organizations are fighting against the ritual. Even individual doctor does it too like Dr. Nawal Nour, a Sudanese-born gynecologist trained at Harvard. Inside her clinic office at Brigham, Boston, she enjoys helping immigrant victims from African states. She confides though, that the practice is so terrible and yet it continues spreading (Dreifus, 2000).
A joint statement from the WHO, UNICEF (United Nations Children Fund, and UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) echoes the needs of time on parting away from harmful or negative traditional practices (UNICEF, 2005). The statement thus asserts:
“Even though cultural practices may appear senseless or destructive from the standpoint of others, they have meaning and fulfill a function for those who practice them. However, culture is not static; it is in constant flux, adapting and reforming. People will change their behavior when they understand the hazards and indignity of harmful practices and when they realize that it is possible to give up harmful practices without giving up meaningful aspects of their culture.”
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