Friday, May 7, 2010


See those tools above? Those tools are what is used in a female circumcision in many countries.

Some of you may not be aware that this even exists. But it does it. Honestly, it needs to stop.

What is female circumcision? It is any procedure involving the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs "whether for cultural, religious or other non-therapeutic reasons."

It is practiced throughout the world, concentrated most heavily in Asia and Africa.

I am a visual learner - so, let me show you the four different types of procedures that are used:
Type I

The World Health Organization defines Type I  as the partial or total removal of the clitoris (clitoridectomy) and/or the prepuce (clitoral hood).; In the context of women who seek out labiaplasty, there is disagreement among doctors as to whether to remove the clitoral hood in some cases to enhance sexuality or whether this is too likely to lead to scarring and other problems.

 Type II

The WHO's definition of Type II is "partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora.

Type III: Infibulation with excision

The WHO defines Type III FGM as narrowing of the vaginal orifice with creation of a covering seal by cutting and repositioning the labia minora and/or the labia majora, with or without excision of the clitoris . This is the most popular form and accounts for about 10% of all procedures described from Africa.

In a study of infibulation in the Horn of Africa, it was observed that the procedure involves extensive tissue removal of the external genitalia, including all of the labia minora and the inside of the labia majora.

The labia majora are then held together using thorns or stitching. In some cases the girl's legs have been tied together for two to six weeks, to prevent her from moving and to allow the healing of the two sides of the vulva.

Nothing remains but the walls of flesh from the pubis down to the anus, with the exception of an opening at the inferior portion of the vulva to allow urine and menstrual blood to pass.

 Generally, a practitioner recognized as having the necessary skill carries out this procedure, and a local anesthetic is used. However, when carried out "in the bush," infibulation is often performed by an elderly matron or midwife of the village, without sterile procedure or anesthesia.

A reverse infibulation can be performed to allow for sexual intercourse or when undergoing labor, or by female relatives, whose responsibility it is to inspect the wound every few weeks and open it some more if necessary.

During childbirth, the enlargement is too small to allow vaginal delivery, and so the infibulation is opened completely and may be restored after delivery. Again, the legs are sometimes tied together to allow the wound to heal. When childbirth takes place in a hospital, the surgeons may preserve the infibulation by enlarging the vagina with deep episiotomies. Afterwards, the patient may insist that her vulva be closed again.

Women who have been infibulated face a lot of difficulty in delivering children, especially if the infibulation is not undone beforehand, which often results in severe tearing of the infibulated area, or fetal death if the birth canal is not cleared. The risk of severe physical, and psychological complications is more highly associated with women who have undergone infibulations as opposed to one of the lesser forms of the mutilation. Although there is little research on the psychological side effects of this, many women feel great pressure to conform to the norms set out by their community, and suffer from anxiety and depression as a result .

A five-year study of 300 women and 100 men in Sudan found that "sexual desire, pleasure, and orgasm are experienced by the majority of women who have been subjected to this extreme sexual mutilation, in spite of their being culturally bound to hide these experiences."

 Type IV: Other types

There are other forms, collectively referred to as Type IV, that may not involve tissue removal. The WHO defines Type IV FGM as "all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, for example, pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterization."

 This includes a diverse range of practices, such as pricking the clitoris with needles, burning or scarring the genitals as well as ripping or tearing of the vagina. Type IV is found primarily among isolated ethnic groups as well as in combination with other types.

Amnesty International estimates that over 130 million women worldwide have been affected by some form of Female Genital Mutilation, with over 3 million girls at risk of undergoing FGM every year.

FGM is mainly practiced in 28 different African countries. It is common in a band that stretches from Senegal in West Africa to Ethiopia on the East coast, as well as from Egypt in the north to Tanzania in the south.  It is also practiced by some groups in the Arabian peninsula. The country where FGM is most prevalent is Egypt, followed by Sudan, Ethiopia, and Mali. Egypt recently passed a law banning FGM.

So what brought all of this about? What is the cultural and religious signifigance? According to Wikipedia, the traditional cultural practices of FGC predate Christianity and Islam.

 A Greek papyrus from 163 B.C. mentions girls in Egypt undergoing circumcision and it is widely accepted to have originated in Egypt and the Nile valley at the time of the Pharaohs. Evidence from mummies have shown both Type I and Type III FGC present. (Note that the earliest evidence of male circumcision is also from Ancient Egypt.)

Among practising cultures, FGC is most commonly performed between the ages of four and eight, but can take place at any age from infancy to adolescence. Prohibition has led to FGC going underground, at times with people who have had no medical training performing the cutting without anaesthetic, sterilisation, or the use of proper medical instruments. The procedure can lead to death through shock from excessive bleeding. The failure to use sterile medical instruments may lead to infections.

UNICEF reports that:
"... Al-Azhar Supreme Council of Islamic Research, the highest religious authority in Egypt, issued a statement saying FGM/C has no basis in core Islamic law or any of its partial provisions and that it is harmful and should not be practiced."

Coptic Pope Shenouda, the leader of Egypt's minority Christian community, said that neither the Quran nor the Bible demand or mention female circumcision.

In the United States, a Federal law prohibiting FGC was enacted in 1996. 17 states enacted similar laws between 1994 and 2006.

There are a few very moving books (literature) you can read that might illustrate what this culture act is about.

 - Desert Flower by Waris Dirie (1999): Waris Dirie's autobiographical novel, which tells the story of her own childhood and genital mutilation, was written in collaboration with Cathleen Miller. The book has been printed in numerous languages and topped bestseller lists in Europe.

 - Do They Hear You When You Cry by Fauziya Kassindja (1999): Fauziya Kassindja's story of fleeing Africa just hours before the ritual kakia takes place, and seeking asylum in America resulting in her 16 months behind bars. Ultimately, in a landmark decision in immigration history, Fauziya Kassindja was granted asylum on June 13, 1996.

 - Desert Dawn by Waris Dirie (2003): The book describes how Dirie became a UN Special Ambassador against female genital mutilation (FGM) and returned to her family in Somalia. Written in collaboration with Jeanne D'Haem.

 - Desert Children reveals how Dirie and journalist Corinna Milborn investigated the practice of FGC in Europe. Waris reports on encounters with circumcised women and circumcisers, on the difficult research, on setbacks and achievements. Written with Corinna Milborn, translation by Sheelagh Alabaster; published in 2007 by Time Warner UK. A Europe-wide campaign against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) was initiated after the publication of this book.

- "Possessing the Secret of Joy" by Alice Walker (1993): Fiction novel that explores the themes of violence, sexism, misogyny, and female genital mutilation in African, British, and American society.

 - "No Laughter Here" by Rita Williams-Garcia (2004): Fiction novel that explores the effects of a ten year old Nigerian girl who got FGC while on vacation in her homeland and her best friend's struggle to understand what has happened to her friend.

 - "Sweetness In The Belly" by Camilla Gibb (2005): Fiction novel about a white Muslim woman named Lilly living in Harar. FGC is performed on the two daughters of the woman Lilly stays with.
It is our responsibility to educate other people who may not understand what is going on. Women.. girls.. children.. are still fighting for equality. To me - this is one of the most hideous cultural crimes against women.

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Miel Abeille said...

Thank you for shining the light on such a cruel practice. It clearly needs more attention!

Anonymous said...

I've been aware of this practice for sometime since I used to be an anthropology major, ethical issues like this came up a lot. It freaks me out.
I feel, permanently disfiguring someone like this, making it nearly impossible for their bodies to function the way they are supposed to and causing undue pain and suffering is wrong. There are certain things women around the globe are subjected to, and most of them go against my feminist ideals, but I try to be understanding. However, religion, cultural tradition, or any other reason someone would cite for doing this to another human being will NEVER make this practice okay with me.

Tori Cooper said...

This is horrible... I knew it existed- some of the things this world comes up with is evil. No person should be subjected to such mutilation or any form of sexual oppression. It can be overwhelming to learn about the horrible things happening all over. :-/


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