According to womenshealth.gov two million girls and women are victims of FGM/C every year. Today a total of 130 million have undergone such a procedure. How is culture related to the prevalence of female genital mutilation, cutting and fistula?
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.
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 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:
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." Toubia states.