Saturday, 16 May 2015

Strategies for elimination of Female Genital Mutilation

Any attempts or strategies to end female genital mutilation should take into consideration many factors including the one listed below:

An integration issue: Moving to another country can be challenging for families as they try to adjust to a completely different environment and culture, while at the same time trying to preserve essential elements of their own culture. However, continuing the practice of FGM conflicts with fundamental values and is unlawful and severely punished in many countries of destination.

Additionally, the ability of a migrant to integrate into a host society is based on combined mental, physical, cultural and social well-being. FGM and its attendant consequences can impede women’s and girls’ efforts to integrate into the host society, since poor health impacts on their ability to attend and succeed at school and therefore, integrate into the labour market.

Empowering Women: As FGM is a manifestation of gender inequality, a special focus on women’s empowerment in every aspect of their lives is important. Empowering activities for women include, for instance, proper educational sessions such as literacy training, or pre-employment training sessions. Even though women play a central role in the practice of FGM, activities must reach all groups in the communities to avoid misunderstanding and to lead to intragroup dialogue.

Building Bridges across continents:  Efforts towards the abandonment of FGM in countries of origin may be challenged by the visits or return of members of the community living abroad, as migrants are often unaware of the evolution of the practice in their countries of origin. Because they were not involved in the consensus-building process that led to the abandonment, they may argue that the tradition should be maintained for the sake of the group’s identity. Since the diaspora greatly contributes to communities’ life in their countries of origin, in particular through remittances transfers, their potential to have a detrimental impact may be very important, an aspect that should not be neglected.

Capacity-building of relevant professionals: Gynaecologists, midwives, paediatricians, psychologists, general practitioners, as well as school nurses, teachers, child care professionals, social workers, police and the justice sector must be involved and trained, through sensitization campaigns and specific trainings, on how to identify girls who may be in danger of being subjected, or who may have been subjected, to FGM and which steps can and must be taken.

Day-care centres, schools, mother and child welfare services have a particular responsibility in identifying children at risk or those who suffer from the consequences of FGM. They can build a privileged relation with the parents.

Remember:  FGM is strongly linked to culture; it becomes an integration issue, in addition to being a health and human rights issue. In situations where integration is difficult, it often results in a withdrawal into the community and sometimes stricter application or toughening of cultural practices. In this case, the preservation of ethnic identity is used to mark a distinction from the host society, especially when migrants are resettling in a receiving culture where women have more freedom of choice and expression, including in their sexuality, as compared to their community of origin.

Fighting against FGM in Western countries can also particularly challenging as awareness-raising activities can easily be perceived as judgmental.

We all have a role to play in ending female genital mutilation.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Did you know this about female genital mutilation?

  • Introcision is another rare form of female genital mutilation reported to be practiced by the Pitta-Patta aborigines of Australia.
  • When a girl reaches puberty, the whole tribe - both sexes- assembles. The operator, an elderly man, enlarges the vaginal orifice by tearing it downward with three fingers bound with opossum string essentially just shredding the clitoris until it’s gone. This is usually followed by compulsory sexual intercourse with a number of men.
  • It is reported that 'introcision' is also practiced in eastern Mexico, Brazil, and Peru. In North-Eastern Peru, among a division of the Pano Indians, the operation is performed in front of the whole community where an elderly woman, using a bamboo knife cuts around the hymen from the vaginal entrance and severs the hymen from the labia, at the same time exposing the clitoris. Medical herbs are applied, followed by the insertion into the vagina of a penis-shaped object made of clay.
  • The other but unclassified methods usually involve pricking, piercing or incising of the clitoris and/or labia stretching of the clitoris, cauterization by burning of the clitoris and surrounding tissue, the insertion of corrosive substances or herbs into the vagina to cause bleeding or for the purposes of tightening or narrowing it.
Defenders of FGM
  • Cultures that practice FGM fall into three categories: the controlling, the fearful, and the ignorant.  The controlling cultures wish to keep their woman's sexual urges at a minimum, so they mutilate the genitalia to prevent them from becoming like “American Girls”. The controlling also remove the clitoris so as to remove the “man parts” from the woman and make her more womanly.
  • The fearful are those who genuinely believe that if the woman keeps her clitoris, a child could be stillborn during birth.  They also believe that a woman who keeps her clitoris is “unclean”, and will not let her handle any of the food of water in fear of it getting contaminated.  The fearful are the religious, superstitious cultures.
  • The ignorant are those who blindly follow tradition, even though they know no good reason for doing so.  These categories very often are combined, and are all used to defend FGM.
  • Then there are the victims! Many of the victims are helpless because they are either very young, or they are very ignorant to their rights.  
  • Some women don’t even realize that what is happening to them is wrong because it has been apart of their culture for so long. In many of the FGM practicing cultures, the “procedure” happens when the girl is only a few weeks old.  These young girls may not feel that they were wronged because by the time they can have their own opinions, the pain is as far gone as the memory of ever having the missing parts.  
  • There are also the victims who don’t have the operation done until right before they give birth because it is believed if the clitoris is not removed and the child comes into contact with it during birth it will be a stillborn.
Empowering women is the key!

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Have you ever wondered about FGM instruments and Methods?

The Instruments

  • Any sharp cutting instrument such as a knife, broken glass, razor blade will do, or the operator may have somehow acquired medical instruments like a scalpel, forceps or scissors.
  • The instruments may be new or may have already been used for other purposes and/or on other persons.
  • Sterilization is seldom known nor performed by these traditional operators.

The Sutures

  • Regular surgical Catgut, Silk or Cotton thread.
  • Domestic sewing thread.
  • Vegetable or nylon fiber pre-selected by the operator.

The Needles

  • Regular surgical suturing needles
  • (round bodied or sharp and any size)
  • Domestic sewing needle.

Approximating the Wound

In some cases, instead of suturing together the raw edges of the wound, these are held together with thorns that are inserted on opposite sides of the wound and then laced together with thread and left in place for seven days or until the tissues of the wound have had time to fuse together. This type of infibulation is often practiced by nomads and agro–pastoralists.

Condition of Hands

  • No gloves are worn during the operation.
  • Hands may or may not be washed and in any case wet fingers are slippery and should the operator have difficulty in pinching the skin being removed, it is not unlikely for the operator to wipe his/her hands on the thighs of the child or even on the sand on the ground in order to dry them and thus improve dexterity!
  • The operator allows his/her nails to grow as they are used as pincers during operations. Rings, amulets and other hand ornaments are rarely removed, as these items are not recognized by the traditional healer as likely sources of contamination.


Saturday, 25 April 2015

Female Genital Mutilation and the Middle East

In general, FGM in Asia and the Middle East is practiced for religious beliefs.  The majority of FGM support comes from Muslim communities.  Laws banning the practice have often not been successful in eliminating it and most countries have not outlawed FGM.

 FGM has been found in the following countries, though statistics are not always readily available:

  • Afghanistan (No national prevalence figures available)

  • Indonesia (No national prevalence figures available - Types I and IV)

  • Iran (No national prevalence figures available)

  • Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan (72.7% prevalence (excluding Dohuk), Types I and II)

  • Jordan (No national prevalence figures available)

  • Malaysia (No national prevalence figures available - Type IV)

  • Oman (No national prevalence figures available)

  • Pakistan (No national prevalence figures available)

  • Palestinian territories (No national prevalence figures available)

  • Saudi-Arabia (No national prevalence figures available)

  • Syria (No national prevalence figures available)

  • Tajikistan (No national prevalence figures available)

  • Turkey (No national prevalence figures available)

  • United Arab Emirates (No national prevalence figures available - Type I)

  • Yemen (23% prevalence in women 15 to 49)

In our campaign to end female genital mutilation, lets not forget this is a global problem.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Female Genital Mutilation - 'No African Problem Only'

For the longest time female circumcision was considered an ‘’African problem“, the practice was seen as rooted in African pre-Islamic, pre-Christian culture. For Yemen, the only non-African country where it was long known to exist, it was assumed to be imported from the African continent.

Newer evidence shows that these assumptions can’t be correct, neither geographically nor does the explanation suffice. The narrative already took a severe blow when it surfaced that FGM is prevalent in parts of the Kurdish region of North Iraq. Surveys in this region and lobby work in fact led to the inclusion of Iraq in those 29 countries UNICEF now considers to be those where the practice is concentrated.

By now it is evident that FGM is practiced in many more Asian countries. Small-scale surveys show its existence in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. In Oman and Pakistan media reports have tackled the issue. A broad discussion about bans and restrictions has been taken place in Indonesian media for years.

Religion or Culture

Female Genital Mutilation occurs in non-Muslim societies in Africa and is practiced by Christians, Muslims and Animists alike. In Egypt, where perhaps 97 percent of girls suffer genital mutilation, both Christian Copts and Muslims are complicit. Thus, it has long been concluded to be a cultural practice, not connected to religion.

However, on the village level, those who commit the practice offer a mix of cultural and religious reasons for the practice. Christians and Muslims alike believe that circumcision of girls prevents them from vice and makes them more attractive for future husbands; mothers fear that their daughters can’t get married if they have not been cut.

Sometimes myths have formed to justify FGM. Hanny Lightfoot-Klein, an expert on FGM who spent years in Kenya, Egypt, and Sudan, explains that “it is believed in the Sudan that the clitoris will grow to the length of a goose’s neck until it dangles between the legs, in rivalry with the male’s penis, if it is not cut.”

However, Muslim proponents of FGM also stress the religious necessity. Midwifes and mothers insist that it is “sunnah” – an opinion shared by most Islamic clerics. Yet, sunnah can either mean that a practice is religiously recommended or simply that it was done that way in the times of the prophet Mohammed.

While there is no mention of FGM in the Quran, a Hadith (saying about the life of the prophet) recounts a debate between Muhammed and Um Habibah (or Um ‘Atiyyah). This woman, known as an exciser of female slaves, was one of a group of women who had immigrated with Muhammed. Having seen her, Muhammad asked her if she kept practicing her profession. She answered affirmatively, adding: “unless it is forbidden, and you order me to stop doing it.” Muhammed replied: “Yes, it is allowed. Come closer so I can teach you: if you cut, do not overdo it, because it brings more radiance to the face, and it is more pleasant for the husband.”

Most clerics use this hadith to say circumcision is recommended, but not obligatory for women. But some say it is obligatory. While others who take a position against FGM call this hadith weak in relation to the “do no harm” principle of Islam or interpret the intention of the prophet differently.

Let’s think about this as we carry on campaigning to end FGM!


Saturday, 11 April 2015

The Female Genital Mutilation Story

Female genital mutilation is the collective name given to several different traditional practices that involve the cutting of female genitals. It is important to remember that this procedure is commonly performed on girls anywhere between the ages of four and twelve years of age and in some cultures as early as a few days after birth and as late as just after prior to marriage or after the pregnancy.

Girls may be circumcised alone or with a group of peers from their community.

Although traditionally performed by traditional practitioners, more recently in some countries it is also performed by trained personnel.

Indigenous populations use a variety of terms in local dialects to describe this practice. These are often synonymous with purification or cleansing, such as the terms tahara in Egypt, tahur in Sudan and bolokoli in Mali. Local terminology for types of FGM also varies widely among countries.

In literature from Sudan, for example, clitoridectomy is referred to as sunna, and infibulations is referred to as pharaonic.

In literature associated with French speaking Africa, FGM is commonly known as excision.

Lately the term female genital mutilation has been widely used. Although the term female genital mutilation has been effective, organisations and individuals like me working with FGM practising communities that this term can be offensive or even shocking to women who have never considered the practice as mutilation.

The term female circumcision may seem to imply an analogy with male circumcision. Although both practices are a violation of a child’s rights to physical integrity, these two practices are different. Male circumcision is the cutting off of the foreskin from the tip of the penis without damaging the organ itself. The degree of cutting in female circumcision is anatomically much more extensive. The male equivalent of clitoridectomy, in which all or part of the clitoris is removed, would be the amputation of most of the penis.

The male equivalent of infibulations- which involves not only clitoridectomy, but the removal or closing off of the sensitive tissue around the vagina-would be removal of the entire penis, its roots of soft tissue and part of the scrotal skin.

Food for thought!


Saturday, 4 April 2015

Female Genital Mutilation and Empowering Women

Women can not abandon the practice of FGM until they have the information, material conditions and skills to access different options. In countries in which FGM is a pre requisite for marriage, women and girls whose economic security depends upon their ability to be married have little choice. Here is some advice from The Exquisite Lady,

  • Governments should reform policies that prevent women from raising their economic, social and political status, including ensuring that both men and women have the right to work and the right to equal pay for equal work.
  • Governments also have a responsibility and obligation to support women and encourage their participation in all aspects of community life. In addition women should be allowed to participate in public office and decision making.
  • For immigrants from FGM practising communities, social compulsion may be compounded by feelings of alienation, which makes immigrants reliant upon their families or communities. Although not true in all cases, these forces may make immigrants hesitant or unwilling to abandon practices from their home culture that distance them from the host culture. In the example of FGM, women can preserve traditions at the expense of their bodies while other elements of community life change,
  • As in their home countries, immigrant women must have equal access to the systems of power so they can exert equal control over community values and cultural changes. Receiving governments should support programmes that offer immigrant women instruction in the language of the majority, job training and information regarding avenues for legal protection.
  • Governments should also ensure adequate financial and social support network is available for immigrant women who sometimes must abandon their primary source of economic security – their families or their husbands – to exercise their right to make decisions about their bodies.