Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Female Genital Mutilation and women /girls: Prisoners of Ritual

Various, often contradictory explanations exist for the tradition. In the main, rationales reflect prevalent mythology, ignorance of biological and medical facts, and religious obscurantism. Almost every reference links the custom to the family’s fear that their daughter won’t be “marriageable.” Unmutilated young girls are ostracized, labeled as “unclean” or branded as whores; children born to unexcised women are considered bastards in many societies, and unscarred genitals are associated with prostitution. Often unmutilated women are considered illegitimate; they cannot inherit money, cattle or land, nor do they fetch an adequate bride price.


One Somalian woman defended her granddaughter’s wish to be infibulated, saying it “takes away nothing that she needs. If she does not have this done, she will become a harlot.” The girl’s father, a college-educated businessman, expressed his uncertainty: “Yes, I know it is bad for the health of girls. But I don’t want my daughter to blame me later on because she could not find a husband.”

Different religious and social groupings see genital mutilation as the only way to protect women from unbridled sexual passion and promiscuity. A19th century British adventurer/ethnologist who spent many years studying the culture, language and sexuality of eastern Africa, wrote that “all consider sexual desire in woman to be ten times greater than in man. (They cut off the clitoris because, as Aristotle warns, that organ is the seat and spring of sexual desire.)” Unfortunately, a good portion of the research was destroyed by his devoted, but Roman Catholic, wife.

Overwhelmingly the practice is linked to virginity before marriage and fidelity afterward. Among almost every one of the peoples where the practice exists, polygamy is the norm. One argument for female excision is that no man can satisfy all of his wives, so it helps to have women who don’t desire sex. While the truth is that most men in these societies are too poor to afford more than one wife, the social reality of male dominance in every sphere of day-to-day existence is the backdrop to the ritual mutilation of women.

The origins of this grotesque practice are not known. While often found in Islamic countries, the procedure is not prescribed in the Koran. In 742 AD the prophet Mohammed was said to have proposed a reform of genital mutilation; his call to “reduce but not destroy” has been taken as an instruction to perform only Sunna, the norm today in Egypt. While Muslim fundamentalism enforces brutally medieval conditions on women, including confinement to the home and the stifling veil, only one-fifth of the world’s 600 million Muslims practice female genital mutilation.

It is clear that genital mutilations date back to ancient times. The Greek historian Herodotus noted in the fifth century BC that female circumcision was practiced by the Egyptians, Phoenicians, Hittites and Ethiopians. The Sudanese refer to infibulation as “Pharaonic circumcision”; the murky origins of the practice, however, may be inferred from the fact that in Egypt it’s called “Sudanese circumcision.”

Ritual genital mutilation has been found to have existed at one time in various forms among different peoples on every continent. Quite independently of the tradition in sub-Saharan Africa, infibulation was performed by the Conibo people of Peru. The Australian aboriginals used to practice introcision, an enlargement of the vaginal opening. Anthropologists agree that female mutilation has only occurred in societies which also practice male circumcision, generally in cultures where the sexes are strongly differentiated in childhood. Thus some believe that the practice originated to highlight the difference between male and female at puberty. The Bambara in Mali, for example, believe that all people are born with both male and female characteristics; excision rids the girl of her “male element” while circumcision removes the “female element” from boys.

The ritual is the norm in an area south of the Sahara and north of the forest line; this corresponds generally with the area of Africa where, with no shortage of land, women and children (and slaves) were once needed to cultivate the fields and tend domestic animals and were easily absorbed into polygamous households. While the nature of the means of production does not determine how humans live in a social/sexual sense, it does set elastic limits. Thus it seems reasonable to assume that female genital mutilation has its roots in agricultural society which enabled the development of a social surplus and then private property. It is only when the determination of paternity for the purpose of inheritance becomes relevant that society puts a premium on virginity and marital fidelity on the part of women.


Female mutilations continue to occur in the rural areas which maintain a subsistence agrarian economy based on a tribal structure. What’s at stake are traditional property rights in societies where women are sold like cattle, based largely on their ability to reproduce. The practice is only somewhat less prevalent today in the cities. Over the centuries it has become an unquestioned, ingrained custom.

 In Prisoners of Ritual Lightfoot-Klein reflects on these woman-hating practices as merely “a fact of her life, just as tremendous hardship, poverty, scarce water and little food, back-breaking labor, overwhelming heat, dust storms, crippling disease, unalleviated pain, and early death are facts of her life.” Whatever the rationale for the mutilation of millions of young girls, whatever its origins centuries ago, female genital mutilation is today a burning symbol of the all-sided sexual, social and economic oppression of women.


Let’s take it as a challenge to stop this unnecessary practice.


Female Genital Mutilation: Inhuman Savagery

Three forms of mutilation are generally found in a triangular band stretching from Egypt south to Tanzania in the east and across to Senegal in the west. Although often referred to as “female circumcision,” there is no equation with the removal of the penile foreskin that is practiced among all males in Muslim and Jewish societies and in the U.S. Only the most modified version, Sunna (“tradition”), can correctly be called circumcision. It affects only a small proportion of women, largely in non-African countries. Sunna can entail a simple pinprick of the clitoris; more often the hood of the clitoris is removed.

Excision, the most common practice in Africa, entails the cutting of the clitoris, sometimes its removal, and slicing of some or all parts of the labia minora and majora.

 An inexperienced hand or poor eyesight can lead to puncturing of the urethra, the bladder, the anal sphincter and/or the vaginal walls. Heavy keloid scarring can impair walking; the development of dermoid cysts is not uncommon.

 A ritual frequently justified as a guarantor of fertility can lead to sterility.

Most women in the Horn of Africa are also infibulated. In addition to clitoridectomy, the reduced labia majora are sewn together, leaving a trivial opening. After the operation, the girl’s legs are bound together from hip to ankle for up to 40 days to permit the formation of scar tissue.

Urination and menstruation are excruciating ordeals: it can take up to 30 minutes to empty the bladder; the retention of urine and menstrual blood guarantees infection.

For infibulated women, sexual intercourse becomes a practically unbearable burden, especially on the wedding night. Consummation may take weeks, beginning with the husband having to open his wife’s infibulation with fingers or a knife or ceremonial sword. The woman must lie still with legs spread through repeated, bloody penetrations until a large enough opening becomes permanent. Many women see pregnancy as an escape from these painful and pleasureless sexual encounters, yet childbirth itself is traumatic.

Scar tissue is often ripped up as the baby pushes out. Those who have access to hospitals need both anterior and posterior episiotomies. Many infants die or suffer brain damage in the second phase of delivery because thick scarring prevents sufficient dilation of the cervix.

In many countries custom demands reinfibulation after each pregnancy to ensure women remain “tight as a virgin.”

Hanny Lightfoot-Klein, a social psychologist who spent six years studying female genital mutilation in Sudan, notes that women without reinfibulation fear their husbands will leave them.

Some claim to prefer it; in her 1989 book Prisoners of Ritual, she writes: “A tight fit makes the most of what is left after an extreme excision.”

The practice transcends all class, national and religious bounds.Most women in northern Sudan are infibulated, yet the practice has been anathema among the southern peoples. Among every religion on the continent—Coptic Christians, Muslims, animists, the “Black Jews” of Ethiopia, both Catholic and Protestant converts in Nigeria—there are peoples that persist in female mutilations. Moreover, it is practiced in Burkina Faso among tribes with both patriarchal and matriarchal cultures.

The fight against #FGM continues

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Female Genital Mutilation: a curse on young girls

Despite decades of activists trying to curb the practice and dozens of laws banning it, the horrific procedure of cutting or removing babies' and girls' external genitalia continues.

According to an exhaustive new report from the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), more than 125 million girls and women in 29 countries have undergone female genital mutilation.

The reasons are varied. It will stop girls from being promiscuous and preserve their virginity, proponents say. It's socially expected; it's tradition; it's religious.

But it's also incredibly dangerous and painful, and most of the girls and women who experience it want it to stop.

The practice occurs mostly in African and Middle Eastern countries. Women, and men too, say they subject their daughters to it because they will be socially ostracized if they don't.

It would be easy to blame parents, but that would be ignoring the complexities of the issue. The practice is tied to everything from tradition to patriarchy, and that's part of the reason attempts to stop it have been only marginally successful.

Way forward

Tougher laws

There are laws against female genital mutilation in most African nations, but the practice continues, because the laws don't address the social and cultural reasons for committing the act in the first place.

If individuals continue to see others cutting their daughters and continue to believe that others expect them to cut their own daughters, the law may not serve as a strong enough deterrent to stop the practice.

Conversely, among groups that have abandoned [female genital mutilation and cutting], legislation can serve as a tool to strengthen the legitimacy of their actions and as an argument for convincing others to do the same.

 Ending social ostracism

Many of the countries where cutting occurs are predominantly Muslim, but it would be wrong to say the religion is somehow at fault. There are Muslims around the world who abhors the practice, and it is often linked to other ethnic and social traditions unique to different regions. According to the UN, organizations that have encouraged people to abandon the practice "not as a criticism of local culture but as a better way to attain the core positive values that underlie tradition and religion, including 'doing no harm to others'" have had some luck in limiting the procedure.

Efforts to end [female genital mutilation] contribute to the larger issues of ending violence against children and women and confronting gender inequalities.

Let’s face it, the issue of FGM centres on gender imbalance.

Organizations working to end FGM need to let women know about specific imams, for example, who have disavowed the practice, so they don't see it as something absolutely required by their religion.

There is also need to talk about the health consequences especially mentally after the cutting which most cut women carry until they die. 

Unfortunately without awareness of the dangers of FGM "women feel very strongly that they have to cut, that it is a religious obligation and convincing women to abandon a practice they see as so intrinsic to womanhood in cultures that value girls as wives and mothers above all else is complicated.


Women in FGM practising communities’ are not given the same political or educational opportunities as men. They hold very little power, and even when they want to end the cycle of mutilation, they face the prospect of being cast out if they resist. Some women fear that if they do not have their girls cut, they will be "unsuitable" for marriage, which would doom them to a life of ostracism and poverty in many places.

Without education or means to support themselves, women are stuck in a vicious cycle of poverty and oppression.

Education could draw women into the labor market, which could weaken traditional family structures. Women might be seen as desirable partners for their ability to contribute to household income, which might reduce what some see as the need for cutting. Schools can also expose girls to people from different cultures and to mentors who might oppose the practice. While many girls have been cut by the time they reach school, they may be more likely to not continue the cycle with their own daughters.

Educating men and boys about the dangers of cutting is important, too. And the report found that many men, like women, want the practice to end but feel they have to subject their daughters to it for social reasons.

Ultimately, as many as 30 million girls face genital mutilation in the next decade, but there is some hope.

If, in the next decade, we work together to apply the wealth of evidence at our disposal, we will see major progress. That means a better life and more hopeful prospects for millions of girls and women, their families and entire communities.

Wishing you all a lovely Christmas.


Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Female Genital Mutilation and Religion

Deeply rooted African traditions and customs

In most countries where FGM/C is prevalent, traditional practitioners perform the procedures, cutting the female genitalia and removing some flesh -- generally the clitoris and inner labia.

Laws alone are not enough to stop female circumcision as it is difficult to change customs that have been inherited without educating society about the dangers associated with this practice.

Combating this phenomenon cannot happen merely by yelling slogans and writing texts; we have to raise our voices loudly and clearly against female circumcision, and religious and tribal leaders have to work towards educating the public and raising awareness within local communities about the dangers of this practice.

We urge the religious leaders in particular to explain to people that infibulations has nothing to do with Islam.

Female Genital Mutilation not endorsed by religion

Incorrect religious beliefs and social traditions are used to justify the tradition. FGM is undesirable and neither a religious duty nor an obligation. Female circumcision is neither a favourable duty nor a sunnah and the prophet reprimanded women who performed this practice. There is no reference or text in the Holy Qur'an that refers to circumcision.

It has no societal value and actually contradicts the principles of Islamic sharia because it causes harm -- both physical and psychological -- to girls' health. For this reason, it has to be avoided in order to prevent harm and to follow the teachings of Islam that considers causing harm to humans in any shape and form as sinful."

Circumcision causes damage to women's health, such as urinary and genital infections and germs entering women's bodies.

In lots of cases, circumcision causes severe bleeding and during the first couple of days after the operation, girls find it difficult to urinate as a result of the severe pain and the narrowing of the urinary tract. Upon reaching puberty, menstrual cycles become extremely painful because girls suffer from serious infections, not to mention complications during childbirth, as circumcision causes problems during the birthing process that could lead to the mother's death.

A painful, scarring experience

Annabel from Mozambique’s experience,

"I can never forget that painful experience of having my genitals cut. I was nine years old when several women came to our house, some neighbours and some relatives."

"My mother ordered me to lie down on my back," she said. "Moments later, some of the women held me down on the ground while one put her hand tightly on my mouth to prevent me from screaming. Another woman holding a pair of scissors and a knife cut off parts of my genitals. I still remember the amount of pain I felt during this process and suffer from complications from the circumcision as I have severe pain and infections during menstruation,"

Despite the dangers, many mothers still insist on having their daughters circumcised and should therefore be stopped.

Female circumcision is a harmful tradition that our society has been plagued with and most Islamic countries, such as Saudi Arabia and other Arabian Gulf countries, do not know this tradition at all.  Why would the Muslims in these countries leave out an important ritual in Islam or the sunnah if female circumcision is considered such?

It is ridiculous to think that circumcision protects girls from moral deviance. Circumcision plays no role in preserving girls' chastity. Instead, a sound upbringing suffices to protect a girl.

Let’s all fight this barbaric practice.


Monday, 9 December 2013

Female Genital Mutilation: Just don’t do it


Female Genital Mutilation adds no value to girls and women’s lives.

  • Control over women’s sexuality: Virginity is a pre-requisite for marriage and is equated to female honour in a lot of communities. FGM, in particular infibulations, is defended in this context as it is assumed to reduce a woman’s sexual desire and lessen temptations to have extramarital sex thereby preserving a girl’s virginity.
  • Hygiene: There is a belief that female genitalia are unsightly and dirty. In some FGM-practicing societies, unmutilated women are regarded as unclean and are not allowed to handle food and water.
  • Gender based factors: FGM is often deemed necessary in order for a girl to be considered a complete woman, and the practice marks the divergence of the sexes in terms of their future roles in life and marriage. The removal of the clitoris and labia — viewed by some as the “male parts” of a woman’s body — is thought to enhance the girl’s femininity, often synonymous with docility and obedience. It is possible that the trauma of mutilation may have this effect on a girl’s personality. If mutilation is part of an initiation rite, then it is accompanied by explicit teaching about the woman’s role in her society.
  • Cultural identity: In certain communities, where mutilation is carried out as part of the initiation into adulthood, FGM defines who belongs to the community. In such communities, a girl cannot be considered an adult in a FGM-practicing society unless she has undergone FGM.
  • Religion: FGM predates Islam and is not practiced by the majority of Muslims, but it has acquired a religious dimension. Where it is practiced by Muslims, religion is frequently cited as a reason. Many of those who oppose mutilation deny that there is any link between the practice and religion, but Islamic leaders are not unanimous on the subject. Although predominant among Muslims, FGM also occurs among Christians, animists and Jews.

Say No to Female Genital Mutilation.



Thursday, 5 December 2013

Female Genital Mutilation and where we are today


Despite the fact that FGM causes pain and suffering to millions of women and girls and can be life-threatening, it remains deeply entrenched in certain social value systems.

Changing this reality to bring about positive and protective social behaviour requires a holistic and integrated approach with harmonized programmes of action to achieve the common goal of Zero Tolerance to FGM.

Four areas of action could be to inform and train health professionals, to treat and refer women having been subjected to mutilations, and prevent possible mutilation of girls born in our country, especially through regular information to gynaecologists, paediatricians and school nurses.

In this endeavour, political will and action are indispensable. Governments have to be fully engaged and must allocate the necessary human and material resources to the complete elimination of FGM and other harmful traditional practices (HTPs).

Many States have passed legislation prohibiting female genital mutilation, but what about enforcement? We are still a long way from achieving effective implementation.

In addition we should not rule out the practitioners / excisors themselves.

They are women of a certain status and knowledge in their country. Women listen to them, they advise wives on their sexual relations with their husband, on household matters, on co-wives, etc. We cannot simply reject these practitioners and say that they are of no value or that they are murderers. We have to reason with them and explain to them that female genital mutilation inflicts pains and can even kill. We have to explain to them that they could divert their knowledge to something more constructive.

Modern and traditional media are also important actors and can play a major role in the fight against FGM.


Remember you can do your bit. Say no to the horrific practice that dehumanises women and children.


Monday, 2 December 2013

Migration and Female Genital Mutilation

The problems of excision and other traditional practices which negatively affect migrant women and children are exacerbated due to the displacement of these populations.
FGM is condemned by most of the governments of the countries involved, which are both countries of origin and countries of destination.

FGM remains an on going practice in many countries of the world. It is a destructive practice and should be stopped. The role of the family is crucial in having these women adapt to the customs of their new country of residence. Mutilations drain women’s energy and the resources that they could use to learn the language of their new country, look for work and send their children to school.

FGM can be an obstacle to social integration for these migrant women. This is one of the reasons why fighting FGM should be a priority.

 Even for young girls born or raised in Europe – where prevalence is fairly high – excision is considered as a right of passage and not subjecting oneself to this procedure may destroy interfamilial links. For 30 years a number of actions and strategies have been undertaken in Europe to decrease the prevalence of FGM.

In order to protect young girls the work that has been done by civil society must be acknowledged and authorities must be involved. Many countries have begun to implement measures: France, Italy and Portugal in particular. It is therefore important to draw lessons from the actions undertaken in European countries.

What can we do and what are the actions and the measures that work?

Campaign to bring together all stakeholders, and for this we need to build and strengthen women’s capacities and empower migrant women so that they are in a better position to take charge of their own health and that of their families, so that they are able to express their needs and take part in important decisions related to their children.

This also entails literacy campaigns, sending children to school, mastering the language, having access to the economy, so as to have necessary financial resources. All of these social determinants need to be taken into account to fight this problem, so that migrant women are in a better position to shoulder their responsibilities and combat the problem. Only if women become empowered and autonomous will the message be heard and have a positive effect.

Women who come from migrant communities need to know where to turn if they need assistance for themselves and their families in terms of health care and other forms of assistance. All of this needs to be part of an integration policy, not only in the country of destination but also in the countries of origin.

A lot of work has been done in the countries of origin of migrant women with a view to informing and empowering them so that they can take charge of the problem themselves.

Remember it is an uphill battle, because it has to do with the most intimate part of the human being, and it is a battle where the victims do not necessarily want to be advised or helped by people from the outside. So tread with caution.

There are communities that systematically reject external help because they feel that they have been wounded and simply need to survive.

We need to take into account all of these cultural and traditional elements that justify the practice of FGM.

We need to relay the actions taken by parliaments, governments and by religious leaders in the countries of origin because the migrant communities are often not aware of what is being done in their own country against FGM. If new laws are passed it is important to inform them of this.

Lets all fight FGM together and see the end to it.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Developing a comprehensive approach to FGM: What can you do?

A lot has been said about FGM but what can you do to help stop this horrific practise?


  • FGM strikes at the heart of our societies and involves multiple issues; only through a multidisciplinary approach can efficient progress be achieved in abandoning FGM.


  • Parliaments should work in synergy with civil society, traditional chiefs and religious leaders, women’s and youth movements and governments to ensure that their actions are complementary and coordinated.


  • Strategies for the abandonment of FGM must be developed in a framework of the promotion of human rights, the right to education, health, development and poverty reduction.


Changing mentalities


  • Parliaments should also work on awareness and changing mentalities. Because of the social status incumbent upon their office, members of parliament are in a position to address sensitive issues and have an impact on public opinion and mentalities. Awareness activities conducted jointly with community leaders, religious leaders and women’s and youth groups at the community level have a decisive impact.


  • Cooperation with the media is vital; modern and traditional media need to be involved in all strategies aimed at abandoning the practice, through awareness, communication and information campaigns.


  • It is crucial to ensure that the message sent out regarding abandonment of FGM is positive, non-judgemental and consistent. All the actors involved must speak with the same voice.


  • Education plays a fundamental role in the prevention of FGM. With this in mind, it is necessary to review school curricula at all levels, to sensitize teachers, and to keep girls in school up until they reach higher education in order to delay marriage and possibly avoid the genital mutilation that often precedes it.


  • Any action aimed at ensuring the abandonment of FGM must be coupled with initiatives for community development, in particular through the improvement of the living conditions of women and children, as part of the fight against poverty.


  • The drafting of national action plans for the abandonment of FGM should make it possible to identify the different roles and responsibilities of the actors involved, to ensure proper coordination and the complementarities of the efforts undertaken. The adoption of clear objectives with specific time frames also facilitates synergy among the various actors. So parliament has a big role to play.

It is possible to end female genital mutilation in this generation if we all play our part. No child or woman should go through this horrific practice.
Stop FGM, it is violence and abuse against women and children.