Saturday, 4 January 2014

Female Genital Mutilation: The fight carries on!

In Africa, where FGM is most common, there is disagreement about the best approach to curtail the practice. Some countries have attempted community-based education as the best long-term strategy.


 In Senegal, where Parliament banned FGM in January 1999, there are mixed feelings. Some communities were beginning to make inroads with a health education campaign, then the national law criminalized up to 2 million citizens and Kenya recognized the ritual aspect of FGM and developed an alternative rite of passage for girls of circumcision age.


In the Tharaka Nithi district of Kenya, new festivals have been organized for the months of August through December, when circumcision would usually be performed. During a week of seclusion, girls in the alternative program are educated on a wide range of subjects, including personal hygiene, relationships, dating and courtship, and marriage.


The program also covers topics such as peer pressure, male and female reproductive anatomy, menstruation, conception and prevention of pregnancy, the consequences of teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, HIV and AIDS, and ways to prevent exposure. Positive aspects of tribal culture are taught, such as self esteem, decision making, and respect for elders.


Tanzania adopted a program for initiation without mutilation in 1998. Girls age 10 to 13 receive instruction in domestic chores, midwifery, hygiene, sex and pregnancy over a two-week period. For the initiation ritual, the girls are beautifully dressed and participate in a ceremony where they demonstrate their readiness to receive instructions in womanhood. The whole village joins in drumming, singing, dancing and feasting to celebrate the new phase of the girls' development. The Inter-African Committee urged all African countries to develop initiation without mutilation.


A few physicians and circumcisers have been indicted for performing FGM in Ghana and Egypt, usually in cases where the young woman has bled to death, but prosecutions are very rare. In Guinea, the penalty for FGM is death, but the sentence has never been applied. Many Africans are unaware of the health risks and aid workers see a focus on health education as the best avenue for change.


Many cultures that accept FGM are Islamic, and Islam has been seen as being tied to FGM because of its insistence on virginity before marriage, a practice which circumcision is supposed to insure. However, this common belief has been challenged by Islamic scholars. Other faiths that have supported FGM include Coptic Christianity as practiced in Egypt; Orthodox and Ethiopian Jews; and the Falashas, a group of Ethiopians Jews who live in Israel.

An estimated 137 million women in at least 28 African countries have undergone circumcision. Africans point out that most circumcisers are women. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 168,000 females in the United States are at risk for having FGM performed. The CDC places the highest risk on African immigrant women living in large metropolitan areas. This is a worldwide disaster and we all ought to be involved in the fight.


Female genital mutilation is laden with many intercultural taboos. When African leaders were fighting against British colonialism during the 1980s, the male leaders defended FGM as a private matter and accused feminists who opposed FGM of "cultural imperialism." However, some African women who desire change counter that "culture is not torture." Africans point to Western practices such as bulimia, anorexia, liposuction, silicone breast implants, repeated facelifts-all in pursuit of idealized feminine beauty-and ask how Westerners can sit in judgment of Africans.

However the fact remains there is no need to mutilate girls and women. FGM has no medical value but only destroys lives. The fight against this horrific practice will carry on until the battle is won.




1 comment:

  1. Abigal, another excellent post, thank you as ever!
    I wonder if you've seen that the Guardian is seeking views (initially, till 8 Jan, then again a bit later) about how we can all help to erase FGM.
    Perhaps you and other readers could advise, please? The link is