Saturday, 30 May 2015

Female genital Mutilation in 2015

I read with joy of many charities or groups coming together to fight female genital mutilation. Unfortunately there are some challenges that we have to face. Just one piece of advice. I am African and I know how challenging it is to change a mind-set. So I thought of ways to approach people. Nothing new but they are worth remembering. There is no doubt that it is a violent crime so why then is the practice not coming to an end despite campaigns going back decades? Part of it is because people don’t know any better. I have come to the conclusion that FGM has been an untouchable area for charities and so forth because for many it seemed like attacking a people’s culture. And those communities where FGM is practised have led people to believe that it is a culture, with most of these practising countries being former colonies of Western countries (which had experienced criticisms of their indigenous cultures and behaviours). As a result, there may be a tendency for local people to be defensive, even when they know the practice is wrong. It’s all very well talking about FGM and writing about it but people also need strategies that work. What might have worked in one community might not necessarily work for another and this should be remembered.
Also sometimes people forget the local people and how important they are.  I remember when I was young; there were communities that resisted immunisation. When health officials went there with their mobile clinic, they found a ghost city waiting for them. All the children had been hidden and a few adults waited to explain that they did not want anybody attacking their culture. ‘Culture’ does not justify violence. Some people from FGM communities see any involvement by outsiders as an attack and would oppose anyone who said otherwise, which why the method by which we approach people and whether they can feel they can trust us makes a difference in people’s attitude. For the example above of people who resisted immunising their kids, it was by making people involved understand the risks involved that worked rather than a confrontation.
How was this achieved?
  • Dealing with the senior people of the community rather than with individuals
  • Bribing people ( Even during slave trade, wealthy landowners had to be paid off in order to release their slaves) Sometimes small favours can get someone’s attention even if it’s just to make them listen.
  • Listening to people’s views. - No good doing the talking without giving the FGM practising community leaders an ear. Let’s remember, in these communities there is stigma associated with whichever way things go. Those circumcised are laughed at and those who are not are made to feel small, so it is best to listen and listen well. Oxfam, in it’s approach in helping communities realised that it works better to empower the locals than impose.
  • Knowing when to stop. I have seen people trying so hard to make people understand reason, but if one pushes more than the other person can take, it can be all in vain as people are by nature defensive to criticism.
  • Just keeping things simple- In the case of immunisation, the people involved with the project used all sorts of tools including rag dolls to illustrate the dangers of the consequences. Slowly people began to understand. People like circumcisers in many FGM practising communities are not educated, and would need more than an English written document to understand and accept
  • Making sure the communication and the message being relayed is what the other person thinks it is. This can be achieved by getting a balance by understanding people and communities and their background. Writing a piece of paper in a room or hotel somewhere without the understanding of a people could be seen as an attack. Culture whether good or bad with a capital C is central to the existence of many communities especially African. But it can be this culture that enslaves. Making those from the culture understand, will need perseverance and understanding from activists.
  • I would also suggest it may be better for people to know and understand something of a community before approaching them.
  • Just work with others rather than being individualistic. This is a global problem and making it a one man band does not work. Remember these people have been practising FGM for years and to them it is normal. There needs to be more than one person working in a community.
As I pointed out before , saying something is not right within a community is not the same as attacking a country or people but like any community anywhere in the world it is necessary to weed out from time to time the evil and harmful practices. Like any cultural war there are bound to be criticisms and attacks but we have gone too far to let those attackers win. The battle continues, No to FGM.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Happy Africa Day

Happy Africa Day!

An interesting poem from one of Africa's sons - David Diop

Africa my Africa
Africa of proud warriors in ancestral savannahs
Africa of whom my grandmother sings
On the banks of the distant river
I have never known you
But your blood flows in my veins
Your beautiful black blood that irrigates the fields
The blood of your sweat
The sweat of your work
The work of your slavery
Africa, tell me Africa
Is this your back that is unbent
This back that never breaks under the weight of humiliation
This back trembling with red scars
And saying no to the whip under the midday sun
But a grave voice answers me
Impetuous child that tree, young and strong
That tree over there
Splendidly alone amidst white and faded flowers
That is your Africa springing up anew
springing up patiently, obstinately
Whose fruit bit by bit acquires
The bitter taste of liberty.
Food for thought!

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Female genital mutilation from Africa to the west

Female circumcision has been practiced historically and continues today in more than 28African countries, with prevalence rates in each of these countries ranging from 5% to 99%.
These practices have taken many symbolic forms—a birth practice, a childhood or adolescent rite of passage, a symbol of reaching manhood or womanhood, a sign of tribal affiliation, or a protection against sexual activity prior to marriage.

Female circumcision is practiced in many African countries but, based on individual tribal or cultural practices, not necessarily in every region of each individual country. It is estimated that at least 100 million women are circumcised currently, representing various socioeconomic classes and different ethnic and cultural groups, including Christians, Muslims, Jews, and followers of indigenous African religions.

Circumcision was believed to be an economic necessity since the men would be away from their homes for long periods of time, and therefore, wanted assurance that any children born during their absence were their own.
Various types of female circumcision has been an integral portion of many of the cultural and religious practices in Africa for thousands of years.
 These practices have taken many forms—a birth practice, a childhood or adolescent rite of passage, a symbol of reaching manhood or womanhood, a sign of tribal unity, a protection against sexual promiscuity.
Each cultural group has its own practices with its own meaning or meanings attached. Therefore, it is inevitable that these practices may continue as the African diaspora continues.

Western history of female circumcision

Excision and infibulation are by no means unique to Africa, as might be assumed in this discussion to present. These practices have existed and still exist in many parts of the world.
Female clitoral excision was practiced fairly extensively in the English-speaking world during the 19th Century. Some doctors thought that clitoridectomy was necessary not only to cure such sexual conditions as nymphomania (high sex drive), but also to prevent masturbation, hysteria, epilepsy, melancholia, and insanity (Sanderson, 1981).

 In 1865, Isaac Baker Brown, elected President of the Medical Society of London and respected gynecological surgeon, published his views on female excision. Dr. Brown’s treatment was excision of the clitoris and of the labia minora, sometimes without even the prior knowledge of the patient. It is likely, according to Dr. Brown’s records, that several thousand such operations were performed during the mid- to late-1800s. In 1867, the British medical establishment repudiated Brown’s “cures” and expelled him from the Obstetrical Society of London, and the practice was abandoned.
Similar practices in the United States existed as well and, in the United States from the 1880s to the 1950s, excision was performed to supposedly prevent masturbation, frigidity, hysteria, depression, epilepsy, lesbianism, kleptomania, nymphomania, and melancholia. Even into the 1970s, 3,000 such operations were performed, and their costs were covered by Blue Cross Insurance until 1977 (Sanderson, 1981)
Criminalizing, on its surface, seems a justifiable response for practices that are thought to harm or maim another. Nevertheless, the history of criminalizing, particularly of cultural practices, tends to divert the practice underground, and therefore, lead to more rather than less concerns. Criminalization of such practices is also seen as paternalistic—one society’s attempts to elevate their own practices as the correct or moral ones and negate another culture’s practices as lesser or immoral. Statutes requiring educational initiatives rather than criminalization initiatives might be the most appropriate compromise.

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.