Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Female Genital Mutilation

“Female Genital Mutilation is technically defined as the process of removal of all or some parts of the external female genitalia. It can be divided into various categories depending on the method used as Sunna Circumcision, Clitoridectomy and Infibulation.”

Screaming out as their aunts hold them down…the victims suffer a pain like none other. Not only is it a physical ordeal, the effects reach deep into the girls’ psyche. It comes to define who they are, how they react in the most intimate moments.

This practice has its roots in the basic philosophy that females are not supposed to enjoy the union with their partners; they are only supposed to bear children. It was and still is used by the society to curb sexual desire among females so that they remain loyal to their husbands and do not give in to desires of the flesh. FGM is meant to be the chain which holds her back.

Mutilated females supposedly uphold their family’s honour and bring blessings upon them. They are viewed as the upholders of modesty, character and right conduct.

In some cultures the process is also viewed as the stepping stone to womanhood. It symbolizes purity. Children born to uncircumcised women often refuse to call them ‘mother’. These ladies are like sinners in the community.

Yet other communities condemn these outward projections as “male parts” on a female body. The woman bearing them is considered to be manly hence, making the procedure necessary for female beautification. The list of myths is endless.

Briefly, FGM is classified under the following categories:
Type I: The removal of the clitoral hood or partial/total removal of the clitoris.
Type II: Often termed as excision, this might include the removal of the inner labia/ outer labia/ clitoris/ all of the above.
Type III: Type III, commonly called infibulation or pharaonic circumcision, is the removal of all external genitalia. The inner and outer labia are cut away, with or without excision of the clitoris. The girl's legs are then tied together from hip to ankle for up to 40 days to allow the wound to heal.
Type IV: It includes methods such as Hymenotomy and Gishiri Cutting.

According to the WHO, 100–140 million women and girls are living with FGM, including 92 million girls over the age of 10 in Africa. The practice persists in 28 African countries, as well as in the Arabian Peninsula, where Types I and II are more common. It is known to exist in northern Saudi Arabia, southern Jordan, northern Iraq (Kurdistan), and Nicholas Birch of the The Christian Science Monitor claims there is circumstantial evidence for its existence in Syria, western Iran, and southern Turkey. It is also practiced in Indonesia, but largely symbolically by pricking the clitoral hood or clitoris until it bleeds.

Forget the statistics for a moment and think: Is it okay for even one little girl to go through this? These ‘surgeries’ are not conducted in operation theatres. Here the “qualified doctor” is most often the girl’s grandmother and the equipment used maybe anything from a glass shard to a scissor. Even anaesthesia is not used. Probability of death from profuse bleeding has high probability (Girls who bleed a lot are branded witches). Even if a girl survives, she is scarred for life.

She faces medical problems like urinary infections, urine retention, septicemia, tetanus, HIV, hepatitis and wound infections. And it doesn’t end here.

Have you heard about a woman’s three sorrows? The first one is the process itself, the second, when she has to be cut open for the wedding night and the third, when she has to be cut yet again for childbirth. Creepy isn’t it?
Yet one thing that I haven’t been able to understand is that how did the practice begin? It does not find mention in any of the religious books (unlike male circumcision as required by Judaism and Islam). What basis does FGM have? Why did it start in the first place?

Another anomaly is the fact that women of the practicing communities support it. They have accepted it as part of their culture. They believe it to be an initiation ceremony where a girl becomes a woman.

Prohibition strengthened tribal resistance to the British in the 1950s, and increased support for the Mau Mau Uprising (1952–1960). In 1956, under pressure from the British, the council of male elders (the Njuri Nchecke) in Meru, Kenya, announced a ban on clitoridectomy. Over two thousand girls—mostly teenagers but some as young as eight—were charged over the next three years with having circumcised each other with razor blades, a practice that came to be known as Ngaitana ("I will circumcise myself"), so-called because the girls claimed to have cut themselves to avoid naming their friends. This was primarily a form of protest against interference with women's decisions about their own ritual.

 So the alleged victims are in fact the central actors.

I could go on about the need for change…the need to spread awareness…the need to educate them…but will it really work? What can be done to change the psychology of these people? I, as a non-believer, was repulsed when I first got to know of it…but will it be right to interfere in their traditions? Will we like someone to meddle with our affairs (no matter how silly they might be.)? Is change always for the good?

It is the first time when I haven’t been able to find answers to my questions but what really prompted me to write was the letter in my previous post. India shows up nowhere on the stats associated to FGM…yet it happens here as well.

How can such a practice go unnoticed when there has been so much hue and cry world over? How can we not know what happens in our gardens when we seem to know the lawns of paradise by heart? How can we turn a deaf ear to the screams in our homes while we march out with placards supporting women?

How? And why?

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