In December 21, 2012, the United Nations General Assembly made a resolution to try and persuade countries who practice female genital mutilation to ban it completely. The assembly tried to push their legislation without actually having the legal power to fully enforce each country that practices FGM.
Flash forward to 2013, where little progress has been made. Although some small towns in countries such as in Kurdistan have tried to stamp out FGM, the practice is still rampant in the surrounding Middle East and all over the world. Millions of young girls have procedures forced upon them without consent every year; there are a reported 140 million women and children who have undergone some FGM treatment and must live with the consequences today. Surpisingly enough, 10,000 documented cases of FGM are reported to have occurred in the past year in the United States–women forced by their communities to have this process done illegally. For the most part, this practice occurs in larger scale numbers across Africa, Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East, with less significant numbers reported in Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK (stats).
Originating in Africa, the practice of mutilating a female’s reproductive organs remains a heavily practiced ritual today. Mothers of the little girls in these cultures often feel pressured by their community’s expectations and will take their child, usually ranging from infancy to 15 years of age (scarcely older), to have this procedure carried out. An excruciatingly painful and primitive method, there is no right or wrong way of completing the “surgery,” just as long as the girl receives damage.
According to the Female Genital Mutilation in the U.S. Factsheet, reasons why this is performed include:
- To control women’s sexuality and to ensure virginity until marriage and fidelity in marriage.
- To make a girl more acceptable in the community and increase her eligibility for marriage.
- As a traditional rite of passage into adulthood.
- FGM is associated with notions of being “feminine,” “modest,” “clean” and/or “beautiful.”
- Various myths surround FGM in practicing communities, e.g. that the clitoris will grow into a penis if not cut, or that a baby will die if its head touches the clitoris during birth.
The consequences for the women who experiences this can result in horrible pain and infections. If the operation is not done with a anesthetic, it can lead to lifelong health problems such as chronic infection, hemorrhage, severe pain during urination, menstruation, emotional lifelong trauma, risk for newborn death and difficulty during childbirth.
What does it entail?
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is the practice of harming a female’s genitals for non-medical purposes.
The usual approach is to remove part or all of the clitoris, responsible for sexual pleasure and the nerve powerhouse on a female. The outcome? To create a woman that is to live without sin. Sex for women in such cultures is viewed purely as a procreational tool.
The procedures by which this operation of sorts occurs are classified into four major types:
- Clitoridectomy: partial or total removal of the clitoris (a small, sensitive and erectile part of the female genitals) and, in very rare cases, only the prepuce (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris).
- Excision: partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (the labia are “the lips” that surround the vagina).
- Infibulation: narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the inner, or outer, labia, with or without removal of the clitoris.
- Other: all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area (WHO).
On February 6th, 2013, the State Department celebrated their 10th anniversary of the International Day of Zero Tolerance Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting. Along with their annual country reports on the topic, the U.S. is trying their best to spread the good word against the unnecessary violence against women.
It’s hard to say we live in a world that treats people equally, when one of the largest crimes against humanity is alive and well today. With 140 million females affected by FGM worldwide it ranks number one as the most monumental case of brutalism to ever occur. But you won’t find that in your history books.