By Joshua Bondurant
Over 130 million women have experienced Female Genital Mutilation. There are four primary forms, and the World Health Organization have determined all forms to be physically and emotionally harmful. Perhaps the most adverse is a Clitoridectomy, the partial or full removal of a woman’s clitoris. This procedure can lead to incredible pain during first intercourse, bleeding, cysts, and a life of serious health issues. Other procedures include excisions and infibulations, –the narrowing of the vaginal opening.
Many of the cultures that practice procedures to remove a women’s clitoris are located in Kenya, Africa. In these cultures, this ceremony marks the transition to womanhood, and such practices are the norm. Similar ideals exist throughout Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and Australia, where they also practice and often force FGM on young women due to ceremonial and spiritual beliefs.
Widespread global awareness campaigns have been launched against FGM. Major news sites such as The Guardian state that over half a million women also suffer from the health impacts of Female Genital Mutilations right here in America.
I feel that it is important to celebrate hope and practice empathy toward victims of FGM. It can be tempting to allow one’s anger to overwhelm, and speak out passionately and vehemently against these acts. I believe it is a far greater challenge to actively practice compassion and to provide education on such practices. This challenge was accepted by Women Leading Change, a blog that has posted a powerful story speaking to women who have already been affected by FGM. Kezia Bianca courageously shares her story that promotes hope and knowledge:
“As a girl who went through FGM, I believe that there is a future for me and I have a purpose in life. My advice to all girls who experienced FGM is that there is still light at the end of the tunnel. Life has to go on. Our society believes that once you have gone through FGM you are ready for marriage, but it all depends on your priorities and what you want from life. You can still bury your traditions and walk with your head up high. When I was circumcised I was only 15, I had a dream of educating my community on the dangers of FGM, and I wanted to be an example by telling them how it feels when you abuse the rights of the girl child. Let us come out openly and be ready to stand up for the rights of the girl child. it takes efforts to tell the world that FGM is outdated and outlawed. I am still accomplishing my dream and I can’t stop until FGM becomes history in our community.” Kezia Bianca
Where Kezia is from, FGM is a common ceremonial rite into womanhood. Her testimony against this widely-practiced act attests to her bravery to speak out for the women of her country, and across the world. If Kezia can help spearhead change in Kisii, Africa, imagine the possibility given the rights and resources available in this country.
By learning about FGM and that the procedures that are still accepted in several countries throughout the world–regardless of whether those procedures being outlawed or not–we may realize that our own personal challenges may pale in comparison. If the idea of being forced to undergo female circumcision is abhorrent, I urge readers to share this post, write an article, share discourse, or start a conversation to keep FGM and the devastation it can cause in the spotlight. If you hear anyone defend these procedures, I encourage you to speak out against it, wherever you or they may stand on religious or social views. These forms of genital mutilation exist on an unimaginable scale. These practices simply hurt women, and the effects last their entire lives. The social, spiritual, and ritualistic ideals behind FGM must be brought to light and challenged to reduce physical and emotional suffering. Change starts with knowing that FGM still exists as a so-called “rite of passage” in many countries around the world. To simply know of the pain and anguish caused by such rituals, is the first step along the road of awareness.
In order for countries that practice FGM to pursue change, it needs to come from within. Tostan is a grassroots Africa-based NGO working to help educate rural communities about the dangers of FGM and other health concerns through the community empowerment model. This model respectfully engages communities by working in their own languages and using traditional methods of learning. It facilitates community ownership over the development process, allowing communities to fulfill their own potential. Tostan believes that every human being–woman, man, and child–has the right to human dignity.