The Cruellest Cut

In some parts of Africa, the clitoris it’s believed is poisonous. A baby, its thought will die if it comes into contract with its mother clitoris during birth and even a man can sicken or die if his penis touches it.

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a procedure that is performed on girls before they reach puberty and sometimes on women after marriage and/or childbirth. FGM sometimes is delayed until two months before a woman gives birth. This practice is based on the believe that the baby will die if it comes into contact with its mother’s clitoris during birth. Although there has not been any medical evidence to support this belief. Some girls undergo the procedure alone, but more often the mutilation is done in group i.e. sisters, close relative or neighbours.

Usually mothers request the ritual genital procedure for their daughter as they believe that it will promote their daughter integration into their culture, protect their virginity and thereby guarantee their desirability as a marriage partner.  The girls alone are unable to give their consent on the matter and, if the parents refuse for the girl to be circumcised, the girl is kidnapped and has the procedure forced on them either by relatives or community members.

The most severe form is infibulation (also known as pharononic circumcision). It is believed that an estimated 15% of all mutilation in Africa is infubulation. The procedure consist of clitoridectomy (where the entire clitoris is removed), excision (removal of all, or part of the labia minora) and cutting of the labia minora to create a raw surface which are then stitched together in order to form a cover over the vagina when they heal. FGM is widely practiced in Africa, where it originated, it was and remains, a cultural, not a religious practice. It usually happens in small villages where they are isolated and without any contact from the outside world, often in places where it is male dominated and men wanting to take control of women inside and outside of marriage.

The procedure can be carried out in a girl’s home, a hut or a heath centre. It is mostly practiced in a hut, although those who are financially better often request the procedure to be done in a health centre. The person who performs the procedure is usually an older woman, a midwife or a healer. In severe cases, the girl is taken to a dark hut, blindfolded and ordered to strip naked. Once naked, the girl is pinned to the floor, with usually three women holding her down. One sits on her chest to prevent her body from moving, the other two hold her arms and legs. Sometimes a cloth is put over the girl’s mouth to stop her screaming and the operation takes place.  Part or the entire clitoris is surgically removed. Because of poverty and lack of medical facilities, the procedure is frequently done under less than hygienic conditions, and often without anaesthetic. On the odd occasion the girl is told to sit in cold water in order to numb the area before the operation is to be performed.  Razor blades, knives or scissors are usually the instruments used and after each operation the instruments used are simply wiped with a piece of cloth, sometimes rinsed first with water before used again on another girl. The use of the same instrument on several girls without sterilisation can cause the spread of HIV and other known medical conditions.

After circumcision, the female legs are lashed together for   1 – 6 weeks while she heals. Any sort of drinking liquid is refused to discourage urination. She is sewn almost completely shut, leaving an inadequate opening for the passage of urine and menstrual blood. FGM is not only the beginning of a woman’s suffering but also of a lifetime of endless labour, early arranged marriages often to older men and few basic rights. After circumcision, the girl is officially considered to be a woman.  The side affects resulting from the operation includes; shock, painful scars (both internal and external), fibrosis, difficulty during childbirth and lack of sexual pleasure.  FGM is performed mainly to reduce feelings of sexual desire in women so that they cannot get involved with anyone else other than their husbands.  Women who have not been circumcised living in countries where FGM is done often have difficulty in finding a man or getting married because they are considered to be impure and more likely to be unfaithful.  The reasons given to justify FGM are numerous and it has not been possible to determine when or where it originated.  The reasons citied generally relate to tradition, power and inequalities or women and their communities.  These reasons include:-

  • The clitoris is dangerous and must be removed for health reasons. Some believe that it is poisonous organ, which can cause a man to sicken or die if contracted by a man’s penis. Others believe that men can become impotent by contacting the clitoris.
  • The milk of the mother will become poisonous if her clitoris touches the baby during childbirth.
  • Bad genital odours can only be eliminated by removing the clitoris and labia minora.
  • An uncircumcised clitoris can lead to masturbation or lesbianism.
  • If FGM is not done, older men may not be able to match their wives sex drive and may have to resort to illegal stimulations of drugs.

 

The importance given to virginity and an intact hymen in these societies is the reason why female circumcision still remains a widespread practice. Behind circumcision lies the believe that, by removing parts of girls external genital organ, sexual desire is minimised.  This permits a female who has reached the dangerous age of puberty and adolescence to protect her virginity and therefore her honour with great ease.  Similarly female circumcision is meant to preserve the purity of young girls by reducing their desire for sexual intercourse.

 

It also creates a bond in the community as all women who have gone through the procedure share the most important experience of their lives. The girl will never have her conscious troubled by lustful thoughts and they also believe that it makes the marriage stronger because the relationship between husband and wife is motivated by love instead of lust and there will be no physical drive for the woman to cheat on her husband.

Whatever reasons given for this practice, FGM is no doubt the most barbaric experience that can happen to any girl; there is no reason why the procedure should be forced on girls.

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