Fear, anxiety, infections, trauma and even death are faced by tens of millions of women around the world. The root of the distress is none other than female genital mutilation (FGM), also referred to as female circumcision. Worldwide, there are close to 200 million females who are current survivors of the practice, and an additional 3 million girls under the age of 15 are mutilated annually, with 6,000 girls worldwide mutilated every day. Half of these numbers come solely from Indonesia, Egypt and Ethiopia, and the highest prevalence rate of mutilation for girls aged 14 and younger is found in Indonesia, Gambia and Mauritania. The act has been practiced for the past 2000 years, but has slowly started dying out in the more urbanized regions, as it is an outdated practice. Female genital mutilation has no actual formal basis in religion, but is still practiced due to social and cultural pressures. FGM is still the norm in many third-world countries and several countries such as Egypt make it an unofficial requirement for women to go under the knife to “pass” into womanhood. Along similar contexts, in many countries, FGM is a requirement for marriage — a proof of the girl’s purity. It is society’s way of ensuring that the girl will remain “chaste.” Girls are told to shy away from expressing their sexuality or showing promiscuity, while the community is accepting of males doing so. It’s ridiculous because it forces women to be submissive of this lifestyle. Surprisingly, a woman's socio-economic status plays no role in the circumcision. So a woman has no say and is excommunicated if she refuses submission for the mutilation and this has generated the marginalization and stigmatization of uncut females, forcing them to live their lives in shame. This idea of “purity” is so deeply embedded in their cultures, that it has become a way of life and expectancy for every girl the minute she comes out of the womb.
Female genital mutilation in its simplest definition is the partial or complete removal of the external female genitalia for nonmedical purposes, and the sewing and stapling of both the sides of the vulva leaving just a small hole large enough for urine and menstruation to pass. The typical mutilation is done around the female’s 12th birthday using a razor and no anesthetics. Many times a group of girls who are of age are sent by their mothers to the village nurses and doctor under false pretenses. The girls are lied to and are lead to believe that they are going on trip or an adventure of some sort when instead they are taken into the woods, blindfolded and tied down to the bushes. Then the appointed doctor proceeds to use the blade to perform the surgery while the nurses hold down the squirming girl. After the cutting is performed, the girl is taken to the side where a small hole is dug for her to bleed in. She will spend the next several hours there waiting for the bleeding to stop, and once it ceases, the nurses bring back dried herbs and leaves to put on the cuts. They are then peeled off and replaced continuously to speed up the scarring process. It can take anywhere from three weeks to three months for the healing to cease, but once the female makes it through, she is commended and will be recognized and accepted as a functioning woman of the society there.
As one may suspect, there are many side effects of FGM. These include severe bleeding, trouble urinating, and infections that may potentially lead to death. FGM also commonly leads to complications for childbirth and contributes to the deaths of newborns. Female genital mutilation is a major human rights issue as it subjects harm to a woman’s body, preventing her from leading a healthy life. We as a society are slowly but steadily making progress to diminish and hopefully discontinue the orthodox act. Part of eradicating FGM is educating the communities about safe and healthy practices as well as human rights. This is an easily achievable goal as long as there is constant intervention and education. According to the World Health Organization, FGM can rapidly end in the next generation if communities start taking progressive steps to end FGM.
Harleen Singh is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year majoring in cell biology and neuroscience. Her column, "Got Rights?", runs on alternate Mondays.
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