A Scarred world

Shaikha Shuhada Panzeree explains the issue of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) that is still prevalent in many countries of the world

Along with discriminatory, horrifying experiences like rapes, molestation, physical and mental torture of many kinds, a form of hideous violence against women is female genital mutilation (FGM) that has been used as a weapon to suppress and scar women both physically and mentally from ancient times till now.

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It needs to be clearly stated that there is no medical reason whatsoever for executing female genital mutilation. The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines FGM as ‘all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons’. Although Christians and Muslims are the major practitioners of this act, neither the Qur’an nor the Bible has any regulation allowing the practice. A few hadiths say that it may be practicable as a noble act but not mandatory. Apparently, these hadiths are not supported by majority of Muslim scholars, Al-Azhar Supreme Council of Islamic Research has stated in 2007 that FGM has ‘no basis in core Islamic law or any of its partial provisions’.

According to the United Nations, FGM is still being practiced in 30 countries, mainly in Africa, Middle East, and Asia, even in the UK and USA. According to UNFPA, the number of living victims of FGM is 200million. A data compiled by the UNICEF shows that among these 200 million, 44 million girls are below the age of 15, the percentage of girls from 15-19 years of age undergoing FGM dropped from 51 per cent in 1985 to 37 per cent at present time. However, the data reveals that in most countries the girls are under five. Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, a US citizen, sparked concern among people after being charged with performing FGM on two seven-year-old girls. As a matter of fact, although in most countries FGM is performed by traditional practitioners, in Indonesia more than half of the girls were performed FGM on by trained medical professionals, shows UNICEF data.

It is important that we know why FGM is still being practiced and how it is affecting the minds of the victims. A 2016 report by the UN secretary general states that the continuation of FGM around the world ‘is out of a desire for social acceptance and to avoid social stigma’. There are three important sides of this enactment; the reasons behind it, the physical effects and the mental effects on women.

Given that there are no scientific, medical or religious reasons for conducting FGM, states/people that are performing this act have come up with nonsense reasons. Starting from reducing women’s sexual appetite and pleasure by making it severely painful and traumatising for women; to ensure virginity and chastity of women before and after marriage with the reduced sexual desire in women which is supposed to keep them faithful to their husbands along with making it less exhausting for men. Other reasons include to increase sexual pleasure for male creating the vaginal tightness (Somali men would not even marry an uncircumcised woman); to boost fertility (although in reality victims of FGM have actually lost the power to reproduce or have gone through severe menstruation and fertility complications); to keep female genitalia, which is considered to be ‘dirty and unsightly’, clean- ironically conducting the procedure in the most unclean way possible, not even using sterilized instruments for the operation. Also, FGM is done to secure social and economic state for girls by marrying them off probably to a wealthy man, because uncircumcised women are not desirable to the men of the concerned localities. It is also done to keep tradition and culture alive; as a ritual to enter into womanhood when puberty strikes to them, ironically enough by taking away from them the very essence of being a woman and to follow religious directive although neither Christianity nor Islam gives any direct instruction for female circumcision.

The physical and mental effects it leaves on women are countless. According to UNFPA, ‘Immediate complications include severe pain, shock, haemorrhage, tetanus or infection, urine retention, ulceration of the genital region and injury to adjacent tissue, wound infection, urinary infection, fever, and septicemia. Haemorrhage and infection can be severe enough to cause death. Long-term consequences include complications during childbirth, anemia, the formation of cysts and abscesses, keloid scar formation, damage to the urethra resulting in urinary incontinence, dyspareunia (painful sexual intercourse), sexual dysfunction, hypersensitivity of the genital area and increased risk of HIV transmission, as well as psychological effects.’

The circumcised women face psychological issues through the rest of their lives after their circumcision. Traumas, anxiety, stress, depression, behavioural disorders in children and adult women, disbelief in caregivers, an overall post traumatic stress disorder is common in almost each of the victims.

To demean humanity as much as possible, girls or women do not go through FGM only once in life, most of them experience it thrice in their lifetime, it is known as ‘the three feminine sorrows’ of women. The first sorrow is the circumcision day, and the last two comes at the wedding night and while giving birth to a child when women’s already cut and sealed vaginas are cut again, to make it useable by the husband to have sex and to make way for the child to come out.

Though female genital mutilation has been recognised as a human rights’ violation internationally, the practice being banned in 24 countries in Africa alone, it could not have been stopped. February 6th, the international day of zero tolerance for female genital mutilation, was observed with a theme of ‘Building a solid and interactive bridge between Africa and the world to accelerate ending FGM by 2030.’ Also, the UN 2030 agenda for sustainable development included the elimination of FGM as a sustainable development goal which promises to uproot the practice by 2030.

FGM can be called a social and moral epidemic, a heinous act against women and humanity! Humanitarian organisations like the UN, some charity organisations and grassroots groups are continuously working to stop FGM. Though the outcome of this fight is positive so far, the deep-rooted practice seems to be going on with full force despite the legislations against it. Among all this negativity, to end on a positive note, we can take inspiration from highly affected African countries like Gambia, Nigeria banning FGM in their countries. Being aware ourselves and spreading it to others, doing as much as we can, even if it is just a small campaign, can help fight this inhuman act.