Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)
Female genital cutting or mutilation is a painful and an invasive surgical procedure, often performed without sedative on young girls before puberty. Each year, estimates reveal that from about 100 to 140 million women in the world have gone through the process of circumcision. On average, about four girls undergo mutilation in every minute. In the process of female genital cutting, the prepuce is removed and the clitoris partially or wholly removed. In some traditions, the process is more invasive as the labia minora is surgically removed. The labia mijora is sewn together covering the vagina and the urethra. This process leaves a small opening for the passage of menstrual fluid and urine. Female genital cutting has been a social custom in Northern Africa for millennia. However, a majority of people associate the operation with the Islam religion. In reality, it is a social custom practiced by many people from different regions of the world. Female genital cutting is a social process that brings about negative consequences in the society. This and many other social issues such as abortion and prostitution should not be allowed in society.
Criticism of female genital mutilation (FGM)
Although there are strict laws established to fight against such operations as abortion and female genital cutting, these evil practices are still evident in some parts of the world. There are no customs and traditions that have power over the individuals’ lives. This argument is based on the fact that most of communities that who practice female genital cutting hold that they do so in respect to their traditional culture. Female genital mutilation causes injury to the victims, as well as, the society in which the victim lives. The World Health Organization defines the procedure as the damage to the female genitals for non-medical reasons. The process in most cases is undertaken by an elderly woman without medical training. Antiseptic treatment and anesthetics are not involved in the procedure. Rather, there is the use of basic tools such scissors, knives, scalpels and razor blades. To tighten the genitals and stop the bleeding, a mixture of herbs or iodine is applied on the wound. Majority of cases of female genital cutting is in 28 African countries. There are, however, some countries where the prevalence rates are as high as 98%. These include countries such as Somalia, Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan. In other states such as Togo, Nigeria, Kenya, and Senegal, the levels may vary between 20-50 percent. This shows how disrespect for girls and women is spread. It is more precise to view FGM as an operation associated with particular ethnic groups, rather than a whole country. Whatever the case, female genital cutting should not allowed in society.
It is a shame to watch people, who are aware of the negative implications of FGM, perform such operations on young girls and women. The implications of female genital cutting are severe and consist of both temporary and long-term implications. These implications are the reason why the female genital cutting should be stopped in society. Additionally, it is shameful for the justifications that people give regarding female circumcision. The roots of FGM are numerous and complex. It is not easy to establish where and when the tradition of female genital damage originated. People give multiple justifications, which reflect on the historical and ideological state of the community in which it has developed. The reasons that people cite for FGM relate to power inequalities, tradition, and the resulting conformity of women to the dictates of their societies. Some of the justifications given for FGM, and that have no logical standings and explanations include the following.
Some societies that practice female genital cutting hold that they practice FGM as a requirement of the customs and traditions of the society. This thinking is so primitive and immature. Times have passed when people have stopped following the customs and traditions that are outdated and that bring harm to societal members and society as a whole. Traditional culture has evolved with the advancement in science and technology and has taken a new direction. There is no reason to believe that female genital marring is a requirement of any traditional customs as it is only based on the beliefs of the people in the specific society. It is surprising that even with high levels of education; people still practice female genital defacement. It is time that individuals should think of this operation as inhumane and focus on restructuring the traditions that do not add value to the life of an individual.
Some traditions and customs are so insensitive and should be eradicated in the society. Instead of focusing on promoting such operations in society, people should focus on ways, to improve their lives in all aspects including the social, economic, as well as, the political aspects of society. Traditions that should be maintained should be those that promote the welfare of the entire society, as well as, those that guarantee the well-being of the future generations. What matters in life is the health and the general welfare of the members of society. Any activity of any nature that interferes with the social well-being of people is though of as evil and does not only affect the individual member and relatives, but also the entire society. Therefore, female genital damage should be history in society.
Another reason for female genital mutilation has to do with religion. This is a mistaken belief that female circumcision is a religious requirement. There is no single religion that advocates for female genital injury. The supernatural being protects people from harm and does not impose laws or rules that inflict pain and suffering on human beings. Therefore, those that state that female genital marring is a requirement of religion have no foundation for their arguments. Probably, they hold these beliefs because they have heard other people in society say that. Additionally, they may have been influenced by people who matter most in their lives to hold these beliefs. Just as the issue of custom and traditions, individuals who base their arguments of female genital cutting on religious beliefs are still living in the primitive and barbaric times.
One of the reasons for female circumcision that is widely spread is the notion of preservation of virginity and chastity. Although virginity has value in a number of societies especially for the bride, it is important to consider that this is not the case in many modern societies as it has no price. The exposure from media, as well as, peer pressure makes young women engage in sexual activities. This means that getting women and girls who are virgins is a challenge. The societies that hold that by the operation of female genital cutting will preserve virginity of women do not reflect on the pain involved and injury imposed on victims. This is a sign of selfishness. The costs of operations in terms of the negative effects outweigh the benefits, which in this case is virginity.
Another justification given for female genital damage is the social approval or acceptance, especially for marriage unions. Does this mean that all women in successful marriage unions have gone through the process of female genital mutilation? What about those who earn a lot of respect from their husbands, are they all circumcised? The idea of social acceptance as the reason for female genital maiming is unreasonable and only acts as a scapegoat. No one would expect such an answer when he or she asks another what reason justifies the operation of female genital mutilation. This is just a minor reason that does not elaborate on the justification for FGM.
Hygiene and cleanliness is another reason behind the futile process of female genital mutilation. Do the people that give this reason for female genital cutting know the meaning of hygiene and cleanliness? Or may be if they do, their meaning might be different from that which is known and accepted by the other people. The operation of female genital defacement involves the use of apparatus that are not sterilized. This implies that there is a risk by the victim to be infected with illnesses that affect their health. In the real sense, it is ironical to state that the operation is intended for hygiene and cleanliness while those who do it do not use clean apparatus. Does it mean that women and girls who have not gone through the operation are not clean? In other words, the idea of hygiene and cleanliness as the reason for female genital disfigurement is unrealistic.
Another justification for female genital injury is that it increases sexual pleasure for men. Again, this reason is exceedingly insensitive as it does not consider both genders. In a marriage union, sexual intercourse should satisfy the needs of both partners. Men are not the only parties in a marriage association. Increasing sexual pleasure for one party at the cost of pain and injury of another party’s genital is insensitive and should never be allowed.
As argued by societies that practice female genital marring, the operation achieves family honor. Family honor in this case refers to respect from family members of societies that practice female genital cutting. Family honor at the cost of pain or even death? In addition, does it mean that family respect does not exist in families that do not practice FGM? Just like all the above reasons, it is unreasonable to argue that one earns family honor after going through the operation of female genital cutting.
There are people in societies that argue that the operation of female genital injury makes an individual have a sense of being a member of a group, as well as, avoiding the fear of social segregation or exclusion by members of the group. This reason is only applicable to those that belong to societies that practice female genital injury. This proposition is held by women that go through the operation of female genital marring to honor the requirement of their societies. The acceptance of female genital damage by women in society makes it easy for society to undertake the process. It is despicable that even the educated men and women encourage their daughters to go through female genital defacement despite the severe consequences. Education plays a significant role in society as it enables individuals be able to reason logically and act responsibly. Therefore, for those educated people that support FGM, education has not helped them at all. Mass education has been and continues to be offered by such institutions that are against FGM as the nongovernmental organizations. They educate the public on the temporary and lasting consequences of female genital cutting. Despite their efforts in eradicating the operation in some societies, there are still communities that continue to practice this. For any action to be undertaken, people in society are responsible and should take part. This means that even if the public in societies that promote FGM are educated and do not take into account what is taught, there is no change that will occur. It is a shame that some people in the society are still living in the old times. In the real sense, they are living in the modern world, but they practice activities of the old times, making them appear as if they are living in the primitive world.
A number of people in society hold that the operation of female genital mutilation enhances fertility. Fertility in what sense? Has biology proven that circumcision in women increases fertility? In fact, to some extent the process of female genital damage may cause infertility. FGM as a process causes damage to the female genitals, which may, in turn, lead to complications during child birth. Therefore, the connection of enhancement of fertility and female genital damage is unreal.
Female genital mutilation has both immediate and enduring effects on women and girls and should be discouraged. Strict laws should be instilled to fight against those who promote the practice as it causes harm to individuals (girls and women). It is against the rights of women. This is because the procedure involves procedures that intentionally injure or alter female genitals for non-medical reasons. The operation of female circumcision has no health benefits for women and girls. The procedures involved can cause severe problems such as bleeding and complications especially in urinating and during child births and can cause newborn deaths. It is shameful as in most cases the procedure is carried on young girls between infancy and 15 years of age. Although FGM is globally recognized as a breach of the human rights of women and girls, some societies still perform this invasive operation.
The effects of female genital injury should give societies a reason to advocate for a stop of the action. It is disgraceful that people in societies that practice FGM see the negative implications, yet they do not take any actions to stop it in society. The consequences of female genital cutting are brutal and depend on the degree of injury or mutilation. The short-term health complications of FGM include severe pain and shock. The procedure of female genital mutilation is painful as there is no use of anesthetics. The severe pain may cause shock to the victim, which in the long-run may cause trauma for the individual. FGM also can cause infection. The procedure of FGM, undertaken by women without medical training involves the use of unsterilized objects that can cause infections to victims of female genital injury. In addition, there are cases where the same apparatus are used for multiple victims, which increase the risks for contraction of infections and illnesses. Are these reasons not enough to stop female circumcision? For people that observe these consequences and continue to support FGM, there must be something wrong with them.
FGM also causes urine retention due to blockage of the urethra in women and girls. This condition refers to the inability to voluntarily void urine and can be acute or chronic. The inability to empty urine from one’s bladder is a severe condition that brings discomfort to the victim and affects other muscles. This causes injury to the adjacent tissues. Can one stand his or her daughter developing such complications in the name of following society’s requirements? This is unrealistic. Female genital damage can cause immediate fatal hemorrhaging. As the people that undertake the procedure do not have the necessary medical training, the procedure can be fatal due to excessive bleeding. Again, the question raised here is, can parents stand the procedure done on their girls if they have lost a daughter before due to female genital marring? It is not surprising that one would find such, and when asked, the parents are likely to justify their decision, which mostly base on the justifications discussed earlier. The short-term implications of FGM should be enough reasons to stop female genital injury.
In addition, there are long-term implications of FGM that should make societies think twice on continuing the practice of FGM. One of the most common long-standing implications of female circumcision is extensive injury of the external reproductive system. Mutilation of genitals involves removing partially or completely the genital organs of the female, and this could lead to total damage of the external reproductive system. Destruction of the reproductive systems may cause other implications, which, in turn, affect the life of the individual especially health wise and socially. It is shameful that people observe these severe consequences, and yet do nothing to stop female genital damage. Short-term infections of female genital cutting may cause infections to the uterus, vagina, and the pelvis. This can lead to infertility of the victim. The inability of a woman to have children is perceived as a curse by people in society. The same society that subjects the individual to female genital injury is the one that perceives infertility (which may be caused by FGM) as a curse. This of course seems funny. As mentioned earlier, one of the justifications given for female genital mutilation is that it increases fertility. In this case, therefore, does female genital mutilation increase fertility or does it lead to infertility? Can destruction of the organs of the reproductive system increase fertility?
Female genital cutting leads to cysts and neuromas, as well as, increased risk of vesico vaginal fistula, which affect the wellbeing of the victim. For a society to be productive, it must comprise of healthy people. Societies that practice FGM need to look at the operation from a different approach. That is in terms of the implications on the larger society. The process causes complications in pregnancy and childbirth. These complications may lead to the death of the infant, as well as, the death of the mother. In this case, therefore, what need is there for societies to subject their girls and women to female genital injury and lack children in society? FGM also creates sexual dysfunctions for women and brings difficulties in menstruation. Finally, because of shock and trauma that girls and women experience during female genital damage, there is the risk of psychological damage for the victim. Psychological destruction ranges from anxiety to severe depression and psychosomatic illnesses. These reasons are enough to think twice on female genital cutting.
Most women believe that female genital damage is indispensable to ensure approval and acceptance by their community. However, they are not aware that the practice is not universal. They choose to undergo this process in the name of gaining societal acceptance. This reason does not justify their acceptance. Therefore, female genital damage must be eradicated in society as there are no health benefits, but only harm. Laws against FGM exist in some societies, which make it unlawful to practice female genital damage on women and girls. They also prohibit taking girls for FGM operations in other countries that the procedure is legal. The laws induce a penalty or a fine on those who practice FGM on girls and women. In countries such as the U.K., the Female Genital Mutilation Act that came into effect in 2004 imposes a penalty of up to 14 years in prison. Other societies should emulate the U.K. to ensure that FGM is eradicated in society. FGM is unlawful and should not be allowed at all, no matter the justifications. All justifications are unreasonable.
Their motivations, like those behind male circumcision, are erroneous: they fear the clitoris would get longer and longer until it was like a penis, they claim that these female parts are ugly; they maintain a woman's external genitalia endanger babies and husbands, and contaminate mother's milk. Sewing up the vaginal opening is used as a seal of virginity, which is a cultural prerequisite for marriage. The World Health Organization is determined to eliminate female genital mutilation, and women's groups have mounted educational campaigns.
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There are many long term effects of female genital mutilation including difficulty in passing urine, recurring urinary tract infections, incontinence, pelvic inflammatory, keloid scarring formation and sexual dysfunction. Haematocolpos, or the inability to pass menstrual blood (because the remaining opening is often too small) can lead to infection of other organs and also infertility. Fistulae (holes or tunnels between the vagina and the bladder or rectum) is a common result of the operation. In some cases where infibulation prevents or impedes vaginal intercourse, anal intercourse may be used as an alternative. The resulting damage to tissue is also a possible route of infection by HIV.
Obstetric complications are the most frequent health problem, resulting from vicious scars in the clitoral zone after excision . These scars open during childbirth and cause the anterior perineum to tear, leading to haemorrhaging that is often difficult to stop. Infibulated women have to be re-opened, or deinfibulated on delivery of their child and it is common for them to be reinfibulated after each delivery. Although little reliable data is available, it is likely that the risk of maternal death and stillbirth is greatly increased, particularly in the absence of skilled health personnel and appropriate facilities. Female genital mutilation may also be associated with long term maternal morbidity.
* Human Rights booklet 29 1989 - 'Traditional Practices against women'
* Female Genital Mutilation - A joint WHO/UNICEF/UNFPA statement
*The State of the World Report 1997 - UNFPA