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Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a common custom in some Asian, Middle Eastern, and Caucasian countries. FGM is cruel and, in most cases, unsanitary operation conducted at home without any participation by qualified medical workers and with no appropriate medications. The procedure includes the cutting of the clitoris and/or labia minora. According to the World Health Organization (2018), it may also involve such painful processes as infibulation, pricking, piercing, etc. Those who promote this ritual explain that the operation diminishes girls’ sexuality and prevents premature sexual relations.
However, this practice should be abolished for several reasons. First, as has already been mentioned, the procedure is performed under inappropriate conditions. Second, it prevents females from experiencing sexual satisfaction during their mature years. Consequently, women suffer from depression and stress. Third, it causes serious health problems such as painful urination, vaginal malfunction, and childbirth complications (World Health Organization, 2018). Fourth, this issue is an ethical problem. FGM is certainly not chosen by the girl herself, but imposed on her by her parents and the local society.
This is a burning issue for the whole world as people are free to migrate almost anywhere nowadays. Those who have always practiced FGM at home will continue doing so in the country they move to. To resist this tendency, social workers and nurses should develop strategies aimed at preventing this harmful ritual in families. It is important to note that there are two million girls every year under the threat of FGM (Yoder, Wang, & Johansen, 2013). The strategies below are directed toward eliminating the barriers that delay the eradication of FGM. They may help improve the situations of young girls who are endangered by this cruel tradition.
Strategy One: General Knowledge
It is quite doubtful that legal measures are enough to reduce the number of families practicing FGM. If people do not accept the principles that underlie law, they will resist it. That is why in the case of FGM, educational measures should be taken. There may be several steps that a nurse or a social worker should follow to give a family the basic knowledge that will prevent FGM. For our purposes, it is necessary to imagine a model family to whom the strategies will be applied. Let it be a family from a Middle Eastern country having more than three children, with the parents able to read and write, and the husband having some professional skills. They adhere to Muslim religious beliefs. The ritual of FGM is strictly followed inside their native local society.
At first, it is necessary to give the parents basic information about human physiology. In many traditional cultures, this field of knowledge is openly or secretly tabooed due to religious reasons (barrier 1). More than that, according to Glover and Liebling (2018), most women in traditional eastern families are illiterate. This means that in their everyday life and personal philosophies, they are guided not by common sense or scientific reasons but by religious beliefs and prejudices. That is why even adults are sometimes unaware of certain aspects of human anatomy and physiological processes. Moreover, even in some secular states, various issues of sexuality and reproduction are excluded from biology textbooks. That is why educational measures are essential. They should become the basis for further work with the hypothetical family under consideration and its integration into modern Western society.
Besides anatomy and physiology, the parents should receive basic knowledge about Darwin’s discoveries, namely evolution, and natural selection. They must clearly understand that the human organism is a system of features that have been forming genetically during millions of years; every existing organ is, in its own way, necessary for life, and its removal leads to health problems, disability, and even death. This knowledge will lead the parents to consider the consequences of FGM for their female children.
The next important point is how to conduct the education process. As the issue of FGM concerns the most delicate and problematic functions of the human body, the helping professional should have regular private talks with the parents. Their religious consciousness will resist the new knowledge, which is why the social worker will have to be calm and careful but persistent. Holding meetings with the parents once or twice a week, he or she should start with less painful questions and gradually address the issues of physiology and anatomy connected with FGM. For this purpose, one should develop a short educational program that includes not only scientific data but also psychological means of persuasion.
This strategy is logical and rational because scientific knowledge is the basis for ridding society of harmful and senseless archaic traditions and religious beliefs. A scientific basis will lead to the development of critical thinking. One should bear in mind that most people practicing such procedures as FGM are completely illiterate or partly uneducated (Glover and Liebling, 2018). To deal with the problem, elementary scientific knowledge should be explained and propagated.
Strategy Two: Sexual Education
In the United States and most countries of the European Union, sexual education (SE) at schools is becoming more and more prevalent. Its main aim is to make children aware of sexual relations, the individual’s sexuality, and other physiological and psychological issues connected with this sphere. In traditional societies, education on this topic has remained unacceptable (barrier 2). That is why the helping professional should prepare both the parents and their children so that they accept school-based SE calmly and without resistance.
One should keep in mind that the children in the hypothetical family have been under the influence of their parents’ religious beliefs for their whole lives. That is why it is necessary to prepare them (especially if they are teenagers) for SE so that the subject is not shocking to them. To perform this task successfully, the helping professional should, first of all, explain to the parents that SE is a part of modern education. One should further clarify that a child is unlikely to grow into a full member of society if he or she does not accept basic social values.
Spreading knowledge is extremely important. According to Diop and Askew (2009), it is worth providing “information about the transmission of germs and the importance of hygiene” (p. 308). This may help both the children and parents understand why FGM is dangerous for health. To give this knowledge to the children, one should organize meetings with them and (if necessary) with the parents. During these events, the basics of hygiene and women’s health should be explained to female teenagers.
This measure is rational and logical. According to Berg and Denison (2012), a “systematic review concluded that women who have undergone FGM/C are more likely to experience pain during intercourse and reduction in sexual satisfaction and desire” (p. 135). This means that a significant number of females are subjected to the procedure while being more or less unconscious of what is being done to them. That is why a teenage girl should realize that this practice is harmful.
Strategy Three: Social Adaptation
In many cases, a common course of social adaptation may help diminish the risk of FGM. It is especially important for those families who have recently arrived from their native countries. The helping professional should pay special attention to the family’s awareness of human rights and equality (being unaware of these concepts is barrier 3). According to Gilbert (2017), one should not mix tolerance to traditions with complicity in a crime. It means that if customs and rituals are harmful to the individual, they should be resisted.
The best way to make the family from an FGM-practicing traditional society aware of human rights and sex equality is to create a written guide in which it should be explained that the procedure is not only hazardous for health but also a criminal action against the individual. Meetings with the family may also be helpful for clarifications and establishing friendly relations so that the family becomes willing to accept the helping professional’s arguments. It is rational and logical to do this because, in many countries of Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, women are not treated equally to men (Glover and Lindberg, 2018). This can be observed in such examples as FGM, child marriage, and social preferences given to males.
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One may conclude that there are at least three strategies for a social worker to help families understand the harm of FGM and to advocate against it. The first is giving a basic knowledge of human physiology, anatomy, evolution, and natural selection. The second is educating female teenagers about hygiene and women’s health. The third is social adaptation. The latter strategy concerns awareness of human rights and sexual equality in modern Western society.
Berg, R. C., & Denison, E. (2012). Effectiveness of interventions designed to prevent female genital mutilation/cutting: A systematic review. Studies in Family Planning, (43)2, 135-146.
Diop, N. J., & Askew, I. (2009). The effectiveness of a community-based education program on abandoning female genital mutilation/cutting in Senegal. Studies in Family Planning, (40)4, 307-318.
Gilbert, L. (2017). Female genital mutilation and the natural law. National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly, 17(3), 475-486.
Glover, J., & Liebling, H. (2018). Persistence and resistance of harmful traditional practices (HTPs) perpetuated against girls in Africa and Asia. Journal of International Women’s Studies, 19(2), 44-64.
World Health Organization. (2018). Female genital mutilation. Web.
Yoder, P. S., Wang, S., & Johansen, E. (2013). Estimates of female genital mutilation/cutting in 27 African countries and Yemen. Studies in Family Planning, (44)2, 189-204.