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Female genital mutilation is defined by the World Health Organization as a procedure that involves partial or total removal of the external female genitalia for no medical reasons. It is carried out without anesthesia and may involve injury of the genital area. This practice is usually carried out on girls who have just reached puberty or are a few days old into puberty.
The practice is usually carried out by a traditional circumciser or a person who is experienced in doing the mutilation in a traditional non-medical setting. The cut is made using a knife, scissors or razor blade. This practice is common in Western, Northern and Eastern parts of Africa and some parts of Asia and the Middle East.
It is also practiced among some immigrant communities in Europe, Australia and North America. It is estimated that approximately 100-140 million girls around the world have undergone female genital mutilation. Out of the 140 million, 92 million are from Africa (Gruenbaum, 2001).
There are four types of female genital mutilation. However, only three of the four types are commonly practiced. Type I involves removal of the clitoral hood. Usually this also involves removal of the clitoris itself. Type II involves removal of the clitoris and the inner labia while type three involves removal of the inner and outer labia, the clitoris, and stitching of the wound leaving a small hole for the passage of urine and menstrual blood.
The stitches only come off during sexual intercourse and child birth. This usually involves tearing and bleeding. Type III is the most common of the procedures and is usually practiced in several countries such as Sudan, Somalia and Djibouti. Type IV involves symbolic pricking of the clitoris or labia or cutting of the vagina to widen it (Gollaher, 2000).
Female genital mutilation is considered to be a violation of the human rights of the girl child hence the reason for choosing this topic. Issues that have been raised about the practice focus on the human rights violations, lack of informed consent and health risks. Health risks include issues such as recurrent vaginal and urethral tract infections. In addition, complications during child birth are likely to occur. Several countries have made efforts to stop the practice following health concerns and medical risks associated with the practice.
An observation that 90% of Eritrean women had undergone circumcision in 2002 sparked an interest in understanding the trends, factors that lead to female genital mutilation and its consequences. This study used data collected from the 2002 Egypt Demographic and Health Survey (EDHS) and the 2003 Female Genital Mutilation to determine factors that influence mothers to take their daughters through the practice and attitudes towards the practice (Woldmicael, 2009).
The findings of the study found that female genital mutilation was more common among older women than it was among the younger ones. The younger women were less likely to take their daughters through the female genital mutilation process than the older women.
The study also revealed that 89% of Eritrean women had undergone the practice. 39% had undergone the type III genital mutilation which is the most severe of the 4 types. When it comes to religion, neither Christianity nor Islam seems to have any significant influence on the practice (Woldmicael, 2009).
The findings show that even the least severe form of genital mutilation leads to complications during birth and puts the victim at risk of other health complications. This study also showed that social acceptance also favored the practice. The practice is considered to be an honor and earns the family respect. It also increases the girl’s chances of getting married. The society also believes that genital mutilation controls sexual promiscuity, protects the girl from potential seducers and rapists and also preserves her virginity (Woldmicael, 2009).
The study shows that female genital mutilation is being practiced in parts of this world and therefore strategies to combat it have been put in place. However, for a practice that is considered to be a violation of human rights of the girl child, it is still being practiced among some communities. Governments have been urged to implement laws that incriminate this practice in regions where it is being practiced.
However, it is very difficult to implement the law if the practice is a widely accepted vice. Very little research has been done in trying to establish why the practice still exists even when those who practice it have been educated and sensitized on the issue. Therefore this study will investigate further on the existing socio-cultural dynamics of female genital mutilation.
Approaches to the study
The most common question is why those who practice female genital mutilation actually do it. Some people have condemned the practice while others simply have tried to understand the practice.
It is however important to understand the cultural history of the practice if one is to be able to understand the cultural dynamics. Most people attribute the practice to Islam but it has been shown that religion does not play a part in the practice. Several customs and beliefs contribute to female genital mutilation and these customs are often hard to get rid of.
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In Sudan, for instance, it is believed that the campaign against FGM was a sure way of changing women’s consciousness. If a woman allowed her genitals to be removed, a heightened level of motherhood is achieved because it would not be tainted by sexuality. As a result she earns respect in the community. She also becomes empowered because by going through the process, she gets to earn respect from society (Shell-Duncan & Hernland, 2000).
Other societies regard uncircumcised women to be unclean and unfit to handle food and water. Their status as a mother is regarded to be impure and is often looked down upon. Some communities believe that if a woman is not circumcised then her genitals will continue to grow and dangle in between her legs. In addition, they believe that if a man’s penis came into contact with a woman’s clitoris, he would die. Similarly, if a baby’s head came into contact with the clitoris, it would also die (Boyle, 2002).
Female genital mutilation is an issue that needs to be addressed in the world today. Statistics have shown that a good percentage of women around the world have suffered a type of female genital mutilation. This has struck controversy among human rights groups such as Amnesty international.
Ways of trying to curb the practice have been proposed and in most parts of the world have been implemented. However, the practice is still persistent in our present day society. Understanding the cultural dynamics behind it is very important if we are to completely eradicate female genital mutilation. Therefore, this is a gap that needs to be researched on in order to be able to fully understand this practice as well as try to completely eradicate it.
Boyle, E. H. (2002). Female Genital Cutting: Cultural Conflict in the Global Community. Johns Hopkins University Press.
Gollaher, D (2000). Female Circumcision Circumcision: A History of the World’s Most Controversial Surgery. Basic Books.
Gruenbaum, E. (2001) The Female Circumcision Controversy. University of Pennsylvania Press.
Shell-Duncan, B & Hernlund, Y (eds). (2000) Female “Circumcision” in Africa. Lynne Rienner Publishers
Woldemicael, G. (2009). Female Genital Cutting in Contemporary Eritrea: Determinants, Future Prospects and Strategies for Eradication. A journal on Eastern Africa Social Science Research Review, 25(2): 1-29