Female genital mutilation continues to haunt women
When I was younger, I saw a haunting billboard ad supporting an end to female genital mutilation in Ethiopia. Confused, I asked the women in my family what it meant but was met with uncomfortable silence.
I later learned that the torture induced on girls as young as infants is an ancient tradition that feeds into patriarchal values of purity, cleanliness and eligibility for marriage under the guise of religion.
Female genital mutilation or female ritual cutting is the altering or injuring of female genital organs done in four ways. Type one (clitoridectomy) is the partial or total removal of the clitoris. Type two (excision) is the removal of the labia minora including the partial or total removal of the clitoris as well. Type three (infibulation) is the narrowing of the vaginal opening by removing and repositioning the labia minora or majora then sewing it shut. Type four includes all other harmful procedures such as pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area.
This heinous tradition done to preserve a woman’s chastity is usually performed in filthy places by people with no medical knowledge, using unsanitary and often blunt cutting tools which can severely injure the body even more.
Beyond the ongoing list of health violations and physical harm FGM causes, it also creates mental trauma so deep, girls have often forgotten it’s even happened to them.
I stumbled across an autobiography called Desert Flower which told the story of Waris Dirie, a humanitarian and supermodel who was barely five when she was cut against rocks in the desert under the scorching heat of the African sun. She was left under a tree for several days to recover from her operation. Her two sisters, who were also cut, did not make it.
Koumba, a little girl from Guinea, was just 5 years old when she was taken by her village people two days after a Christmas ceremony and cut by force. She bled to death the next day.
FGM is still prevalent in 30 countries, many of them in Africa and the Middle East, despite widespread prohibitions and educational campaigns working to reduce the practice. More than 200 million girls and women suffer the consequences of it today.
Even more shocking: The barbaric practice has found its way to American families as well. According to the Population Reference Bureau, half a million women and girls in the United States are at risk of suffering FGM, and one third are less than 18 years old.
Girls, usually from immigrant families, are often sent to their home countries for “vacation cutting” during school breaks. While visiting family abroad, they are walking into a trap that affects their lives forever.
FGM has been a crime under federal law since 1996 and is punishable by up to five years in prison. Yet it’s not considered a crime in 24 states.
Waris Dirie’s haunting story could become the story of the more than 3 million girls who are at risk of being subjected to female genital mutilation every year. Sometimes tied to a tree, other times held down, about 44 million of the survivors are girls no older than 15.
In areas such as Sudan where antibiotics are not available, it is estimated that one in three girls undergoing FGM will die. Emergencies caused by FGM are not treated in time due to ill-equipped medical facilities and access, causing children who start bleeding uncontrollably or develop infections after FGM to die within hours.
Not only does this barbaric belief feed into dangerous rape culture, there is no health benefit to FGM. In fact, the procedure can cause menstrual disorders, problems when urinating that lead to cysts, infections, complications during childbirth and possibly death.
Practiced by Muslims, Christians and other tribal religions despite no religious or holy texts supporting it, the cutting of a woman is considered a necessary practice in order to eradicate a woman’s irresponsible and wicked sexual arousal. Some believe that an uncut woman is an unclean one, and avoiding the procedure may put her at risk of social and community exile.
According to the UN, FGM is internationally recognized as a human rights violation and has been banned since 2012, Nigeria being the latest country to criminalize the practice since 2015. But it is still being practiced today.
No woman should have to undergo the tragedies of FGM.
Cutting women’s bodies and sewing them shut just so they can become bloody presents for future husbands is precisely the type of cruelty that sets us back from creating a safer, more humane world for future girls.
It’s up to us to end FGM by bringing this dark secret to light and changing beliefs so that no girl has to grow up with a part of herself missing.
Assistant opinion editor Bethel Biru is a broadcast journalism senior and can be reached at [email protected].com.