Female Genital Mutilation: A Feminine Sorrow
Mary Ann Fahmy
In the poem Feminine Pain, Somalian Poet Dahabo Ali Muse writes, “it is what my grandmother called the three feminine sorrows, she said the day of circumcision, the wedding night, and the birth of a baby are the triple feminine sorrows.” This is a sad reality for women across the world. Over 80% of women from countries such as Ethiopia, Eritrea, Egypt, and Somalia have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM). Typically, the procedure consists of three different stages or types, but all are centered around the removal or sewing of female genitalia. At the first stage, a clitoridectomy is performed where the woman’s clitoris is removed. The second is when the labia minora, and sometimes the labia majora as well, is additionally separated from the body. The third and final stage is when the vaginal seal is mostly sealed up, only leaving a small space for menstrual blood and urine to escape. The practice is mainly done on young girls between infancy and age 15, and common effects of FGM include painful intercourse, infections, fevers, complications with child birth, psychological impact, and death.
In countries where the ritual is practiced, both women and men are in support and see it as a rite of passage despite the severe health complications and absence of medical benefit. Stemming from gender inequality, FGM has been instilled to ensure virginity before marriage and fidelity during a marriage in addition to the control of women’s sexual reproduction and pleasure. As a cultural custom, the procedure is viewed as a prerequisite for marriage and the practice is not exclusive to one religious group either.
The procedure can be carried out by elderly women in the community, herbalists, relatives, and members of secret societies, but in recent years after what may be the recognition of health consequences, the “medicalization” of FGM has become implemented into medical practice, with a healthcare provider performing the procedure. Despite being performed in a sterile environment by a professional, FGM can never be “safe.” Enthusiasts of cultural relativism have argued that the practice should not be condemned. However, multiple organizations, such as the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) have said that, because the practice is life threatening as well as a violation of human rights, it should not be condoned simply because it is a cultural norm.
International agencies like the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have made global efforts to put an end to female genital mutilation with support from both government and nongovernmental organizations. Voices of FGM survivors have made immense impacts. Women from small villages are leading campaigns, bringing awareness to prominent community members, and serving at safe houses to help those who have escaped. Their activism not only starts with preventing female genital mutilation, but extends to ending child marriage and providing educatinal opportunities for women. The survivor-led movements have created women empowerment in places where feminism is scarce. The practice still stands but there is a strong presence of collective abandonment progressing humanity, slowly, to an end.