Source: Daily Observer
Female Genital Mutilaiton (FGM) is the practice of cutting away parts of the external female genitalia. It is ususally called female circumcison by those who practice it. The three broad categories of FGM are: clitoridectomy, excision and infibulation.

The mildest form of FGM, clitoridectomy, is the removal of all or part of the clitoris. Excision includes the removal of the clitoris and the cutting of the labia minora. The most extreme form of FGM is infibulation, the removal of the clitoris, labia minora, and the stitching together of the labia majora.

Infibulation leaves just a small opening in the vagina for the passage of urine and menstrual fluid, and requires binding together of the legs until stitches adhere. Often the removal of the stitches is part of a wedding night ritual.). It is reported that FGM is normally performed by traditional practitioners with crude instruments, such as knives, razor blades and broken glass, usually without anaesthetics."

The invasive nature of FGM and the unsanitary conditions under which it is usually performed can have serious consequences. FGM may cause numerous physical complications, including hemorrhage and severe pain, which can cause shock, even death.

FGM may create long-term complications resulting from scarring and interference with the drainage of urine and menstrual blood, such as chronic pelvic infections, which may cause pelvic and back pain, dysmenorrhea, infertility, chronic urinary tract infections, urinary stones, or kidney damage.

It is also revealed that the practise (FGM) may create long-term complications resulting from scarring and interference with the drainage of urine and menstrual blood, such as chronic pelvic infections, urinary stones, or kidney damage.

" Infibulation is especially dangerous during childbirth when women who have been infibulated are "at risk of prolonged labor, which may lead to fetal brain damage or fetal death. FGM is also associated with sterility.
Who practices FGM?

According to reports, it is estimated that over 130 million women have had some form of FGM performed on them. This practice is often associated with the religion of Islam, and is most often performed in Middle Eastern and North African countries.

A practice of custom or religion?
FGM is not a religious practice required by the Islamic faith. It has, however, become a "law by custom." Neither of the two main sources of Muslim law, the Koran and the Sunnah, mention the practice, and most Islamic scholars agree that it is not an Islamic religious rite.

The practice has become important to Islam because it is associated with female sexual purity. FGM is intended by its practitioners to both control women's sexual drives and also to cleanse women's genitalia by removing the clitoris which is seen as masculine, a female penis. Because of its association with purity, young women who have not been excised have little chance of marriage in the countries where FGM is practiced.

It is important to point out, however, that FGM has also been practiced in the West, and that "the practice of clitoridectomy was actually promoted in the United States and Britain during the 19th and early 20th centuries as a cure for lesbian practices or suspected inclinations, masturbation, hysteria, epilepsy, and nervousness." This fact brings up interesting issues about the cultural relativity of this practice.

The economics of FGM
There are several economic factors that contribute to the cultural importance of FGM. One of these factors is the ritual that surrounds the practice. Often this ritual involves gifts given to the girls in a ceremony that also honors their families.

More importantly, though, is the fact that is is much easier for the parents of a circumcised daughter to find a mate for their child, than it is for the parents of an uncircumcised daughter. Being able to "marry off" daughters is an important economic consideration in some of the poorer countries that practice FGM.

Another important economic consideration is that for the excisers who perform FGM, nearly all women, there are few equally lucrative options for supporting themselves. These women gain both financial support and a place of honor in their communities for performing this rite Reasons for Female Genital Mutilation cultural, religious and social causes.

The causes of female genital mutilation include a mix of cultural, religious and social factors within families and communities.

• Where FGM is a social convention, the social pressure to conform to what others do and have been doing is a strong motivation to perpetuate the practice.

• FGM is often considered a necessary part of raising a girl properly, and a way to prepare her for adulthood and marriage.

• FGM is often motivated by beliefs about what is considered proper sexual behaviour, linking procedures to premarital virginity and marital fidelity.

FGM is in many communities believed to reduce a woman's libido, and thereby is further believed to help her resist "illicit" sexual acts. When a vaginal opening is covered or narrowed (type 3 above), the fear of pain of opening it, and the fear that this will be found out, is expected to further discourage "illicit" sexual intercourse among women with this type of FGM.

• FGM is associated with cultural ideals of femininity and modesty, which include the notion that girls are "clean" and "beautiful" after removal of body parts that are considered "male" or "unclean".

• Though no religious scripts prescribe the practice, practitioners often believe the practice has religious support.

• Religious leaders take varying positions with regard to FGM: some promote it, some consider it irrelevant to religion, and others contribute to its elimination. Local structures of power and authority, such as community leaders, religious leaders, circumcisers, and even some medical personnel can contribute to upholding the practice.

• In most societies, FGM is considered a cultural tradition, which is often used as an argument for its continuation.

• In some societies, recent adoption of the practice is linked to copying the traditions of neighboring groups. Sometimes it has started as part of a wider religious or traditional revival movement.

• In some societies, FGM is being practiced by new groups when they move into areas where the local population practice FGM.

Medical consequence
Among practising cultures, FGC is most commonly performed between the ages of four and eight, but can take place at any age from infancy to adolescence. Prohibition has led to FGC going underground, at times with people who have had no medical training performing the cutting without anaesthetic, sterilisation, or the use of proper medical instruments.

The procedure can lead to death through shock from excessive bleeding. The failure to use sterile medical instruments may lead to infections. Other serious long term health effects are also common.

These include urinary and reproductive tract infections, caused by obstructed flow of urine and menstrual blood, various forms of scarring and infertility. Epidermal inclusion cysts may form and expand, particularly in procedures affecting the clitoris.

These cysts can grow over time and can become infected, requiring medical attention such as drainage. The first episode of sexual intercourse will often be extremely painful for infibulated women, who will need the labia majora to be opened, to allow their partner access to the vagina. This second cut, sometimes performed by the partner with a knife, can cause other complications to arise.

Sexual effects
The effect of FGC on a woman's sexual experience varies depending on many factors. FGC does not eliminate all sexual pleasure for all women who undergo the procedure, but it does reduce the likelihood of orgasm.

Stimulation of the clitoris is not solely responsible for the sexual excitement and arousal of a woman during intercourse; this involves a complex series of nerve endings being activated and stimulated in and around her vagina, vulva (labia minora and majora), cervix, uterus and clitoris, with psychological response and mindset also playing a role.

A study in 2006 found that in some infibulated women, some erectile tissue fundamental to producing pleasure had not been completely excised. Defibulation of subjects revealed that a part of or the whole of the clitoris was underneath the scar of infibulation.

The study found that sexual pleasure and orgasm are still possible after infibulation, and that they rely heavily on cultural influences — when mutilation is lived as a positive experience, orgasm is more likely. When FGC is experienced as traumatic, its frequency drops.

The study suggested that FGC women who did not suffer from long-term health consequences and are in a good and fulfilling relationship may enjoy sex, and women who suffered from sexual dysfunction as a result of FGC have a right to sex therapy.

Overcoming barriers to eradication
One of the biggest barriers to the eradication of FGM is the perception, among those who practice this rite, that Western opposition to the practice is an example of cultural imperialism.

This argument is bolstered by the fact that FGM was once performed in the West. In the past, feminists and human rights activists have also created resentment by not respecting the social and religious implications of FGM, Thus, a serious problem faced by activists, is how to keep opposition to FGM from being viewed as part of "the current Western onslaught on Islam."

Education programs that are sensitive to the cultural and religious importance of FGM seem to be the best hope of eradicating the practice. Education can, however, be a long process, as evidenced by the UN plan "to bring about a major decline in female genital mutilation in 10 years and completely eliminate this practice within three generations." There are some signs, however, that education programs are having an impact.

We have to realize that female genital mutilation is a deeply-rooted traditional practice. As such, it can only be abolished completely when attitudes have been changed. Change can only be made by the countries involved, and not by well intentioned Western forces.

Go to top