In class the other day, we took the time to talk about a topic that was a major focus in Halima Bashir’s memoir, “Tears of the Desert.” It really intrigued me to look into this topic a little more; to try to discover what these African tribes think they are accomplishing by performing an act like this. Do they truly know what the consequences are? In this brief report, I will try to answer this question, as well as try to inform you the African people’s thinking behind such a brutal rite of passage.
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a name that embodies all procedures involving the alteration of a woman’s genitalia. This could be a partial removal, or a total removal, or also injury to the female genital organs for causes other than medical reasoning (WHO par 2). It is looked at as an initiation into womanhood, and it is looked at as a very sacred practice to the African people. FGM in most cultures acts as a cultural practice, not a religious one. There are very few groups that perform these actions on a religious base.
There are three different types of genital mutilation, each of which is specific to a particular culture. The first and most common is called a clitoridectomy; the partial or total removal of the woman’s clitoris. The next is excision; the partial or total removal of the labia minora along with the clitoris. The third is called infibulation, where the vaginal opening is narrowed by covering the “seal.” Also included with FGM is any and all other procedures that are harmful to the female genitals (WHO pars 5-9).
If a woman of an African tribe chooses not to have the alterations done, she may be ostracized from her tribe for many more reasons than one. The following examples are all claims from societies prevalent in FGM of why this horrific custom is carried out:
- The reduction of the want for sex, thus doing s outside of her marriage.
- Enrichment of the woman’s femininity
- The belief that if a man’s penis touched the clitoris, the male will die
- In the same aspect, if the baby’s head touches in during childbirth it will die
- Making the woman “clean” and allowing her to handle food and water
- Preventing vaginal cancer, genital odors, and infertility
- Preventing the woman from becoming a lesbian
- Preventing nervousness
- Creating a more beautiful face for the woman
- Preventing the face from turning yellowish in color
These are only a few examples of reasoning for this brutal act (Heitman pars 10-23). The thing that baffles all of us; however, is that FGM has absolutely none of the health benefits described in these above examples. It interferes with the ordinary functions of girls’ and women’s bodies and the consequences for tampering with them are quite disastrous (WHO pars 6-8).
FGM is recognized as a traditional custom that is very harmful, and that it violates many sacred rights of both girls and women. There are many global efforts to try and litigate against the practice, but because it can be looked as a religious act, this proves to be a problem. With the ongoing information about this practice, many cultures have chosen to cease all acts of FGM, but to many others it is an act of their culture, and nothing will keep them from practicing their beliefs (In Depth pars 52-56). There are many international organizations helping the victims of FGM, and they are always accepting donations to help fight the ongoing fight for women’s rights.