November 27th, 2005
UNICEF has called for an end to female genital mutilation (FGM) which is more common than previously believed and is spreading to the West as immigration increases.
If governments, community leaders, educators and activists encourage debate and support the campaign to end FGM and end any stigma to girls who do not undergo the procedure.
Some of you may be wondering what FGM actually is? It’s a procedure where the labia, clitoral hood, clitoris or labia and clitoris are excised (cut/removed). The female genitals are then stitched tight, leaving a tiny hole for urine and menstrual blood to pass through. Unsurprisingly this can lead to infections, pain and latterly loss of sensation, sexual problems and difficulties in pregnancy, childbirth and postnatal care. Any female examinations are made more difficult if a woman has undergone FGM.
Those who don’t understand the procedure can often find it difficult to comprehend why such a practice would continue. The reason is cultural, religious and societal pressures. It is often believed an uncircumcised girl could become promiscuous, independent or even have a clitoris that could grow into a penis. Uncircumcised girls are seen as unnatural or dirty, so mothers will often ensure their daughter undergoes FGM in order to secure her a future – and a husband. One Sudanese mother quoted in the UNICEF reported explained, “if I don’t cut her, there won’t be anyone to marry her. I wish I didn’t have daughters, because I am so worried about them”. Although the risks from FGM include disease, psychological trauma and frequently disfigurement or death, the threats of being socially excluded or unmarried (and financially insecure) will often outweigh the risks.
Contrary to popular belief the practice of FGM is not prescribed by religion. Many Middle Eastern countries have banned FGM, and a number of countries with immigrant populations from the Middle East or Africa have also taken action. However the UNICEF report indicates that girls still continue to be subjected to FGM and often at increasingly younger ages, they are calling on health professionals to oppose FGM in public statements and legal action. There needs to be a blanket ban otherwise girls may be sent to countries who allow FGM for the procedure.
In the reporting of the UNICEF report, some newspapers picked up on communities who were taking a stand against FGM. In Senegal for example more than 1600 people from 70 villages met in the town of Matam to publicly promise to end FGM.
In the West practitioners, therapists and researchers have often been unwilling to take a stand on FGM. I’ve heard people say ‘it’s their culture we can’t interfere’ – which is a pretty weak way of responding to a practice that is physically and psychologically dangerous to young girls. Many people in the West haven’t heard of FGM, or see it as a small-scale unusual practice carried out in far away lands.
FGM is an issue we can all take a stand on. You can start right now by supporting UNICEF.
FORWARD (Foundation for women’s health, research and development)
Amnesty International’s campaign against FGM (contains detailed explanation about the practice and its effects)
FGM education and networking project
Stop FGM! (site in Arabic, French, and English)
Possessing the Secret of Joy – Alice Walker
Warrior Marks – Alice Walker and Pratibha Palmer
Female Genital Mutilation – Comfort Momoh
Prisoners of Ritual – Hanny Lightfoot-Klein
The day Kadi lost part of her life – Isabel Ramos
Desert Flower – Waris Dirie