Up until the 1980’s Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) was referred to as female circumcision, implying that it was as common as the male counterpart. Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a procedure that involves partial or total removal of the external female genital organs. The World Health Organisation recognises degrees of severity of mutilation:
- Clitoridectomy: partial or total removal of the clitoris (a small, sensitive and erectile part of the female genitals) and, in very rare cases, only the prepuce (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris).
- Excision: partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (the labia are “the lips” that surround the vagina).
- Infibulation: narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the inner, or outer, labia, with or without removal of the clitoris.
Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t religion that promotes the practice of FGM, but particular cultural practices within religions that aim to justify this highly gendered and sexualized phenomenon. The common misconception is that FGM is solely an Islamic practice, however, this is not the case, as ‘in Egypt it is practiced by both Muslims and Coptic Christians alike’ (Ghanim 2009).
Statistics show that FGM rates are a lot higher in poorer countries, whose economic stability is weak. This systematic attack on womanhood is further fanned by the poor education systems that exist in these countries. Somalia have been amidst a civil war for the past 20 years, so their 98% FGM rates on females from infancy to puberty helps to further exemplify the relationship between economic instability and the prevalence of FGM.
In the western world an individual’s free will as a human right are placed above more so than any other human right. However in these societies where FGM is rife, patriarchy too is also extremely prevalent. The removing of a parts of girl’s vagina is a way in which the sexuality, freedom and choice are disregarded and controlled and monitored until marriage which further depicts patriarchy.
Women in these developing nations are seen as that of a commodity. It is regarded that by marrying a girl off at an age where a family can get even more of items of wealth such as cows, money and gold which many families especially in the Horn of Africa are extremely poor as a result of the 20 year civil war, this is an attractive offer, due to the extreme underdevelopment and extreme inequality rampant in this part of the world.
The final question that should be answered is how, how can FGM be tackled? Many NGOs and governments alike are attempting to combat the situation an example of when this was highlighted was through David Cameron launching ‘a £1.4m “prevent programme” to help stop the practice being carried out on girls and to care for survivors’ (Guardian, 2014). FGM has come to the forefront of issues which needs to be tackled in recent years
Ghanim, D, Gender and violence in the Middle East, CT, Praeger Publishers, p-32
Female Genital Mutilation (Feb 2014), http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs241/en/ [ Accessed 3rd November 2014]
Topping, A. Laville, S. Mason, R (Jul 2014) Parents who allow female genital mutilation will be prosecuted. Available at http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/jul/22/parents-allow-female-genital-mutilation-prosecuted-cameron-law [ Accessed 5th November 2014]