Female Genital Mutilation – an overview by Mark Ulyseas
Grandmothers, mothers and women from the community are the perpetrators because they, victims of FGM, assume it is a tradition that must be followed. The cycle of mutilation continues… Procedure – Without anaesthetic. FGM is performed with scissors, razor blades, broken glass, a piece of sharpened bamboo or tin can lids. And in modern clinics, too!
Until the 1950s, FGM was performed in England and the United States as a common “treatment” for lesbianism, masturbation, hysteria, epilepsy, and other so-called “female deviances”.
AFRICA – Over 3,000,000 girls (from 6 to age 9) undergo FGM every year
AUSTRALIA – Women with FGM over 120,000
UK – Over 100,000 girls/women who had undergone FGM are in England and Wales. Estimated 24,000 under age of 15 at risk of FGM include Kenyans, Somalis, Sudanese, Sierra Leoneans, Egytians, Nigerians, Eritireans.,Yemeni, Kurdish, Indonesian and Pakistani girls/women.
USA – Over 400,000 girls who have undergone or at risk of FGM
WORLDWIDE – Over 180,000,000 girls/women now alive have undergone FGM/C procedure in the following countries – Africa (Algeria, Benin, Burkin Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Liberia, Libya, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Republic of Congo, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zimbabwe), Australia, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Brunei, China, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Immigrant communities in the West (USA, Europe, U.K., Ireland etc.), Jordan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Oman, Pakistan, Palestinian territories, Qatar, Russia, some ethnic groups in South America, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Turkey, UAE etc.
COUNTRIES THAT HAVE ENACTED LAWS CRIMINALISING FGM – Most Western countries including USA, UK, Australia, Ireland, Canada, France, Italy, Norway, Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, Germany, Sweden. France is believed to be the only country that has actually prosecuted and jailed offenders. Sweden was the first Western country to outlaw FGM, followed in 1985 by the UK. In the United States it became illegal in 1997, and in the same year the WHO issued a joint statement with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) against the practice. Of course laws have been changed to make them more stringent including prevention of children being taken out of their adopted country to their home country for FGM. This is also known as preventing “vacation cuts”.
What is FGM? FGM refers to the removal of all or part of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs, for cultural or other non-medical reasons (the World Health Organization has identified several major types).
The following are the four main types of FGM.
Type I: Partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or the prepuce (clitoridectomy). Type II: Partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (excision). Type III: Narrowing of the vaginal orifice with creation of a covering seal by cutting and appositioning the labia minora and/or the labia majora, with or without excision of the clitoris (infibulation). Type IV: All other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, for example: pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterization.
Risks and consequences : These include severe pain, shock, haemorrhage, wound infection, abscess formation, septicaemia, tetanus, hepatitis and/or HIV, urine retention, genital ulceration and urinary tract infection. Long-term gynecological complications include anaemia, cyst formation, urinary incontinence, sexual dysfunction, including apareunia, severe scar formation, difficulty in micturition, menstrual disorders, recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections, fistulae and infertility. Obstetric complications for subsequent pregnancy and childbirth include increased relative risks for caesarean delivery, post-partum haemorrhage, extended maternal hospital stay, infant resuscitation, and stillbirth or early neonatal death. Serious adverse psychological and sexual effects commonly afflict victims. Source: WHO
Another form of mutilation which has been reported is introcision, practiced specifically by the Pitta-Patta aborigines of Australia. When a girl reaches puberty, the whole tribe-both sexes-assembles. The operator, an elderly man, enlarges the vaginal orifice by tearing it downward with three fingers bound with opossum string. In other districts, the perineum is split with a stone knife. This is usually followed by compulsory sexual intercourse with a number of young men. – Dr Helen Pringle, School of Politics and International Relations, University of South Wales
“FGM is about culture not religion” says U .N. Population Fund (UNFPA) Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin LINK
The Crime of Female Genital Mutilation excerpt from Women And Revolution No. 41, Summer/Autumn 1992.
“One early morning in an African village not far from Nairobi, Kenya, young girls are roused from sleep and taken to a nearby river. The waters are cold, helping to arrest the bleeding from a first menstrual cycle, making their genitalia stand out and slightly numb. Soon an elder village midwife takes the children one by one and with a rusty razor, scissors or shard of glass cuts out the clitoris, slices off the labia and applies ashes, herbs or cow dung to staunch the flow of blood. As the girl writhes in pain, other women hold her arms down, her legs apart, her mouth shut tight so that she cannot run away or alarm the other unsuspecting children waiting in their cool bath.”
In the late 1970s a number of Western feminists, together with several outspoken African women, drew attention to these barbaric acts against women and forced reluctant United Nations agencies to take up the issue.
It is clear that genital mutilations date back to ancient times. The Greek historian Herodotus noted in the fifth century BC that female circumcision was practiced by the Egyptians, Phoenicians, Hittites and Ethiopians. The Sudanese refer to infibulation as “Pharaonic circumcision”; the murky origins of the practice, however, may be inferred from the fact that in Egypt it’s called “Sudanese circumcision.”
In the 16th century when Jesuit missionaries came to Abyssinia (now Ethiopia), they tried to stop ritual mutilation among converts. But the men refused to marry women who were not excised and conversions stopped. At the urgent advice of the Pope, the Church, “preferring souls to sexual organs” (as Benoîte Groult so graphically put it in her book Ainsi Soit-Elles), sanctioned the practice as “medically necessary.” Fran Hosken, a U.S. feminist who helped initiate international concern over female mutilation, reports that since then all Catholic missions have permitted the procedure on daughters of converts. Today medical missionaries actually perform the operation in African hospitals.
Scottish Presbyterian missionaries in Kenya in the late 1930s tried to refuse admission to the Church to any girl who had been excised. In response, Kikuyu tribalists set up independent churches and schools that survive today. After the wife of one white missionary was abducted and mutilated, the Church of Scotland called off the campaign to abolish the ritual.
Jomo Kenyatta, the darling of Pan-Africanist liberals, endorsed genital mutilation as a form of nationalist resistance to European colonial domination (and had it done to his own daughters, in a hospital). In 1938 he wrote in Facing Mount Kenya: “No proper Kikuyu would dream of marrying a girl who has not been circumcised—this operation is regarded as a conditio sine qua non (refers to an indispensable and essential action) for the whole teaching of tribal law, religion and morality.”
Female Genital Mutilation in Australia, Samara Valli
As the United Nations announces a global ban on female genital mutilation (FGM) this week, one Australian FGM survivor opens up about her personal story.
I still remember my surprise when we pulled up in front of an ordinary looking house. I looked around me wondering where the doll shop was. Mum held my hand and we walked over to the front door. An old lady opened the door and gestured towards the sitting area. I noticed a friend from school present with her mum. We both smiled at each another. “Is she also here to buy a doll?” I asked mum who either didn’t hear me or pretended not to. Shortly, my friend was led into a room and a minute later I heard a bloodcurdling scream then my friend limped out of the room, supported by her mum. She was crying so hard that she was bent over double. I started feeling scared, why was my friend crying like that, and where was her doll?
The lady who met us earlier asked us to go into the room. Even at six years of age, I knew something was wrong, that someone had done something bad to my friend. I was led to a square table, next to a bed, and mum bent down to remove my panties.
My mum shook her head at the old lady saying she would wait outside; my auntie who had accompanied us would be present instead. As mum turned to leave, I started to cry. I tried running after her but auntie lay me on the table holding my legs apart, and pinning them down so strongly that I couldn’t move.
My next memory is of the old lady removing a razor blade from its cover right in front of my eyes and then such blinding, searing pain between my legs that I screamed, yet I don’t remember hearing my own screams so intense was the pain.
The procedure must have lasted for less than 10 seconds yet I kept on screaming. The suddenness and pain intensity of that act was so shocking; it shook me to my very core.
News Report : In West Australia, parents who allegedly took their one-year-old daughter to Bali for a female genital mutilation procedure are set to stand trial. The offence carries a maximum penalty of 10 years jail. LINK
A letter from a Dawoodi Bohra woman in India LINK
“…I, an Indian woman who has been to University, have myself experienced the practice of FGC. I know this may surprise you, but it is true. Did you know that FGC also exists in India? Many people do not, not even many Indians!
I hail from the Dawoodi Bohra community, whose head is called the Syedna – we are a sect of the Shias, which came to India from Yemen some centuries ago. As in many parts of the world, parents in the Bohra community suffered from “son stroke” as did my parents, who prayed hard for a son, after having four girls. They did succeed and we finally had a boy in the family. I was the third among four sisters. We were very close and shared many secrets. But none of us, not the ones before me, nor I myself, ever shared or warned the ones closest to us about the frightening and incomprehensible experience that we would one day be forced to go through. It was not spoken about then and it is not spoken about even today.
I am 60 years old now, but will remember that fateful day for the rest of my life. I must have been around 7 years old when my mother told me we were going to my grandma’s house to spend the day with her. When we reached my grandma’s house, my cousin (my mum’s sister’s daughter), who was a year younger than me, was also there. We were happy to meet each other. Then, we were both led to a small room, which had a bed and asked to lie down. We kept asking “Why?” Suddenly, a lady dressed in black came into the room. By now, my cousin and I were terrified, not aware of what was to follow. Our dresses were pulled up and our panties pulled off, and we were asked to keep our legs apart. There were our mothers and our aunts holding our legs apart and then I felt something cold being applied to my clitoris, and then to my horror, the lady in black, actually held a scissor-like instrument and cut me there – I screamed and screamed but no one seemed to care. Then this same thing was done to my cousin, who was right next to me on the same bed. Both of us kept screaming and crying in pain. Everyone left the room and asked us to lie down with our legs apart, and told us that all would be well soon. They locked us in for almost the whole day. The burning and painful sensation between my groins is something I will never ever forget.
I felt betrayed by and angry with my mother and humiliated too. I just could not understand how my mother could have been so cruel and put me through this horrific experience.
Much later I was told that all Bohra girls must go through it, and that it is ‘good’ for you. I then understood that my mother had no choice, that for her, she was only doing what was expected of her. She was being a “good mother” because this is a practice that had been carried out in our Bohra group for centuries and was considered essential for a woman’s good reputation and marriage chances.
Little did I know that this would affect my sexual life to such a great extent that reaching an orgasm would be a difficult thing for me! My husband and I have made sure that our daughter does not go through the same thing. We warned his mother and mine that they dare not do anything behind our backs. We know of friends from my generation, who did not want their girls to go through FGC, but often it was the grandma or the aunts who took them away and secretly got it done! The sad part is that my sisters and I, and my cousins too, did not really discuss our experience till many years later. We have spent years feeling shame and humiliation for a senseless act that we were subjugated to as children, incapable of defending our human right to keep all organs of our body”.
Asma Malik, Gulf News LINK
For as little as 20 Egyptian pounds (Dh12), a girl is cut, sometimes in unsanitary settings, to thwart her sexual activity as well as reduce her likelihood of seeking extra-marital affairs. FGM is also a livelihood for many midwives and doctors who fully understand the consequences and risks behind it. There is a wide misconception that FGM is associated with Islam. In fact, there are Christians in Northern Africa, the Middle East, and Europe who also practice FGM. It is not religious, much less an Islamic practice, but one that has been often co-opted by FGM proponents exploiting unfounded religious passages and generational beliefs. The late Mohammad Sayyed Tantawi, the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, has repeatedly asserted that FGM is not an Islamic practice.
Israel: Report by R H Belmaker. MD, Beersheva Mental Health Center, Beersheva LINK
Successful Cultural Change: The Example of Female Circumcision among Israeli Bedouins and Israeli Jews from Ethiopia (Excerpt):In Ethiopia, FGM is universal among Christian, Muslim and Jewish groups. All women interviewed reported that FGM was universal in Ethiopia, but none intended to continue this practice with their daughters. All stated that this was a practice that would be left behind in their country of origin. On physical examination many of the women had amputation of the clitoris. The conclusion of this study was that the severity of the operation performed had no relation to the social and cultural adherence to the operation, since the Ethiopian Jews who practiced a more severe form of the operation intended to abandon this practice while the Muslim Bedouin who had a much milder form intended to continue it. A follow-up study in 2009 of the Bedouin population of southern Israel has found that FGM had disappeared, both by self-report of women under the age of 30, and by physical examination of women under the age of 30 in an obstetrical clinic. These results suggest an optimistic approach toward cultural change involving unhealthy cultural practices and emphasize the importance of cognitive approaches to cultural change.
Kenya – The Word on Women – The Maasai woman saving vaginas, one girl at a time by Katy Migiro
When Pareyio, who runs a refuge for girls who have run away from FGM, told me that a Maasai woman is “just like the property of the husband” she was not exaggerating. “This is type one of female circumcision,” she said, slotting a woman’s private parts between the plastic model’s legs. “We call it sunna. It involves the cutting of the tip part of the clitoris.” The spread legs, though reminiscent of a porn movie, looked pretty normal to me, apart from the missing clitoris – though hardly something you would expect to be shown by a middle-aged Kenyan woman dressed in full Maasai regalia. “This is excision. Excision is practised by our tribe,” she continued, replacing the first model with a plainer one. There were no vaginal lips, just a large slit between the legs like a doll. “They cut the clitoris… the labia majora and the labia minora, leaving a scar.” But it was the third one that was the real shocker. It was just solid plastic with some white lines – like a small drawing of a television aerial – across the space where the opening should be. When you looked carefully, you could see a little hole towards the bottom to let the urine and menstrual blood through. “This is infibulation. It is practised by the Somalis and a tribe called the Pokots,” Pareyio said, referring to two ethnic groups in Kenya. After excision, the girl is stitched up until her wedding day. She is literally a gift; a parcel to be cut open by the man. Among the Pokots, the best man takes a goat’s horn and punches a hole between the bride’s legs, Pareyio said. Thomson Reuters Foundation multimedia package on FGM.
The day I saw 248 girls suffering genital mutilation (in Indonesia) by Abigail Haworth, The Observer, Sunday 18 November 2012. (Excerpt) LINK
In the countryside, it was performed mainly by traditional midwives – women thought to have shamanic healing skills known as dukun – as it had been for centuries. The Indonesian method commonly involves cutting off part of the hood and/or tip of the clitoris with scissors, a blade or a piece of sharpened bamboo.
Last year, the situation regressed further. In early 2011, Indonesia’s parliament effectively reversed the ban on FGM by approving guidelines for trained doctors on how to perform it. The rationale was that, since the ban had failed, issuing guidelines would “safeguard the female reproductive system”, officials said. Indonesia’s largest Muslim organisation, the Nahdlatul Ulama, also issued an edict telling its 30 million followers that it approved of female genital cutting, but that doctors “should not cut too much”. The combined effect was to legitimise the practice all over again.
A week before I attended the Assalaam foundation’s khitanan massal or mass circumcision ceremony, the chairman of the Majelis Ulama Indonesia, the nation’s most powerful council of Islamic leaders, issued this statement: “Circumcision is a requirement for every Muslim woman,” said Amidhan, who like many Indonesians goes by a single name. “It not only cleans the filth from her genitals, it also contributes to a girl’s growth.”
FGM in Indonesia is laden with superstition and confusion. A common myth is that it is largely “symbolic”, involving no genital damage. A study published in 2010 by Yarsi University in Jakarta found this is true only rarely, in a few animist communities where the ritual involves rubbing the clitoris with turmeric or bamboo.
While Indonesia doesn’t practise the severest forms of mutilation found in parts of Africa and the Middle East, such as infibulation (removing the clitoris and labia and sewing up the genital area) or complete clitoral excision, the study found the Indonesian procedure “involves pain and actual cutting of the clitoris” in more than 80% of cases.
Tradition is usually about remembering. In the case of FGM in Indonesia it seems to be a cycle of forgetting. The act of cutting is a hidden business perpetrated by mothers and midwives, nearly all of whom underwent FGM themselves as young children. The women I met had little memory of being cut, so they had few qualms about subjecting their daughters to the same fate. “It’s just what we do,” I heard over and over again.
I saw my interpreter, Widiana, speaking to Suminah, the 12-year-old who was the oldest girl there, and went to join them. Suminah said she didn’t want to come. “I was shaking and crying last night. I was so scared I couldn’t sleep.” It was a “very bad, sharp pain” when she was cut, she said, and she still felt sore and angry. Widiana asked what she planned to do in the evening. “We will have a special meal at home and then read the Qur’an,” said Suminah. “Then I will listen to my Britney Spears CD.”
Back in Jakarta, an Indonesian friend, Rino, agreed to help me find out about the newborn-girl “package deals” at city hospitals. Rino phoned around Jakarta’s hospitals. They told him he must see a doctor to discuss the matter. So we decided that is what we would do: since I was visibly pregnant, we’d visit the hospitals as husband and wife expecting our first baby. (“It’s not necessary to bring your wife,” Rino was told repeatedly when he rang back to book the appointments.) We visited seven hospitals chosen at random. Only one, Hermina, a specialist maternity hospital, said it did not perform sunat perempuan. The other six all gave package prices, varying from 300,000 rupiah to 550,000 rupiah (£20-£36), for infant vaccinations, ear piercing and genital cutting within two months of birth. Interestingly, the only doctor who argued against the procedure was a female gynaecologist from the largest Islamic government hospital, the Rumah Sakit Islam Jakarta. “You can have it done here if you wish,” the doctor said with a sigh. “But I don’t recommend it. It’s not mandatory in Islam. It’s painful and it’s a great pity for girls.”
Last month I spoke to Andy Yentriyani, a commissioner at Indonesia’s National Commission on Violence Against Women. Yentriyani told me the problem is now worse than ever. Since the government’s guidelines on FGM came into effect last year, more hospitals have started offering the procedure. “Doctors see the guidelines as a licence to make money,” she says. “Hospitals are even offering female circumcision in parts of Sumatra where there has never been a strong tradition of cutting girls.” “They are creating new demand purely for profit?”
“Yes. They’re including it in birth packages. People don’t really understand what they’re signing up for.” Nor do some medical staff, she adds. The new guidelines say doctors should “make a small cut on the frontal part of the clitoris, without harming the clitoris”. But Yentriyani says that most doctors are trained only in male circumcision, so they follow the same principle of slicing off flesh. Moreover, according to The Jakarta Post, the guidelines were rushed through partly in response to the deaths of several infant girls from botched FGM procedures at hospitals. Likewise, Yentriyani says, the recent endorsement of FGM by some Islamic leaders has vindicated those carrying out mass cutting ceremonies, such as the Assalaam foundation. “Women are caught in a power struggle between religion and state as Indonesia finds a new identity,” the activist explains. “Clamping down on morality, enforcing chastity, returning to so-called traditions such as female circumcision – these things help religious leaders to win hearts and minds.”
Java, radical Islam in favor of female genital mutilation by Mathias Hariyadi LINK
Circumcision is concentrated in particular in rural and remote areas of the island of Java. So far campaigns by activists who denounce the danger of infection and the violence inherent in the practice to no avail. The debate within the Muslim world, on compulsory nature (or non) of the rite. A civil battle is on, supported by more than 400 NGOs.
The Muslim intellectual Sumanto Al Qurtuby says the faction that supports tetesan is linked to the Salafi and Wahhabi community, which together with other fundamentalist groups are concentrated in Bandung and Aceh. They believe that circumcision is “morally” encouraged by Sharia, or Islamic law, and reiterated in the hadith, in anecdotes related to the life of the Prophet Muhammad. However, the expert adds, while the practice is “suggested” it is not “mandatory” and there are no moral foundations of Islamic law that state it should be perpetrated. There are in fact six different drafts of the hadith – better known as “Kutub as-Sittah” – and only one of these “calls for” the spread of female circumcision.
List of some organisations doing outstanding work in fighting FGM across the world. Thousands of NGOs are fighting to save young girls and women from the horrible mutilation of their vaginas.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, well known author and activist, AHA Foundation – LINK
Waris Dirie, is a nomadic child from Somalia and a mother of two beautiful sons. She is a human rights activist, a supermodel, and a best-selling author who has received numerous prestigious awards for her work and her commitment in the fight against female genital mutilation. – LINK
END FGM, European Campaign run by Amnesty International Ireland and supported by NGOs – LINK
UN Human Rights – LINK
World Health Organisation – LINK
UNICEF – LINK
Global Alliance Against Female Genital Mutilation – LINK
Equality Now – LINK
USAID – Female Circumcision in Indonesia – LINK
Daughters of Eve – LINK
Fowarduk.org – LINK
Awava – Australia – LINK
28toomany.org – LINK
Ipu.org – LINK
Wilpfinternational.org – LINK
Fgmnetwork.org – LINK
Prevalence of FGM/C among women aged 15–49 varies widely, from 98% in Somalia to 1% in Uganda, Zambia and Cameroon. The graph below depicts percentage of women between 15–49 years old who have been cut in Africa.
Unfortunately only guesstimates are made about the extent of FGM in western countries. France for instance has a reported 75,000 girls/women affected by FGM, Ireland 3,000, USA approx. 400,000 affected or at risk…the list is endless. The problem is that many immigrants do not report such issues to the authorities for fear of the law/deportation/ ostracisation from their close knit society. This filthy, seedy under belly of ‘the immigrant tradition’ has now entered western society. Parents are known to fly their children to their country of origin for a vacation cut – FGM. Laws are in place to prosecute those that indulge in such practices. However, who will inform the authorities? The status of Kurdish women is heart breaking. In Iraq and Iran more than 80% of the Kurdish women have been subjected to FGM. In Sri Lanka and Indonesia even though FMG/C is widespread there is no available data. So the graph above on African countries is only one part of the big picture.
In FGM outlawed countries more than 4,000,000 girls/women are affected/at risk. And the menace is growing with the rising levels of immigrants and the increasing radicalisation of Islam, even though FGM is a cultural practice and not a religious obligation. Worldwide : Upto 180,000,000 have undergone FGM/C. Approximately 10,000,000 girls/women are at risk.
In many countries the exact figures cannot be recorded as cultural/social/religious conditioning makes it near impossible for women and children to speak out about the mutilation of their vaginas.