Scars of Oppression
Female genital mutilation is one of the most dangerous forms of violence against women. Sadly, many girls are still at risk of undergoing the procedure. A long-awaited comprehensive report on the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) throughout Africa and the Middle East was recently released in July 2013 by UNICEF, the first updated report since 2005. According to the report, FGM is projected to affect 30 million girls over the next decade. The report stated that over 125 million girls and women alive today have already been subjected to the procedure. Even though in many countries FGM has been banned, and despite it being a violation of international human rights law as a form of violence against women, every year at least 3 million girls are still subjected to the procedure.
FGM is an intense and dramatic form of violence against women. FGM is an extremely dangerous practice and is intended to control women’s sexuality. FGM is any procedure that involves partial or total removal of the external female genitalia for non-medical reasons. It is practiced mainly in 28 countries in western, eastern, and north-eastern Africa, particularly Egypt and Ethiopia, and in parts of Asia and the Middle East. There are cultural and political aspects to the practice’s continuation which makes it a complex issue. The ancient coming-of-age ritual is deeply embedded in Muslim cultures and societies and it is believed to have many benefits. In some communities it is thought to protect virginity, while in others it is believed to curtail a women’s sexual desire and keep her faithful in marriage; others hold that the removal of genitalia and/or skin cleanses a woman of her “masculine” parts, while elsewhere, the practice is believed to improve a women’s sexual performance. Historically, the procedure stems from religious beliefs but many women in Africa are beginning to speak out against the practice.
FGM is a harmful practice that is recognized worldwide as a human rights violation. The practice of FGM belittles girls’ and women’s physical and mental integrity, decreases their standard of health, imposes a cruel, inhuman and degrading form of torture, eliminates the rights of children, and in extreme cases, ends their lives. Moreover, FGM is a form of violent oppression meant to maintain female subservience to men. Through FGM, men control women’s sexuality and ensure male access to the women’s sexuality and emotional self. The practice of FGM also contributes to the unequal participation of women in society. It is an attempt to control women’s sexuality and enforce stereotypes that denigrate women. It prevents women from advancement and full participation in society because of FGM’s painful short and long term effects. Being forced as a woman to undergo this life-threatening procedure simply because of her gender is the epitome of injustice.
In the 60′s and 70′s people began to speak out about the health consequences of FGM. Disapproval picked up the pace during the United Nations Decade for Women Opposition in 1975. Since then, several African countries have enacted legislation against FGM including Benin, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Niger, Senegal, Tanzania, Togo and Uganda. But, it wasn’t until 1995 that Egypt decided to ban FGM, when a 10-year-old girl was photographed undergoing FGM in a barber’s shop in Cairo and the images were broadcast by CNN. This triggered a ban on the practice everywhere except in hospitals. This demonstrates the power of the media and the potential to end FGM for good. It is no wonder that UNICEF states that the best way to combat female genital mutilation is for communities to take it public. As horrible as this issue is we mustn’t be afraid to talk about it. There must be a collective uproar of the people in order for FGM to come to a complete halt. In our collective endeavor to end FGM, we can take a vital step towards ending oppression against women around the world.
Learn more about FGM in the World Health Organization fact sheet here: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs241/en/