Female Mutilation

The End FGM campaign has been widely discussed in the news recently. Headed by 17 year-old Fahma Mohamed, the campaign seeks to push the British school system to educate children and parents against this harmful practice. The campaign has been immensely successful, garnering over 100,000 signatures for its cause in just 24 hours.

Despite all the efforts already undertaken by the government in the past, over 20,000 young British girls are estimated to be at risk of FGM every year. Many of the End FGM campaigners feel that the obvious mental and physical health risks of the practice should deter anyone from undergoing it. Yet the figures tell us differently. Why is this so?

Tradition is often cited as a justification for FGM. Ellen Gruenbaum, the social anthropologist behind The Female Circumcision Controversy posits that FGM is not practised as a way to control a woman’s sexuality. According to her discussions with various Sudanese women (Sudan is where the most severe form of FGM is practised), she finds that female sexuality is not destroyed by FGM as sexual satisfaction is still achievable. Religion is cited as one of the most important reasons for FGM – most commonly found in the Islamic countries of Africa. Many Islamic-African women (even in the UK) do not consider their daughters to be of marriageable standards if they have not been cut. Some husbands consider cut and sewn wives to exhibit the highest level of purity. These cultural expectations are another hurdle for the End FGM campaign to overcome.

Gruenbaum also delves into the psychological damage of FGM. She interviews several women about any emotional scars they may have had because of the procedure. Most women respond similarly – they often recall their circumcisions vividly but most do not dwell on the pain or fear except to laugh about it. These responses by women who have been subjected to FGM make me think twice about the staunchly negative perspective I hold of the practice.

The fight against FGM is a fight against an important cultural ritual. Through the Western lens, the ritual seems barbaric, sexist and archaic. But from the perspective of FGM-condoning communities, it is necessary for women to be cut. It’s a coming of age ritual. Perhaps as Westerners we should be less ethnocentric and stop condemning certain communities for condoning this act and see it from their perspective. If a mother did not get her daughter cut, she would have failed to make her daughter of marriageable caliber. We can see that the ritual is not only steeped in tradition and religion, it is now interconnected with family image.

FGM is definitely not a simple issue. Those who say very simply, “FGM should be stopped or FGM is barbaric” should think again. We, as Westerners, are imposing our values on these people. By thinking such, we’re no better than our forefathers who colonized half the world and thought it was their right to do so. Instead, I believe we should reconcile this issue. Education would be the best way to reach out to these cultures. After all, signatures and petitions are just words on a page. Submitting someone to your opinion will not have the same effect as educating them. People will only stop believing in this practice should they see the harsh reality of it and not the ‘benefits’ of tradition.

 

The End FGM campaign has got it right. Education is the way to fight the good fight against FGM. Show your support today at www.endfgm.eu