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Reasons why communities practice female genital mutilation

Article from AFRIC Editorial
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) also known as female circumcision is a very harmful traditional practice which involves the removal or cutting of the external female genitals. This practice has existed in some parts of the world for over 2,000 years and is performed on girls between birth and the age of 15, or before they reach puberty. There are few cases of FGM after puberty and even after marriage.

According to the World Health Organisation, over 200 million women and girls around the world have been circumcised, especially in the countries where the practice is accepted. Also, over 3 million girls still stand the risk of being circumcised every year. The most affected areas are Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

There are 4 types of FGM:

  • Clitoridectomy; partial or complete removal of the clitoris and the prepuce.
  • Excision the partial or total removal of the labia minora and the clitoris without the removal of the labia majoria.
  • Infibulation: the narrowing of the vaginal opening by creating a covering seal and closing up the labia minora, with or without removing the clitoris.
  • The fourth time involves any other harmful procedures carried out on the female genitals for non-medical purposes, such as piecing, incising, pricking, scraping and cauterisation, (burning the genital to close up or remove parts of it).

Why do communities practice FGM?  

The reasons why communities practice FGM vary from one region to another, and have changed over time. These range from psychosexual factors to socio-cultural and economic reasons.

Psychosexual factors

Many communities practice FGM because they believe it is an effective way to control a woman’s sexuality; so that she can preserve her virginity till marriage and also remain faithful to her husbands after marriage and increase male sexual pleasure as FGM reduces the libido of a woman.

Sociocultural factors

In some communities, FGM is considered as a rite of passage to womanhood, and necessary phase to go through in preparation for marriage, as it is believed that being circumcised increases a woman’s chances of finding a husband. Others practice it so they can be accepted in the community, as it is what the majority have done for many years, especially in communities where the practice is universal and unquestioned. In other cultures, it is believed that a woman who has been cut is more feminine, modest, clean and beautiful.

Economic factors

Since many communities where FGM is practiced are relatively poor, many women are forced to be circumcised, since it is a prerequisite for marriage. This is because in these communities, women are entirely dependent on men, since some of them are not allowed to work and earn. It is also necessary in cases where the woman has to inherit anything from her family. This is also a source of income for those who perform it.

Religious factors

Though there is no religious backing for FGM, some practitioners use religious doctrine to justify female circumcision. It is worth noting that Muslim and Christian communities practice FGM.

Effects of Female Genital Mutilation

There are no benefits related to FGM, but there are numerous negative effects that can traumatise a woman and affect her health for the rest of her life. These are as follows:

Pain, shock, bleeding, difficulty in passing urine, infections, injury to other genital tissues and sometimes death are the immediate consequences of FMG. According Manfred Nowak; UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhumane and Degrading Treatment or Punishment, “The pain inflicted by FGM does not stop with the initial procedure, but often continues as ongoing torture throughout a woman’s life”

FGM also affects a woman’s sexual life. It can result to reduced sexual desire because it leads to lack of pleasurable sensations. In such cases, de-infibulation can be performed to reduce and improve the symptoms.

With regards to pregnancy, some women who have been circumcised find it difficult to conceive and also face problems during childbirth. A multi-country study by WHO in 6 African countries revealed that women who had undergone FMG, had significantly increased risk for adverse events during childbirth and genital mutilation in mothers has negative effects on their new-born baby. Also, 2 babies out of 100 deliveries die as a result of FGM.

In the same light, FGM increases chances of contracting HIV and other STIs. It also causes fistula (incontinence due to tears in the bladder or rectum) leading to increased risk of bladder infections.

FGM has long term effects on the victims. These include depression, anxiety, nightmares and sleep problems.

Efforts to stop FGM

Efforts to put an end to FGM dates back to 1948 with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which proclaims the right of all human beings to live in conditions that enable them to enjoy good health and health care (art. 25). Adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 10 December 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has five articles which together form a basis to condemn FGM: article 2 on discrimination, article 3 concerning the right to security of person, article 5 on cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, article 12 on privacy, and article 25 on the right to a minimum standard of living (including adequate health care) and protection of motherhood.

In 2008, the World Health Assembly passed resolution WHA61.16 on the elimination of FGM, which emphasized the need for concerted action in all sectors; health, education, finance, justice and women’s affairs.

Today, many organisations like Daughters of Eve, 28 Too Many, Global Alliance FGM, and Hope Foundation for African Women have joined their voices to that of governments and administrative authorities to fight against the inhumane treatment women go through in the name of FGM.

Article from AFRIC Editorial

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