Female Genital Mutilation

I decided to write my short blog post on female genital mutilation. I thought this topic directly related to our course especially since we just finished reading a few of the chapters from “Mother Nature” by Hrdy. Female genital mutilation directly reflects the relationship between women and their society. Female Genital Mutilation is defined as comprising of all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons (who.int). Historically, women have performed the physical act of mutilation, and I thought this was very interesting since we have been discussing how a mother bonds with their children. In an article I read titled Africa:Nearly 2,000 African Communities Abandon Female Genital Mutilation…UN news reports that over 2,000 african communities have discontinued the tradition of female genital mutilation, I use the word “tradition”, because to me the word “tradition” has always been used in regards to positive acts, such as a “family tradition” of taking a holiday trip every year, or the “traditions’ my sorority has created. But in terms of how I used “tradition” in reference to female genital mutilation it is negative. Not all “traditions” are good.

This topic relates to our course but not only does it affect Africa which I chose to focus on but it also affects middle eastern countries, and the United States as well. As stated in the article, “These encouraging findings show that social norms and cultural practices are changing, and communities are uniting to protect the rights of girls and women,” said UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin. According to the map I inserted above, the United States has also taken action to stop Female Genital Mutilation. As society and rights change, traditions also change. In the past female genital mutilation was important to most African societies, but as the world becomes more modern it isn’t as necessary to these societies anymore. According to the World Health Organization, Female Genital Mutilation

(FGM) is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. It reflects deep-rooted inequality between sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women.

There are many reasons why FGM was introduced and became a popular practice against women and children. In some culture it was considered a proper way of raising a girl and a way to prepare these girls for marriage and becoming an adult. However, there are no positive health reasons to have FGM performed on a woman. In most communities FGM is thought to reduce a woman’s libido so they will be able to resist sexual urges (WHO.int). Parts of the woman are also removed because it is thought to make the woman “clean” and “beautiful”.

As the article stated, many African Communities have gotten rid of the tradition of FGM. This is a huge step in the direction of equal rights for women in Africa. Unlike Africa, the United States is not as affected by this practice, but many states have made it criminlized to perform FGM, which also is a postive step in equality for women.

This topic is interesting because as we read in Hrdy’s book, Mother Nature, most mothers have a bond with their children. To think that a woman could perform FGM on their child is very hard to understand. But culturually that was a normal practice. These women performed this act because they thought they were helping their children prepare for adulthood. But as more women are being educated about how this practice is not beneficial, these acts are slowly being stopped.  I think it really shows that mothers will do anything for their children to have the best life. Whether positive or negative, and it is up to society to make sure healthy steps are being taken, and to stop the negative, unhealthy acts from continuing.

Original Article: http://allafrica.com/stories/201202070272.html

World Health Organization Website: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs241/en/

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2 Responses to Female Genital Mutilation

  1. Wow, the image of that rose stitched together is just heartbreaking.

    I had to think really hard about how to respond to this post. As cultural anthropologists we learn that in order to understand another culture sometimes it is necessary to put aside our own beliefs so that we do not judge others by standards that are not their own. At the same time anthropology advocates for human rights and we recognize that there is no place in our shared world for genital cutting like what you describe here. So the difficulty I am identifying here is: what is the best way to talk about this issue?

    In your post everything about your tone conveys your outrage at this practice, but what makes it so radically different than other practices that are acceptable in our culture? For example, male circumcision involves the removal of portions of the genitalia. It is not medically necessary in any culture that has access to a bar of soap. Most frequently it is practiced upon infant males who cannot give their consent (myself included). In some Hebrew cultures it is dictated that the circumcision must not be performed under anesthetic. And it results in a male genitalia that is regarded by both men and women as preferable to an uncircumcised penis – it is perceived by some in that culture as cleaner and more beautiful.

    We are a culture that perpetrates all kinds of disgusting practices in the name of beauty, including the alteration of female genitals through piercing and tattoos. Women go to surgeons to have their labia sculpted into what they believe are more desirable shapes and sizes. They have the fat sucked out of their bodies and bags full of saline solution implanted. Women undergo surgeries to have their “virginity” restored or to have their birth canal shrunken in order to produce a tighter sensation some men believe to be more pleasurable during the sexual act. Women go to have their public hair ripped out with wax or fried by lasers.

    So why is it then, when other people, from other cultures do disgusting, violent things to their bodies its bad when our own practices go without comment?

    There’s a difference between saying “I disapprove of this practice because it violates human rights,” and “I disapprove of these people because they carry on with such a practice.” Anthropology can help us make that distinction.

  2. Thank you for your post. Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a very important subject that people need to be educated on. You know one thing that I hear, often times, is the reference “female circumcision” in regards to FGM. I suppose the act itself, since it is tradition in various countries, can be referred to as circumcision. Although, if an individual is referring to Female Genital Mutilation as “female circumcision” because they are under the impression that this act, not procedure since there is no medical reason for FGM, is somehow similar to a male circumcision then they have been misinformed or are not aware of what FGM actual is.
    It is common in our society & countless others to circumcise males. If a male is not circumcised at birth he can later in life go to the doctor’s office and get circumcised if he chooses to without question. I just read an article in the New York Times, AIDS Prevention Inspires Ways to Make Circumcisions Easier, about a few studies that show circumcision of males as effective against AIDS. Of course, as benign as male circumcision may seem there is heavy opposition to it but for this response, I focus on the positive perceived aspects of said procedure.
    FGM on the other hand is a cruel, painful act with no medical reason whatsoever that takes place in unsanitary conditions, by force. There is the clitoridectomy, Type I, or removal of the clitoris, which is the primary source of orgasm for a woman just as the penis, is for a man. Type II, partial or total removal of the clitoris and the inner lips. Type III, Is the removal of the clitoris, inner & outer labia then the victim is sewn up. Not only is this horrible needless act physical as well as sexual abuse but most certainly emotional abuse since FGM yields short and long-term effects. This act continues to be performed on women and it needs to stop!

    If you would like additional information on FGM please visit: http://cagem.org/default.aspx

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