Female Genital Mutation Struggling against genital mutilation in Sudan In the country of Sudan, in Northern Africa, there is a procedure that is tradition and is performed on most women called female genital mutilation, or FGM, which used to be known as female circumcision. It has been a normal practice for generations, but is now the subject for international controversy on the morality and safety of this procedure. It is now known that 82 percent of Sudanese woman have an extreme form of genital mutilation done on them, normally at a young age. This form of mutilation is called the Pharaonic form and includes the total removal of the clitoris and labia, and stitching together of the vulva, leaving only a small hole for urination and menstrual cycle. This is normally done without any type of anaesthetic or professional medical care.
There is also a more moderate form of mutilation, called Sunni, where only the covering of the clitoris is removed. This practice started and became tradition in foreign countries in order to ensure that women practice chaste behavior, and to suppress female sexuality. It has also been attributed to religious beliefs of monogamy although most religions do not support this type of practice. In today’s society it has become more of a traditional and social norm, and has less to do with religious beliefs.
This problem is not only in Sudan; it is practiced in the majority of the continent of Africa as well as other countries. In other cultures, such as Australian aborigines, genital mutilation is a part of the rite of passage into maturation, and is done on both men and women (Bodley, p. 58). FGM has often been referred to as female circumcision and compared to male circumcision.
However, such comparison is often misleading. Both practices include the removal of well- functioning parts of the genitalia and are quite unnecessary. However, FGM is far more drastic and damaging than male circumcision because it is extremely dangerous and painful. It is believed that two thirds of these procedures are done by untrained birth attendants, who have little knowledge of health. They are often unconcerned with hygiene, and many use instruments that are not cleaned or disinfected properly.
Instruments such as razor blades, scissors, kitchen knives, and pieces of glass are commonly used. These instruments are frequently used on several girls in succession and are rarely cleaned, causing the transmission of a variety of viruses such as the HIV virus, and other infections. There are many side effects of this procedure including trauma, stress or shock from the extreme pain; and bleeding, hemorrhaging and infections that can be fatal from improperly cleaned instruments. There can also be painful and difficult sexual relations and obstructed childbirth. The effects of this one procedure can last a lifetime, both physically and pyschologically.
Today, 85 to 114 million girls and women in more than 30 countries have been subjected to some form of genital mutilation. It was declared illegal in Sudan in 1941, although that did little to stop this age-old tradition. To this day, about 90% of women are still being subjected to the mutilation, especially if it is a family tradition. In various cultures there are many “justifications” for these practices. Many older women feel that if they have an uncircumcised daughter, she will not be able to find a husband and will become a social outcast. Family honor, cleanliness, protection against spells, insurance of virginity and faithfulness to the husband, or simply terrorizing women out of sex are sometimes used as excuses for the practice of FGM.
Examples similar to this are found in other cultures, such as the Maasai, an African cattle peoples tribe. A clitoridectomy is performed on adolescent girls in this tribe as part of their rite of passage, and signifies that they are ready for marriage. This practice is openly accepted by these women as another ritual and a normal precondition of marriage (Bodley, p. 121). The efforts to stop procedures of this kind are mounting though, especially with the help of women ages 16 to 30 who realize the dangers of this practice.
These women can help to save their daughters and many other women from this if they are educated of the dangers. It ends up damaging their health, as well as their socio-economic lives; which is why it needs to be put to a stop. It is also unnecessary in today’s society. These women have joined together to create the Sudan National Committee on Harmful Traditional Practices, and are now working to eliminate it completely. They have also joined together with government support and are a part of the National Plan of Action for the Survival, Protection and Development of Sudanese Children, where they work to educate people of the dangers of this procedure.
In the United States and other Western countries, both female and male circumcision is practiced, although male circumcision is much more common. Female mutilation is still an issue in Western countries though, and needs to be dealt with. These countries commonly used FGM as a means to deal with unruly, insane or temperamental women earlier in this century. Routine circumcision as a preventative or cure for masturbation was also proposed in Victorian times in America. In females, it was once thought that the application of pure carbolic acid to the clitoris an excellent means of allaying the abnormal excitement.
The procedure of circumcisions, on both men and women, became commonplace between 1870 and 1920, and it consequently spread to all the English-speaking countries such as England, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. As a form of social control it fell out of fashion some time in the 1930’s or 1940’s. However, it has continued to the present in some form or another. In the United States alone it is estimated that about ten thousand girls are at risk of this practice in today’s society. A bill was recently presented to the U.S. government in 1994 prohibiting female genital mutilation to be performed, unless done for a medical reason by a trained professional.
Although we are fighting for preventative measures, this surgery is still routinely performed on women in the United States. Some doctors believe and act upon the idea that excision does not prevent sexual pleasure but enhances it. FGM is also entering the United States with some immigrants who are holding on to their customs and identity. On the United States level, and in other places around the world, there are finally numerous efforts being made in order to abolish this practice both locally and internationally. Many laws have been passed over the last decade, in the United States and other Western countries, prohibiting any kind of mutilation on young girls, other than for medical purposes. In the future, leaders are hoping to enforce these rules in other smaller countries, where the government can do little to stop these unlawful acts, especially in Tribal peoples and other communities were laws are not strictly enforced.