Migration and Mitigation may almost sound same but they in fact have nothing in common. We may walk, talk or stalk. All this as a matter of fact so stay our facts.
- deaden, muffle, or soften the sound of.
- to silence, lack the power of speech.
And this is exactly what Female Genital Mutilation seeks to do to girls.
FGM, which is defined as :
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 is an ancient practice still prevalent in more than 30 countries in the world.WHO
It is mostly practiced on girls between the ages of 5 and 15 and has affected over 200 Million girls worldwide
I remember watching a movie once with my great granny about FGM. As we watched, I could not help but exclaim at how disgusting it was. Granny was quiet for a while then she finally told me she was a victim too. I looked at her with a sudden gaze of pity. According to her, a woman was supposed to stay mute. But even if the woman should stay mute does it immediately translate to mutilation? Mute to her meant a woman had no right to enjoy sexual pleasures. It was believed this will keep her legs closed till marriage. Something about staying MUTE.
To mutilate, mutilation
- inflict a violent and disfiguring injury on.
- to injure, disfigure, or make imperfect by removing or irreparably damaging parts
Real question is “Did these girls merit being placed in a compromising spot? Or is there something they could have done? While you may want to ponder on this, most at times they never know they are in these compromising states. I mean no one asked to be born into a particular race, country, village talk less of family. And today millions of girls still experience this practice with no idea of effects it may have on them.
UNWomen is one of the agencies that advocates to end FGM
In the case of Cameroon, The United States Department of State reports that FGM affects less than 5-20 per cent of women, and in addition to being practised in the Far North and the South-West Regions, it is also prevalent in the East.
Clitoridectomy (Type 1) and excision (Type II) are the forms of FGM that are practised in Cameroon.
- Type 1: Often referred to as clitoridectomy, this is the partial or total removal of the clitoris (a small, sensitive and erectile part of the female genitals), and in very rare cases, only the prepuce (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris).
- Type 2: Often referred to as excision, this is the partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora (the inner folds of the vulva), with or without excision of the labia majora (the outer folds of skin of the vulva).
- Type 3: Often referred to as infibulation, this is the narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the labia minora, or labia majora, sometimes through stitching, with or without removal of the clitoris (clitoridectomy).
- Type 4: This includes all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area.
The practice is mostly carried out by traditional circumcisers, who often play other central roles in communities, such as attending childbirths. In many settings, health care providers perform FGM due to the erroneous belief that the procedure is safer when medicalized.
Those who promote it usually compare it to male circumcision.
- Where FGM is a social norm, the social pressure to conform to what others do and have been doing, as well as the need to be accepted socially and the fear of being rejected by the community, are strong motivations to perpetuate the practice. In some communities, FGM is almost universally performed and unquestioned.
- FGM is often considered a necessary part of raising a girl, and a way to prepare her for adulthood and marriage. Some migrant communities in countries where it is illegal even travel back to their countries to have it done.
- FGM is often motivated by beliefs about what is considered acceptable sexual behaviour. It aims to ensure premarital virginity and marital fidelity. FGM is in many communities believed to reduce a woman’s libido and therefore believed to help her resist extramarital sexual acts. When a vaginal opening is covered or narrowed (type 3), the fear of the pain of opening it, and the fear that this will be found out, is expected to further discourage extramarital sexual intercourse among women with this type of FGM.
- Where it is believed that being cut increases marriageability, FGM is more likely to be carried out.
- FGM is associated with cultural ideals of femininity and modesty, which include the notion that girls are clean and beautiful after removal of body parts that are considered unclean, unfeminine or male. Sometimes it is carried out at such a young age that the girl might be unaware.
- Though no religious scripts prescribe the practice, practitioners often believe the practice has religious support.
- Local structures of power and authority, such as community leaders, religious leaders, circumcisers, and even some medical personnel can contribute to upholding the practice.
- In most societies, where FGM is practised, it is considered a cultural tradition, which is often used as an argument for its continuation.
Beyond all these reasons, FGM is about control. It violates the fundamental human right of freedom of exppression by ‘muting’ the voices of girls before they even learn to speak.
It continues to propagate the idea that women’s sexuality is something to be ashamed of, that sex is to be enjoyed by a man only. This notion is so deeply ingrained that in countries such as Sweden, muslim girls who have sex before marriage after FGM go back to get sewn so they can prove their ‘purity’ on their wedding day.
- severe pain
- excessive bleeding (hemorrhage)
- genital tissue swelling
- infections e.g., tetanus
- urinary problems
- wound healing problems
- injury to surrounding genital tissue
- urinary problems (painful urination, urinary tract infections);
- vaginal problems (discharge, itching, bacterial vaginosis and other infections);
- menstrual problems (painful menstruations, difficulty in passing menstrual blood, etc.);
- scar tissue and keloid;
- sexual problems (pain during intercourse, decreased satisfaction, etc.);
- increased risk of childbirth complications (difficult delivery, excessive bleeding, caesarean section, need to resuscitate the baby, etc.) and newborn deaths;
- need for later surgeries: for example, the FGM procedure that seals or narrows a vaginal opening (type 3) needs to be cut open later to allow for sexual intercourse and childbirth (deinfibulation). Sometimes genital tissue is stitched again several times, including after childbirth, hence the woman goes through repeated opening and closing procedures, further increasing both immediate and long-term risks;
- psychological problems (depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, low self-esteem, etc.)
Procedures are mostly carried out on young girls sometime between infancy and adolescence, and occasionally on adult women. More than 3 million girls are estimated to be at risk for FGM annually.
While we may see little of this, it’s important to be aware of it’s existence. Which brings me back to the beginning. Some have migrated because they were trying to escape this tragic end. We are however thankful for the mitigation of some of these practices due to continuous education of communities and families.
In Cameroon one such woman raising her voice is Patricia Nkweteyim. She uses art to raise awareness and wrote a screenplay on FGM titled, ‘Nkuma’. Watch out for our interview with her as she shares her experience.
Join BodyTalk to raise awareness by inviting your friends to read this and add their voice.. .
By Dr Mbi Vanessa (@zaonessa) and Dr Ameaka Fatima (@ameakaf)
- WHO Factsheets on FGM
- Cover image Rankin(c)