Saturday, June 25, 2011


Traumatic experience

This is a painful topic to dwell on because of the horrific nature of the practice. Female circumcision (FC) is also referred to as female genital mutilation (FGM) in the West or now the politically correct term often used internationally is female genital cutting (FGC). None of these terms make the topic easier to discuss.
I have always preferred the term female circumcision because that is what I grew up knowing and it did not have a negative connotation or stigma attached to it. I understood the practice as a rite of passage for various ethnic groups including my own. I have members of my family who went through this "rite of passage" and it gave them status and a sense of authority within the community. 

So when I began attending international conferences or forums where the practice was labeled as female genital mutilation I was offended and appalled at the level of Western condescending ignorance and arrogance. I believed then and now that there is a better way to approach this debate than with the condemnation and rage it is often presented in.
Girls this young face this ordeal for the sake of family, culture or religion
As I researched and read biographies of girls like me who had undergone the "knife" the reality of the practice set in. Not all ceremonies were celebrations and for some girls circumcision came as early as less than two months old, like in Eritria; or six years like in Mali and almost 10 years in Egypt. The operation is generally carried out by a traditional birth attendant or an exciseuse, who is usually an elder village woman. These village women have little or no knowledge of human anatomy or medicine. Female circumcision can cause death or permanent health problems including severe pain.

Waris Dirie
Waris Dirie, a Somali woman who moved to London at the age of 14 years has written an account of her horrific experience at a young age. In her book she describes the constant pain whenever she urinated, and that the circumcision made urination a very slow process. She was in excruciating pain whenever she had her period because her body was unable to excrete the blood as fast as it needed.  She describes how she and her sisters used to dig a hole in the ground and bury themselves in it to help cope with their period pain.  Read some extracts of Waris Dirie's autobiography and circumcision experience here.

Ugandan girl being circumcised
Despite all these risks and others the practice is still an integral part of many cultures and their ethnic identity and for some a religious obligation.

There are various reasons given for FC. In many communities they probably do not even know or question the reason for the practice. In other communities it is the social pressure to conform and not be labeled as a social misfit. Social pressure is a great motivator because it many cases it determines if your daughter is qualified to be married as well as determining the bride price. Circumcision is also the tool used to ensure premarital virginity and marital fidelity. This is a necessary part of raising a girl properly, and a way to prepare her for adulthood and marriage.

Next - forms of FC/FGM/C and consequences... Part II

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