Dear World – THIS IS A WAKE UP CALL.
The United Nations website has a message from the Secretary General
“The Sustainable Development Goals contain a specific target calling for an end to FGM. When this practice is fully abandoned, positive effects will reverberate across societies as girls and women reclaim their health, human rights and vast potential.”
The following article is a Tablet of Truth which is spelling out what we ALL need to know about Female Genital Mutilation.
Over 8000 words, written by a man who has obviously done his research, so we can get the highlights of this “barbaric and inhumane procedure that makes no sense at all.”
Could it be possible that there is an underworld operating that will never make it to research or statistics and this means we only have the tip of the iceberg here being presented?
In other words – we are not aware of the real truth about the scale of this inhumane act.
Buckle up and be warned – you may be disturbed or not like what is being presented.
The question we should ALL be asking is –
How on earth is Female Genital Mutilation still going on in the 21st century?
Female Genital Mutilation
by Tim Bowyer
I had heard about Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) before, probably on the news or in a newspaper, but I didn’t give it any attention. It was one of those subjects that was horrible to hear about, but because it didn’t affect ME, I had no reason to give it any more thought.
Last year, I attended a presentation about FGM.
The presentation was quite short, about 25-30 minutes, but it opened my eyes to the true horrors of FGM and how, even in today’s society, it was still very prevalent.
A few weeks after the presentation while listening to the news on the radio, the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that they now considered FGM to be a child abuse issue.
My first thought was, “Why is it only now that it is considered a child abuse issue?”
FGM is widely recognised as a human rights violation, but surely, it should have ALWAYS been considered a child abuse issue?
So what exactly is FGM?
FGM is more commonly known as ‘female circumcision’ or ‘cutting’ and by other terms such as Sunna, Gudniin, Halayas, Tahur, Megrez and Khitan among others.
It is generally carried out on girls between infancy and age fifteen, but has been known to be performed on young women up to age twenty.
FGM is a procedure where the female genitals are purposefully cut, removed, changed or damaged, with no medical reason for doing so. It is usually done by traditional ‘circumcisers’ or ‘cutters’ who do not have any medical background or training. It is generally carried out in non-sterile conditions using implements such as knives, scissors, razor blades, tin can lids and broken glass, which of course may lend itself to the greater possibility of infection.
There are four types of FGM: (1)
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 skin) with or without the 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 reasons, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area.
There are absolutely no health benefits to these procedures.
The harm they cause, on the other hand, is very extensive.
Short-term problems can include:
- Severe pain
- Excessive bleeding
- Genital tissue swelling
- Urinary problems
- Wound healing problems
- Injury to surrounding tissue
Long-term problems can include:
- Urinary problems/infections
- Constant pain
- Cysts and abscesses
- Vaginal problems (discharge, itching, bacterial vaginosis)
- HIV (the cutting of genital tissue with the same instrument could increase the possibility of contracting HIV)
- Menstrual problems (painful menstruations, difficulty in passing menstrual blood)
- Scar tissue and keloid scars
- Sexual problems (pain during intercourse, decreased satisfaction, frigidity)
- Increased risk of childbirth complications (difficult delivery, excessive bleeding, caesarean section, stillbirth)
- The need for later surgeries, e.g. if type 3 (infibulation) has been done, then defibulation will be needed, which is when the woman is cut open to allow for intercourse and childbirth. 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, self-harm
There are many countries that still perform FGM as part of their culture or tradition.
According to the ‘WHO’, there are more than 200 million girls and women alive today that have been ‘cut’ in over 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia where FGM is mainly concentrated. (1)
Because of migration, there are now many more countries that have started to see the rise of FGM, even though it is illegal in most countries.
According to an article written by Alexandra Topping and Mary Carson of the Guardian newspaper, there was a report in 2013 on FGM by a coalition of medical groups, trade unions and human rights organisations, that estimated that there are 66,000 victims of FGM in England and Wales and warns that more than 24,000 girls under 15 are at risk. More than 2,000 victims of FGM have sought treatment in London hospitals alone in the past 3 years. (2)
FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985, and, since 2003, it has been illegal for anyone taking a child out of the UK to be ‘cut’, with the perpetrators facing 14 years in prison.
Communities at particular risk of FGM in the UK originate from:
- Ivory Coast
- Sierra Leone
In Scotland alone, the African population has more than doubled since 2001 from 22,049 – 46,742 and with the rising cost of air travel, the number of girls having FGM performed on them in the UK has increased.
What was happening before was that families would take their children back to their countries in the holidays and have the procedure done. But, because it was becoming more and more expensive to go back home, families would join with other families and pool their resources and bring a ‘cutter’ from their country to the UK, to perform FGM on a group of girls.
In September 2016, the BBC published an article about the lack of convictions of those who perpetrate FGM being ‘a national scandal’, as no one has been convicted in the 30 years since FGM was made illegal, say the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee. Only one prosecution has been brought to trial since 1985 and both defendants in that case were cleared last year. (3)
A woman from the West Midlands is the first person in the UK to be given a joint court order to protect her from both forced marriage and FGM. Zara (name changed to protect her identity), says, “I was 17 when my father’s family in South Asia started telling him that I should be thinking about getting married with an arranged wedding proposal coming up that same year. We were fixing a date when all of a sudden it was called off.” She later discovered the reason was because she hadn’t undergone ‘female circumcision’. Among the ‘traditional voices’ within her father’s community, FGM is often viewed as an expectation, and she was being labelled as “not respectable, not Muslim” for not having undergone it.
Her father had also begun to receive threats, including from family members, saying he was “not doing his job as a father” for allowing her NOT to have it.
Over time the pressure grew. With other potential marriages falling through for the same reason and with the fear of having to undergo FGM Zara developed mental health problems. “It got to a point where I stopped eating. I had no hopes for my future. I fainted quite a few times”, she says.
In the end, Zara booked an appointment to discuss FGM with her GP and was told that the process was illegal. Zara was told to contact the NSPCC who then referred her to West Midlands Police. Zara informed them that she believed she was at imminent risk of her father arranging a forced marriage and that she could be taken abroad to undergo FGM.
Zara’s father was questioned on FGM and forced marriage allegations, though he was not charged with any offences. (4)
When, Where and Why did FGM start?
There are many theories on the origins of FGM but it seems that no-one really knows the precise time, place or reason that FGM came about.
One source is from ‘Herodotus’ (484-425/413 BC). Herodotus was a writer who invented the field of study known today as ‘History’. He was known by the Roman’s as the ‘Father of History and he reported the practice of ‘recission’ as a Hittite (modern day Turkey), Ethiopian, Egyptian and Phoenician (modern day Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, Jordan) custom. (5)
There was mention in a Greek papyrus dated 163 BC about FGM being performed on girls in Memphis, Egypt, when they reach an age of receiving their dowries, which supports theories that FGM originated as a form of initiation for young girls and women. Other theories support an ancient African puberty ritual. (5)
There are also writings by a Greek historian called Strabo. Strabo lived from 64 BC to 24 AD and he visited Egypt around 25BC. He writes in his 17 volume work, Geographica, that, ‘a custom zealously followed was that of circumcision of the boys and excision of the girls’, which he noticed as a depiction on the tomb of Ankh-Ma-Hor, a 6th Dynasty Egyptian Pharaoh (2380 – 2340 BC). (5)
In the 6th Century AD, a Greek physician by the name of Aetios says the ‘cutting was necessary in the presence of an overly large clitoris to prevent an erection like males and to deter lesbian relationships and to also prevent stimulating the appetite for sexual intercourse because of the continued rubbing against the clothes’. (5)
Another Greek doctor, Sommus, who lived in Alexandria and Rome in the 8th Century AD reported that ‘it was practiced to decrease female sexual desire’. (5)
Where infibulation (type 3 FGM) is concerned, its origins seem to stem from Ancient Rome where Fibulae (brooches) were used on female slaves, by piercing their labia to prevent sexual activity. That was thought to tire the male slaves and to prevent any pregnancies.
Fast forward several centuries to an article published in the Lancet in 1822 where the German surgeon, Graefe, claimed to have successfully treated, by excision of the clitoris, a girl suffering from “excessive masturbation and nymphomania”.
In 19th Century England, masturbation was considered to be responsible for several cerebral and nervous functional disorders ranging from epilepsy and insanity and a ‘clitoridectomy’ was regarded as a healing solution. (5)
In 1966 the American so called “Love Surgeon”, Dr. James Burt, started to perform clitoral dislocation procedures in health care institutions. He was of the belief that excision doesn’t prevent sexual pleasure but instead improves it. In his 1975 book called ‘Surgery of Love’, he wrote, “women are structurally inadequate for intercourse. This is a pathological condition amenable by surgery”. He claimed his surgery would turn women into “horny little mice” and claims that “the difference between rape and rapture is salesmanship”. (6)
The surgeries that Burt performed caused many issues including, sexual dis-function, infection and the need for corrective surgery in many patients and in 1988 there were several lawsuits filed. In 1989, he surrendered his licence. This allowed him to forego a medical board hearing, which may have produced more evidence against him. He later divorced and declared bankruptcy due to the lawsuits totalling $21,000,000 (million).
It seems the fascination and abuse of the female genitals, especially the clitoris, has been going on for centuries.
FGM is nowadays largely widespread in North Africa, Asia and the Middle East and linked to Muslim culture, although it is not exclusively an Islamic practice. FGM is performed by Muslims, Christians, other religions and indigenous groups.
Western culture had similar views. Considering that Sigmund Freud, the Austrian neurologist and founder of psychoanalysis, in his ‘Sexuality and the Psychology of Love’ stated that “elimination of clitoral sexuality is an essential requirement for the femininity development”, or that Levi-Strauss, the French anthropologist and ethnologist and one of France’s foremost ‘thinkers’ of the 20th Century, said that ‘there is poetry and beauty in general mutilation and this constitutes an aberration only according to western morality’ (5)
Another noted psychiatrist and professor at VIII Paris University, Tobie Nathan, states that, “excision is a prevention mechanism, a tool, an extraordinary social benefit that the French society urgently needs to rediscover”. In his opinion ‘excised women are much more balanced and the incidence of mental illness among them would be almost nothing.’ (5)
The reasons for FGM vary from one area to another and include a variety of cultural and traditional reasons within families and communities using sexuality, fertility and religious beliefs along with many superstitious beliefs:
- Although the practice predates both Christianity and Islam, some say it is a religious law.
- Social convention (fear of being rejected by the community, a rite of passage for the young girl to be part of the community).
- To prepare a girl for adulthood and marriage as girls who have not been ‘cut’ are seen as unsuitable for marriage.
- It’s a belief about acceptable sexual behaviour. It is to ensure that the girl is still a virgin before marriage and as it is believed to reduce a woman’s libido. FGM is believed to help her resist extramarital affairs. Also if type 3 has been done, the fear of the pain of having the vagina opened up is seen to deter extramarital affairs.
- It is believed to increase the marriageability of the girl if she has had FGM done to her.
- The female genitalia are considered both dirty and unsightly.
- It will ensure the female stays clean and will be more hygienic.
- It is to increase male sexual pleasure.
- It will prevent the clitoris from growing long like a penis.
- You have to have had FGM to have a baby.
- If the clitoris touches the head of the child during birth, the child will die.
- Circumcision is the first step to control waywardness in girls.
- That excision is a cure for infertility.
- That an uncircumcised female always has difficulty at childbirth.
- That women’s breast milk will be poisonous.
- That it will take away bad odours.
- That it will prevent vaginal cancer.
It seems to be a well-established view that FGM is not required by any religion or in Muslim law but yet there are many countries that practice FGM using religion or Muslim law to carry out this barbaric and inhumane procedure. One point of view is that although FGM is not recommended by any religion or found in any religious texts, it may have become symbolic in some communities as a demonstration of faith.
In Dagestan, the North Caucasus region of Russia, a Russian journalist, Marina Akhmedova, recently returned (June 2016), after interviewing survivors of FGM. Responding to a draft bill by a Russian MP that called for making FGM a criminal act with sentences up to 10 years, Akhmedova said ‘such strict measures would only be seen as religious persecution and could drive the practice underground’. “It is really difficult to help these women as they don’t consider themselves victims. If religious leaders say it is right for a girl to undergo circumcision, people will do it”. (7)
The human rights group, Russian Justice Initiative (RJI), published a report saying there was evidence that FGM was being performed in remote, mainly Muslim villages in Dagestan. It came to wider attention when two religious leaders responded with comments in support of FGM. (7)
Ismail Berdiyev, the mufti (an Islamic scholar who is an interpreter or expounder of Islamic law) and chairman of the North Caucasus Muslim Coordination Centre, said FGM does not contradict Islam and is a “purely Dagestani ritual” that is necessary “to limit the unnecessary energy” of women. He also suggested in a radio interview that all women should undergo FGM to curb their sexual feelings but later retracted some of his comments. (7)
Vsevolod Chaplin, an Orthodox Christian leader, in support of Berdiyev, posted on Facebook, stating that traditional practices should be allowed to continue without interference.
The RJI found that FGM is carried out predominantly in five mountainous areas on girls under the age of three but also on some up to the age of twelve.
The RJI’s group executive director, Vanessa Kogan, said: “The report would not have received nearly as much coverage if it hadn’t been for the outrageous statements made by Berdiyev and Chaplin. Their statements did not really contribute anything concrete to the questions surrounding the practice of FGM, but they spoke volumes about both Islamic and Christian leaders’ intentions to control women’s bodies and their sexuality.” (7)
What is very fascinating, is that throughout history, all the proponents of FGM have been MEN.
Islam has 3 main sources of Islamic Law:
The Holy Qur’an
These govern and regulate all aspects of a Muslim’s public and private life.
The science of these religious laws is called ‘Fiqah’ and the expert in this field such as a jurist is called a ‘Faqih’ (plural-Fuqaha)
There are 4 Schools of Law and each school is named after jurists or Fuqaha’s who lived in the first 3 centuries of Islam:
The Hanafiyya School
The Malikiyya School
The Shafiyya School
The Hanbaliyya School
Most Muslim’s regard these 4 Schools as valid interpretations of Islamic Law. Where The Holy Qur’an or Tradition is not explicit, the interpretation is made by one of the Fuqaha.
One of the Laws of Islam is ‘do no harm’. That is, do no harm to others or do no harm to yourself.
Indonesia is the largest Muslim majority nation in the world with 88 percent of the people adhering to Islam and the majority of those adhering to The Shafiyya School of Sunni Islam – it is the only one of the 4 Schools which describes female circumcision as obligatory by Islam – EVEN THOUGH FGM IS NOT REQUIRED IN MUSLIM LAW.
Indonesia banned FGM in 2006 with the government considering it a “useless” practice that “could potentially harm women’s health”. The ban was quickly opposed by the Indonesian Ulema Council, the highest Islamic advisory body in Indonesia. (8)
Again, the council is made up entirely of men.
In 2010 the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the country’s largest Muslim organisation, issued an edict supporting FGM while a leading cleric told the NU’s estimated 40 million followers “not to cut too much”.
In November 2010 the government gave in to the pressure by Muslim organisations and lifted the ban.
An article written by Abigail Howarth of the Guardian, tells a shocking story of 248 girls having a mass ceremony in Bandung, Indonesia in 2006. It was not published until 2012 because it would have compromised the efforts of an Indonesian activist organisation that worked within communities to eradicate FGM and who had built up trust with the local leaders. (9)
The article tells of a mass ceremony to perform ‘Sunat Perempuan’ or “female circumcision” that has been held annually since 1958 by the Bandung based Yayasan Assalaam, an Islamic foundation that runs a mosque and several schools. The foundation holds the event in the lunar month of the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday and pays the parents 80,000 rupiah (£6) and a bag of food for each daughter they bring to be cut.
A week before the foundation’s ‘khitanan massal’ or mass circumcision ceremony, the chairman of the Majelis Ulama Indonesia, the nation’s most powerful council of Islamic leaders, issued this statement: “Circumcision is a requirement for every Muslim woman,” said Amidhan, who like many Indonesians goes by a single name. “It not only cleans the filth from her genitals, it also contributes to a girl’s health”. (9)
At the ceremony, Abigail asks the foundation’s social welfare secretary, Lukman Hakim, why they do it. His answer – “It is necessary to control women’s sexual urges. They must be chaste to preserve their beauty”
The ceremony takes place on a Sunday morning inside a school building in Bandung. It has a festive atmosphere with mothers in headscarves and bright lipstick chatting and eating cake and tea whilst Javanese music blares out from the assembly hall. There are over 400 people crammed into the school’s ground floor. It’s hot, noisy and chaotic, and almost everyone is smiling.
Abigail tells of a twelve year old girl called Suminah, who is NOT smiling. She looks like she wants to punch somebody. Under her white hijab, which she has yanked down, her eyes have the livid, bewildered expression of a child who has been wronged by people she trusted. She sits on a plastic chair, swatting away her mother’s efforts to placate her with a cup of party milk and a biscuit. Suminah is in severe pain, because an hour earlier her genitals were mutilated with a pair of scissors as she lay on a school desk.
The Hosken report is a report by Fran Hosken which was published in 1979 and provides case studies of FGM in several countries: Sudan, Egypt, Ethiopia, Somalia, Nigeria, Kenya, Mali, Burkina Faso, Senegal and Sierra Leone. (10)
WARNING – THE REPORT CONTAINS GRAPHIC DETAILS
This is a link to excerpts from “The Hosken Report”.
The excerpts are talking about just three different countries:
As stated earlier, it appears the ‘origins of infibulation’ (type 3 FGM) has its roots in Ancient Rome. Piercing the labia together with a brooch would have been very painful but, how and why, has it got to what it is today?
I know from personal experience, if I cut my finger, it stings quite a bit.
What would it be like to have parts of our body intentionally cut off?
To have your clitoris cut out and other parts of your genitalia cut away?
To have your labia sewn up or held together with horizontally-inserted thorns?
To have your legs bound together and left lying down for several weeks?
If you survive, and the wound has healed, it will leave a tiny opening for the passing of urine and menstrual fluid and on your wedding night, which for many girls will happen before she is even 10 years old, the groom will have to open you up (which is done with a dagger or sharp instrument) so he can have sex with you.
The pain experienced by these young girls and women who undergo this procedure is incomprehensible.
The report states that in Somalia, ‘infibulation is practiced by most of the population, wherever they live’.
The reason WHY?
Because Somali men refuse to marry any girl that has not been infibulated. They will not marry an “open bride”.
Without marriage there is no future for a girl.
The following are personal stories, from the many there are, from women who have had FGM procedures done to them.
“I didn’t know exactly what was going to happen to me, but after I saw the blade I knew they would definitely hurt me, because that blade is not something to play with,” says 25 year old Manika, who had her genitals severed with a razor, without an anaesthetic, when she was only eight years old in Gambia. “It’s a pain you can’t even… it’s taking a knife and cutting someone’s flesh”. (2)
Baldeh was seven when she was mutilated. “Some women held my legs, other women held my hands,” she says. “I was blindfolded and I felt the sharp cut, I felt everything”. The only “medication” she received was being told to sit in warm salty water. “I can never forget that. If you want to pass urine that’s the worst because you are sore and you’ve got no medication, not even a band-aid. It’s just an open wound. It was the most horrible thing I can remember”. (2)
Khadija was ten years old when she begged her mother to be circumcised. “All my friends have had it done and I don’t want to be the odd one out,” she pleaded. She believed that it was just something the girls had to go through to join the “circumcision club”. “My mum never gave me a reason why she kept saying no, but once I’d had it done I understood why she was reluctant”. (11)
Khadija was eleven and still living in war-torn Somalia when her mother gave in and Khadija underwent FGM.
In a terrible way, the war probably helped Khadija. She says “After a girl has been cut, they get stitched up and then things are opened up on her wedding day. I didn’t have the worst kind done because with that one, they have to tie your legs together afterwards to help the wounds heal. I needed to be able to use my legs to run away because of the war.”
Khadija describes the events of her procedure as her mother stroked her hair, “Faridad (good girl), said an old woman who appeared holding in her hand a broken razor blade. She bent over me, then, an explosion of pain erupted. It felt like I was being skinned alive with the breath driven out of my body. The hot searing pain forced a scream from my throat, my legs coiling into a spring that made the grip of the two women tighten even more. Khadija says that most of the women who carry out the initiation are not well educated and sometimes end up cutting a vein, causing the girl to bleed to death.
A few years later Khadija fled Somalia with her aunt and claimed asylum in the UK. Khadija started school and assuming that FGM was normal, asked one of her friends if she had been cut. She began to realise that not only had none of her friends been circumcised but, most girls of her age did not know that this practice even existed.
“In Somalia, it’s taboo to go against female circumcision. But when I came to England, I started to realise that the kind of tradition we were abiding by IS NOT THE PATH HUMAN BEINGS SHOULD FOLLOW.” (11)
“If I was still in Somalia I wouldn’t even think of speaking up about these things because my life would be at risk.” (11)
Hibo Wardere, is also from Somalia but now lives in the UK. She was six years old when she was held down and cut. She can’t go back to Somalia because she has spoken out against FGM. She wants to ask the woman who carried out the procedure some questions: (12)
- Each girl has a distinctive scream, so how does she cope with hundreds and millions of screams in her head?
- How does she cope with our blood in her hands?
- How does she cope with what she has done to us?
- How does she cope with the maybe hundreds of lives she’s taken because she’s cut the wrong vein?
- How does she cope with all this?
Hibo tells what happened to her.
“It’s a horrific memory. It’s a memory that you can’t erase and it stays with you for life”.
“Out of nowhere I’ll be watching EastEnders, seeing what’s going on in the pub, then all of a sudden I can smell my own blood. I can see my own flesh”.
“I can see myself struggling and screaming for mercy”.
“My mother was standing there, my aunty was holding me, cutters and helpers were holding me and she was cutting everything off”.
“I had type three FGM which means your clitoris is gone, vagina lips are gone, everything is gone. On top of that they stitch you and they leave you with a tiny hole which you are supposed to be weeing from and menstruating from and in the end – have intercourse from”.
“You are absolutely consumed with pain from head to toe. You literally do not know how to cope with it. Many girls died. I prayed to die that day”.
“You feel unloved, alone, isolated. You feel worthless, a shell of yourself, you’re not a child anymore. You lose trust in others. It’s a nightmare and it’s the beginning of it”.
“Physically you are never out of pain because of the damage they do”
“When I hit puberty my whole nightmare began because my period wasn’t coming out right and every month I was in so much pain”
“It’s a nightmare. I don’t know how to get out of it, even if I talk to therapists, it’s still there”.
“You kind of learn how to cope with it. You don’t have a choice”.
To most of us in the western world, FGM is seen as an inhumane, barbaric procedure. But there are those that still see it as a joyful ritual that they go through as part of a marriage or coming of age ceremony.
The American magazine, ‘The Atlantic’, published an article in April 2015 about “Why Some Women Choose to Get Circumcised”. (13)
Their reporter Olga Khazan interviewed Bettina Shell-Duncan, an anthropology professor at the University of Washington, who, in 1996, went to Northern Kenya to do research on anaemia iron deficiency in an ethnic group called the ‘Rendille’. She started to talk to the men and women about major health problems with many problems being listed.
They also started saying “We don’t have enough antibiotics for our weddings”.
She was confused as to what they meant by this which led to her finding out about female ‘circumcision’ and how the young women would voluntarily and joyfully go through with this procedure as it was part of the wedding ceremony. Shell-Duncan says that type 2 circumcision was done on this young woman and she sat there “proud and stoic and unflinching, which is a really important part of showing your maturity”. It shows if you can withstand the pain, you have the maturity to face the hardship that is coming to you as a woman.
For those of us who haven’t had centuries of tradition/ritual passed on through each generation, we can see how wrong FGM is. But when it is such an integral part of a woman’s life, part of their culture and then someone tells them they can’t do it anymore, that it has been outlawed, you can understand their resistance.
Could it be possible that forcing women to stop the practice will only serve to send it underground which then would make it more hidden and probably more dangerous for the young girls or women?
So what is FGM really about?
With the 3 main types of FGM, as classified by the WHO, the minimum violation is to cut out part or all of the clitoris.
As the clitoris seems to be the starting point in this horrendous practice, let’s talk about the clitoris.
For some reason talking about the clitoris is considered to be a taboo subject, but it is still only a part of our human body, which like every part of our body, is there for a reason.
But why is the clitoris considered a taboo subject?
Could it be because of the ancient belief that the clitoris is too similar to the penis?
Is it simply a case of misogyny or is it just that women are not seen as equal to men and shouldn’t have the same experience of pleasure?
Or could it be that men don’t understand the clitoris and are afraid of it?
The fact that the clitoris is seen as a taboo subject and that some women, let alone men don’t talk about it or even know where it is, lends to the fear surrounding the clitoris.
The clitoris is a female sex organ. It is several centimetres long and lies inside the body with only the glans (head) being visible. It develops from an outgrowth in the embryo called the ‘genital tubercle’. Initially undifferentiated, the tubercle develops into either a penis or a clitoris, depending on the presence or absence of the X or Y chromosome.
The glans is roughly the shape and size of a pea and contains around 8,000 nerve endings but interacts with over 15,000 other nerve endings throughout the pelvis. The glans of the penis contains about 4,000 nerve endings. In comparison, this makes the clitoris a very sensitive area.
Where other organs have a function, e.g. pregnancy, menstruation, urination, it is said that the clitoris is the only part of the human body whose sole purpose is pleasure.
Upon conception all babies share the same exact genital tissue so the penis and clitoris are very similar in that they have a glans, a foreskin (the prepuce or clitoral hood), and a shaft, which, of course, is not visible with a clitoris. The clitoris also swells up when aroused.
Like the penis, the clitoris comes in a variety of sizes, with the glans being very large with some and with others protruding a lot more than just the glans, which makes it look like a mini penis.
According to the ‘Intersex Society of North America’, “Intersex is a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy, that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male. For example, a person might be born appearing to be female on the outside, but having mostly male-typical anatomy on the inside. Or a person may be born with genitals that seem to be in-between the usual male and female types – for example, a girl may be born with a noticeably large clitoris, or lacking a vaginal opening, or a boy may be born with a notably small penis, or with a scrotum that is divided so that it has formed more like a labia”. (14)
‘Intersex’ people are only just coming into the public awareness and are becoming more accepted. Approximately 1 in 1,500 – 2,000 babies born today are now classed as ‘Intersex’. Once known as hermaphrodites, ‘Intersex’ people have been around for a very long time and in those days you can only imagine how these children were dealt with. (15)
The Hosken report talks about the Efik tribe who live near the town of Calabar, Nigeria. The Efik people say that “circumcision is the first step to control waywardness in girls” and “uncircumcised girls are considered to be abnormal,” since, according to the belief, they have both male and female organs. “These girls are regarded as unclean and are always subjected to public ridicule and abuse. The members of their families are also subjected to this same ridicule.” (10)
It also talks about one of Mali’s ethnic groups called the ‘Dogon” where excision is obligatory. They believe that each girl has male and female characteristics and the same goes for the boys. They say it is necessary to destroy the male characteristics in a girl, the clitoris, before she becomes a woman and the female characteristics in a boy, the foreskin (prepuce), before he becomes a man.
No one knows when, why, or how FGM started. As stated earlier, the oldest source seems to be the depiction on the tomb of Ankh-Ma-Hor, nearly 5,000 years ago, but in reality it could have started thousands of years before that.
Also of importance is that no one knows what type of excision was done. It may have been just the prepuce that was cut off. The fact that the males were circumcised as well may suggest that it was purely for hygiene but how and why has it become what it is today?
Could it be possible that whenever it started, it was because men had an issue with the fact that men and women weren’t all that different after all?
Could it be possible that they realised the clitoris was the seat of women’s pleasure and decided to rip it out?
Could it be possible that this was a way to subjugate women
Could it be possible that women were seen just as vessels to produce children and pleasure was not necessary for that?
The reasons why FGM is committed and the types of FGM committed varies from one country/culture to another. A lot of the reasons are for the benefit or pleasure of the man.
A lot of focus for FGM is fidelity, to preserve the girl or woman for the man.
What about the fidelity of the man?
Why is the man not having bits of him chopped off to prepare him for marriage or to make sure he is suitable for marriage?
Why is the man not having bits of him chopped off to stop him from having extramarital affairs?
Why is the man not having bits of him chopped off to make sure he is able to produce children?
Why is the man not having bits of him chopped off as a ‘rite of passage’ into adulthood?
Why is the man not having bits of him chopped off to make sure he remains a virgin?
Why, apart from the foreskin, is the man not having other bits of him chopped off for hygiene reasons?
The consequences of FGM are far reaching. Many women are unaware they have had FGM done to them because they were either too young or they have blocked it out. When they come to realise that they have had the procedure, maybe due to being educated or even when it is time for them to get married, it brings up a gamut of feelings:
- Lack of Trust
- Fears around Intimacy
- Ashamed of how they look
- If Type 3 (Infibulation) – the fear of having to be cut open again
- Unwilling to have intercourse for fear of pain
- Feeling less of a woman
A Malian woman of 29 with a degree in literature shares her story: (10)
“I have no memory of my own excision and infibulation as I was operated on when I was very young. I only became conscious of my condition when I was twenty, just before my marriage. I have lived in a traditional environment where sex and sexuality were taboo subjects. When I became aware that I was excised and infibulated, I was appalled and revolted. I wondered what to do. I would not allow myself to be opened with a knife the day of my marriage, as is the custom…I wanted to get the operation done in a hospital.
I went to see some physicians but each time my request was refused. I faced a complete social barrier. Everybody I asked was against this operation. Those in the hospital looked at me as if I was out of my mind. One of the doctors told me… “You want to lead a life of debauchery, and for this, you are asking for my complicity.” He almost threw me out of his office. The day of my marriage approached. My chances to escape the knife decreased. In the end, the evening of my marriage, I had to submit and suffer my misfortune.”
Some women elect to have surgery, which may reverse some of the damage, but it cannot restore sensitive tissue that has been removed.
The mental health repercussions of FGM cannot be underestimated, with the psychological wounds in many cases being deeper than the physical one.
FGM is a barbaric and inhumane procedure that makes no sense at all.
It is said it is done to increase fertility and to make childbirth easier, but the reality is that it can cause infertility and it can cause childbirth complications.
Hoda Ali, a London nurse who underwent FGM in Somalia when she was 7 years old, is today going through an early menopause at the age of 37. Hoda spoke to the Guardian newspaper about the horrors of going through Type 3 FGM. ‘She says it was partially medicalised in that her parents could afford to buy sterile blades, syringes and anaesthetic and insisted that the cutter use them on her and her 6 year old sister.’ (16)
“The only pain at the time was the anaesthetic going in. I felt the tug of my clitoris and labia being removed and I remember the feeling of being stitched up.”
The pain came later, four years later when the agony deep in her stomach prevented her from sleeping. At first the doctors thought that she had a cyst, but after a second scan they found the lump was a build-up of menstrual blood that had nowhere else to go. The next six years consisted of numerous operations and months in hospitals and finally when there could be no more operations the doctors had to insert a small vacuum into her cervix, to remove the internal build-up of blood.
In her early teens, whilst on the run from the war in Somalia, Hoda ended up in an Italian hospital where at the age of 17 she woke up one morning to find her bed covered in blood.
“It took six years for me to be able to have a natural period. I was allowed to go home but the damage was done. I can’t have children.”
“So tell me how was that safe? How was partly medicalised FGM safe?”
Without women, there can be no childbirth. The future health and wellbeing of an entire society is being affected because women are being mutilated.
The fact that it sometimes causes death seems to be of no consequence and obviously defeats the purpose.
As soon as the first person died from FGM, why weren’t questions being asked as to the validity of this practice? And if they weren’t asked then, why are they not being asked now?
The men help to perpetuate FGM by insisting that they will not marry women unless they have had the procedure.
In a lot of the rural communities there are many women who make their livelihood from being a ‘cutter’ so there is a big incentive for them to carry on the tradition. In poorer countries, doctors and midwives supplement their salary by selling their services.
A professional woman from Mali, who now lives in France with her husband and two children, who were born in France, decided that they would not allow their children to go through FGM. She returned to Mali with her children and her mother asked if the children had been operated on and she said no and that she was against it. During the children’s holiday, she left them with her parents after finding some work. Coming home one day, she found that her mother had had the children infibulated. (10)
In the most bizarre way the older women, the grandmothers and mothers, who have already gone through the agonising procedure of FGM, have become the main perpetrators and practisers of FGM so as to keep the tradition going. After experiencing the pain, the consequences and the emotional trauma associated with FGM, why would they allow, or want, this to happen to anyone else?
The campaign to stop FGM is increasing.
With FGM being banned in most countries, communities are either not taking any notice of the ban or, they are finding ways to carry on the practice.
What makes it worse is the fact that the governments are not enforcing the bans.
FGM has been banned in Egypt since 2008 but it is still widely practiced in Egypt, which has one of the highest prevalence rates in the world.
In November 2006, Islamic scholars from all areas of the Muslim world met at the Islamic Al-Azhar University in Egypt to discuss FGM with the end result being a ban on the practice. (17)
Professor Ali Goma, the Grand Mufti of Egypt, stated, “The Female Genital Circumcision practiced today harms women psychologically and physically. Therefore, the practice must be stopped in support of one of the highest values in Islam, namely to do no harm to another – in accordance with the commandment of the Prophet Mohammed – “Accept no harm and do no harm to another”. Moreover, this is seen as punishable aggression against humankind.” (17)
Here we have the highest leading Islamic authority, the Grand Mufti, espousing the banning of FGM, yet the practice prevails.
Recently there was the case of the first doctor to stand trial and be sentenced on charges of FGM after the death of Suhair al Bataa, a 13 year old girl from Egypt. The girl’s father, who took her to the clinic, is also standing trial. When Suhair’s uncle was asked if it was right to subject Suhair to FGM, his response was, “Yes of course. It has been done in the countryside for a long time. People here are used to it. Without circumcision, girls are full of lust.” (18)
This case has started a debate among the liberal minded, but for those stuck in the traditions of old, the death of Suhair hasn’t changed their minds. In Suhair’s village, one old woman said, “What’s all the fuss about?” “Why did you come here? A thousand or so girls were circumcised after she died.”
The Egyptian doctor, Raslan Fadl, who performed FGM on Suhair served only the minimum 3 months of his sentence because the law allowed him to negotiate with Suhair’s family, because until recently the law said that it would have been seen as a misdemeanour rather than a crime. The law has now been changed and the penalty now is between 3 and 15 years in jail. Because of the law, as it was, he was able to buy his freedom.
According to Philippe Duamelle of UNICEF, the number of girls that die from FGM in Egypt is unclear because deaths are being recorded as haemorrhages or allergic reactions to penicillin. (18)
Suhair died of medicalised FGM in June 2013. In May 2016, seventeen year old Mayar Mohamed Mousa died undergoing medicalised FGM in a private hospital.
According to a report by ’28 Too Many’, what is of growing concern is that FGM procedures are being legitimised under the guise of ‘health care’. FGM is being carried out in hospitals or clinics under medical supervision. (19)
There are some who believe that having the procedure done in a clinical environment is the way forward, to make it safer and more hygienic.
Taking it to hospitals or anywhere to make it safer is not the answer – stopping it completely is.
There was a missed opportunity here with the imprisoning of the Egyptian doctor to send a message that FGM will be not be tolerated and will be met with serious penalties, but he was allowed to walk free after 3 months because money became more important than a person’s life.
The abuses perpetrated towards women in different countries and cultures are manifold and will be the subject of another article.
This article is focused on Female Genital Mutilation, but also of concern is Male Genital Mutilation, known more commonly as circumcision, and likewise, will be the subject of another article.
In many countries and many communities, there are activist groups that are taking the message to the towns and villages that FGM is very harmful.
There is the ‘International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation’ on the 6th February which is a global programme led jointly by UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) and UNICEF (United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund).
The message is getting out there slowly but the attitudes of both the men and women who insist on performing these procedures is the biggest stumbling block. Trying to change thousands of years of tradition will not be easy.
Culture, religion and tradition are all contributing to the prevalence of FGM and all need to be addressed at the same time with more education needed, especially in the rural areas.
We will probably never know the true origins of how FGM came to be, but what it is now is indicative of man’s inhumanity.
Female Genital Mutilation, especially Type 3 Infibulation, is a cruel and obscene procedure that appears to be created by men to control women.
Female Genital Mutilation is, in most cases, carried out on young girls and women without their permission and against their will.
Female Genital Mutilation is quite often referred to as ‘Female Circumcision’.
Let’s get real here – whatever you want to call it – it is not ‘circumcision’ –
It is pure and simple – MUTILATION
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(2) Topping, A. & Carson, M. (2014, February 6). FGM is Banned but Very Much Alive in the UK. The Guardian. Retrieved January 28, 2017 from
(3) (2016, September 15). Lack of convictions ‘a national scandal’. BBC.
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(4) (2016, June 23). The Woman Saved from Her Father’s FGM Plans. BBC. Retrieved February 4, 2017 from
(5) Faioli, R., Franco, G. & Morrone, A. (2015). Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting. Atlas of Vulvar Dermatosis and Dermatitis. Roma, Italy: CIC Edizioni. (p.397)
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(10) Hosken, F.P. The Hosken Report: Genital and Sexual Mutilation of Females, Fourth Revised Edition. (Women’s International Network News: Lexington, MA, 1993). (pp. 114-115, 192-202, 216-218) (notes omitted). Retrieved January 28, 2017 from
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(12) Brown, L. (2016, July 21). FGM Survivor: These Are My Questions to the Woman Who Cut Me When I Was Six. Newsbeat. BBC. Retrieved January 28, 2017 fromhttp://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/36833810/fgm-survivor-these-are-my-questions-to-the-woman-who-cut-me-when-i-was-six
(13) Khazan, O. (2015, April 8). Why Some Women Choose to Get Circumcised.
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(14) (n.d). What is Intersex? Intersex Society of North America.
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(15) (n.d). How Common is Intersex? Intersex Society of North America.
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(16) Carson, M. & Daly, C. (2016, June 16). The Sickening Trend of Medicalised FGM. The Guardian. Retrieved January 28, 2017 from
(17) (n.d). Fatwas against FGM. Stop FGM Middle East.
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(18) Guerin, O. (2014, May 12). Egypt: Deadly Risks, but Female Genital Mutilation Persists. BBC. Retrieved January 28, 2017 from
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