Until college, I had never even heard of Female Genital Mutilation, let alone did I realize that it is commonplace in many countries. The World Health Organization estimates that as many as 120 million women have undergone FGM. I learned this through a presentation a peer did in a Women and Gender Studies class, and I was almost in disbelief. With no intentional disrespect to her, I thought she had almost exaggerated some of her information for the sake of a shock-factor.
Exaggerate she did not. FGM encompasses a variety of procedures that involve the cutting of female genitals, known to some as female circumcision. The most extreme case of this is where the clitoris and inner labia are removed, and the outer labia are sewn together. A hole is left for urinating and menstruation. In some cultures, this happens during infancy; in others, adolescent girls up until their marrying age (14-16). Most commonly, girls are 7-8 when they are cut.
The point of doing this is to ensure that women are pure before marriage. It’s become so culturally accepted, that some women won’t allow their sons to get married to a woman who isn’t circumcised. It’s seen as shameful to not be wanted for marriage in many cultures, and thus, women are inevitably pressured into feeling as though they want and need this procedure done. In case you were wondering, women are cut back open on their wedding night.
Aside from the obvious consequences of not having sterile medical equipment (many women have it done by another woman in the village who is assigned to do it for all young girls) there are a plethora of issues that can arise from this. Women can die of something as simple as a menstrual cycle, if there is no way for the blood to be properly extricated from the body.
In discussions with classmates and friends, the reaction is always the same: we’re all horrified and can’t believe such cruelty is inflicted upon so many women in the world. In case this was a question in anyone’s mind, there is no longer any religious calling to have this done nor is it medically necessary, to my knowledge. If there is someone more informed than I, please, by all means, let me know.
So naturally, as the 20-somethings we are, we want to do something about this injustice. But how do you even begin to do that when something is rooted so deeply in one’s culture? I guess that question applies to a lot of things. I’m going to go out on a limb and say, hey, maybe going to another country and just telling them that their culture is wrong won’t really work out too well. So how do we begin the movement for change when something is so heavily ingrained?
When you really think about it, if a woman wants to have FGM done, she should be able to. Taking away women’s choices is what we’re trying to combat. And telling women that they can’t do something is pretty contrary to what we’re trying to achieve by the means of equality. But the other thing is that women who think they want this done may not realize that there is any other option. It is only fair, I feel, to (somehow) educate the young women of the world and to tell them that they do not have to have their vaginas mutilated if they don’t want to. Of course, this would also have to go hand-in-hand with these girls finding support from other women within their villages, so it’s not to say that education in itself is the quick-fix.
I’m not saying I know how to go about this, nor am I saying that I know, for a fact, that every woman is unaware that FGM isn’t necessary beyond her culture’s standard. All I am saying is that I hope we can figure out a way to reach out and educate, and to allow women to choose what happens to their own bodies.