The Pains of Female Genital Mutilation
'The Myths, the Cast out
By Annie Brisibe
Niger Delta Women for Justice (NDWJ) PortHarcourt Nigeria
A Research Documentation of Female Circumcision in Delta and Rivers States, Nigeria
A project of the Research and Documentation Department of the Niger Delta Women for Justice (NDWJ) PortHarcourt Nigeria
I have always wanted to write a paper on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) which I perceive as female castration (FC) and also to express in the words of those circumcised, the pains of FGM also known as female genital cutting. The opportunity finally came when the research and documentation department of the Niger Delta Women for Justice as part of its awareness creation strategy decided to expose some of the harmful practices against women rightly considered to be human rights violations against women. The research was done in April and June of 2000, but concluded March of 2001. This paper is a reflection of some of the stories I have heard and some very personal testimonies of friends and relatives that have passed through this experience.
Female circumcision is an invasive procedure that is usually performed on girls before puberty and in some cases during puberty. It is occasionally performed mostly within rural communities. In certain parts of Nigeria Female circumcision has no special relationship to religion, however in very traditional settings the practice is imbedded in the culture and customs of the people.
It is very emotional, as the victims don't have the confidence to talk about their feelings and what they pass through silently as circumcised women. The tales are very gruesome, and painful. Yet these women have had to live life as normal women for fear of being called names or most of all for the fear of been rejected.
In the past, I have listened to women talk about Female Circumcision but the truth is that circumcised women hardly get involved in campaigns for the eradication of FGM. Reasons being that they usually are not sure of the reaction of people on the issue and to them. This research work looks at the psychological aspects and the trauma of circumcised women and asks the reader to reflect on the stories of the victims themselves.. ,
Dedicated to All Women of Circumstances
I wish to acknowledge my organization the Niger Delta Women for Justice for creating a research department to undertake a research of this nature. I wish to thank the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/ EN) for their assistance and support to this research project. The Egi Women Council especially Ms Odua for her tireless support during the cause of carrying out this research. Comrade Che Ibeguera, Dr. Akor of the Rivers State University of Science and Technology Nkpolu PortHarcourt, Women in Nigeria (WIN) Rivers State Branch, Oronto Douglas, Mrs. Nengi Oyeangocha the National Assistant Secretary Women in Nigeria (WIN) National, Watch the Niger Delta (WAND), Julius Ihonvbere, Sokari Ekineh the International Coordinator of NDWJ London, Francis Ebikefe Porbeni who read through to make corrections, Mrs. Tubodiegha Brisibe, Ekpos Waritmi, Emem J. Okon, Olga Galdkikh of the Coady International Institute St. Francis Xavier University Antigonish Nova Scotia Canada for listening to me rambling on about my concerns on female circumcision and giving me the necessary encouragement. Dr. Miriam Isoun of the Niger Delta Wetlands Center whose office this whole idea started from, Florence my colleague from Kenya at the Coady International Institute who shared the Kenyan experience with me. To all the women who gave their testimonies from both Rivers and Delta states in Nigeria.
Thank you all for your support. Annie A. Brisibe
Table of contents
The process of circumcision
The After Effects
Biographical compilation of Female genital Mutilation
Culture and tradition are the identity of a people, but with trade and development there has been a tremendous change in culture and customs. All over the world, people have come to realize that change is inevitable. Technological development has also contributed to the dynamic process of change.
Presently globalization and the word global village are the phrases that are catching on, with all governments both in developing and developed countries. One very positive impact of cross cultural relations has been in the aspect of learning about other countries cultures, and appreciating the beauty of what it represents. With this changes, globetrotting across the boundaries of countries cultures and customs in Africa are also benefiting from the exposure of other culture and customs.
Moat cultures and customs that are considered to be harmful both to men and women have been systematically eradicated, however some customs still exist that had not gained some awareness until recent times one of which is female circumcision. The campaign for female circumcision is very new, so therefore not much impact has been made in its eradication. It is a process that is gaining some fast grounds and gradually growing to take priority in matters of concern to governments both in Africa and in the West.
Though, FGM is a tradition, people are made to believe that it is done with an act of hatred to the young girls. NO! it is not. This is a stereotype that has been portrayed in most written works especially in the West. FGM is a tradition that parents carry out because they love their children and they don't want their children to be an object of mockery to the society. To be an uncircumsed female is to attrack ridicule form one's own commuity. The rationale in Ijaw communites behind FGM is to prevent young girls and later women from being promiscuous. In short FGM is an act of patriarchy that only benefits men. Unlike now, girls and boys traditionally married from their own ethnic nationalities and did not have to worry about what is acceptable or not acceptable in other traditions.
Female circumcision is an age old custom and it is common among cultures of more than 30 countries around the world, for whom the practice holds deep religious and traditional significance (Si-Kata, 1995).
FGM in various varieties of its forms is practiced in the Middle Eastern countries (the two Yemens, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Jordan, Syria, and Southern Algeria). In Africa it is practiced in the majority of the continent including Kenya, Nigeria, Mali, Upper Volta, Ivory Coast, Egypt, Mozambique, Ethopia, Somalia and Sudan. Even though FGM is practiced in mostly Islamic countries, it is not an exclusively Islamic practice. FGM is a cross-cultural and cross-religious ritual. In Africa and the Middle East it is performed by Muslims, Coptic Christians, members of various indigenous groups, Protestants, and Catholics, to name a few.
Though female circumcision is practiced all over the world. It is most prevalent in Africa, According to a report by the United States-Agency for International development's Intra-Agency working Group on Female genital cutting (FGC) it estimates that at least 40% of Nigerian women are victims of female genital cutting. In most African countries where female circumcision is practiced the reasons have nothing to do with inter-sexuality but more of traditional beliefs. Most girls have been circumcised not because they have prolonged clitoris or 'micro penis or because they have two sex organs but for the mere fact that tradition rules, and it must be obeyed.
Female circumcision has often been compared to male circumcision. However, such comparison is often misleading. Both practices include the removal of well- functioning parts of the genitalia. Both rituals also serve to perpetuate customs which seek to regulate and keep control over the body and sexuality of the individual. However, FGM is far more drastic and damaging than male circumcision. A more appropriate analogy in defining both process would be between clitoridectomy and penisdectomy where the entire penis is removed.
Bruce A Robinson, stated in his report, that through migration from Africa to the West, female circumcision became a practice. In the West genital surgery was done mainly because of irregularities in a child from birth. The focus was mainly on intersex infants.
Most physicians have recommended in the past that the ambiguous external genitals of intersex infants be carved up so that the child will grow up appearing to be a "normal" male or female. Some of the infants have an enlarged or protruding clitoris; others will be born with a "micropenis."
He continued that in about 90% of cases, intersex infants undergo genital surgery to make them appear as a "normal" female. One surgeon explained: "You can make a hole, but you can't build a pole." Surgery involves removal and remolding genital structures, and may involve the addition of parts taken from elsewhere on the body. Physicians now attempt to preserve structures that have concentrations of nerves, so that sexual feeling will remain. But they cannot guarantee that their patients will ever be able to have 'orgasms' in later life. Such care was not always done in the past.
Such care are still not done in the present. Interestingly Physicians have pointed out a fundamental implication of female circumcision which today due to customs and tradition will be regarded as 'promiscuous talk' and too sexually centered and that is the aspect of circumcised females not having an orgasm or having any sexual feeling.
A lot of other researchers have pointed out the health implications of female circumcision, which are as a result of both sexual and non sexual relationships. Health issues such as injury to adjacent tissues of the urethra, hemorrhage, pain, shock, acute urine retention, infection, and failure to heal. The long term health effects can include recurrent urinary tract infections, pelvic infections, infertility, keloid scars (cysts), damage to the urethra or anus, and problems during child birth, emotional instability, and psychological traumas.
The intersexual operations are usually performed shortly after birth, at the age of 6 weeks to 15 months. They are sometimes done later, during childhood or teen years. There is increasing opposition to these operations. Several activist and support groups have campaigned against genital mutilation of any kind both on females and on male children. They generally oppose genital surgery on intersexual people, particularly when it is done at an age where the individual cannot make an informed choice.
Interest tingly in Si-Kata's mission statement, Si-kata (Don't cut in Swahili) a coalition of individuals and organizations dedicated to the eradication of all forms of forced female genital mutilation (FGM) in the United States, stated that Worldwide, more than 100 million girls and women alive today are victims of some form of FGM. Sometimes euphemistically referred to as "Female Circumcision" (although it more closely resembles male castration than circumcision).
Si-Kata has clearly identified the main issue of psychological trauma which it stated that it more resembles male castration than circumcision and this report agrees very much with the statement.
I hope that this research helps relieve the pains, the emotional problems, the psychological traumas and the pressures faced by the women who have been victims of FGM.
FGM as the name implies is an acronym for the word Female Genital Mutilation which is popularly known as Female Circumcision. Female circumcision is said to be an age old tradition which started in Egypt some hundreds of year ago. Today, many countries in Africa practice female circumcision. In Nigeria, the history of female circumcision is not well known but historically, it is said to have existed some hundreds of years back.
In various cultures there are many "justifications" for these practices. A girl who is not circumcised is considered "unclean" by local villagers and therefore unmarriageable. A girl who does not have her clitoris removed is considered a great danger and ultimately fatal to a man if her clitoris touches his penis.
One of the most common explanations of FGM is local custom. Women are often heard saying that they are unwilling to change these customs since they have always done it this way and are not about to change. Oftentimes the practitioners are kept ignorant of the real implications of FGM, and the extreme health risks that it represents. Family honour, 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.
Some people believe that FGM is a barbaric practice done to girls and women in some remote villages in foreign countries of the world. However, up until a few decades ago, it was still believed that the clitoris is a very dangerous part of the female anatomy. Who can forget S. Freud who stated in one of his books entitled Sexuality and the Psychology of Love that the "elimination of clitoral sexuality is a necessary precondition for the development of femininity."
From the African perspective, the tradition is said to have evolved when men in the past wanted to protect their wives which were considered as properties. These men believed that sexual satisfaction was meant only for men and so women were meant to give that satisfaction only to their husbands.
According to the story told by my grandmother Ms Tubodiegha Brisibe in 1995, she said men always acted as heroes and wanted to be respected as such. This could be seen in the book Things Fall Apart written by Chinua Achebe where Okonkwo known as
Amangidon the cat was regarded as a hero and every one believed that his back could never touch the floor in a fight.
Men used to get into fights to win the hearts of women they were attracted to. The winner of a fight takes the woman as his bride. In this situation it didn't matter if the woman liked the man or not. She never had a choice. The choices were made by the men.
However, fathers wanted to protect their daughters as they considered purity as a very humble tradition that must be upheld. Girls were expected to be virgins during marriage. After a marriage ceremony, a white bed cloth is given to the husband and wife by the parents, which they use to spread on their bed and the first touch of sexual intercourse must reveal that the girl is a virgin. The white bed cloth must have the red blood stain of the girl which is shown to the public and a ceremony follows afterwards.
To avoid any form of promiscuity and embarrassment to family members, traditional elders in communities decided to look for ways to reduce the sexual appetite of women so they don't get involved in early sex with men.
The Process of Circumcision:
In the Niger Delta FGM is performed on young girls, between the ages of 2 weeks and 14 years. In most of the cases without their consent. These ranges from "clitoridectomy", the removal of the clitoris, to the more sever forms of "infibulation", in which all outer genital tissues -- the clitoris and labia minora -- are cut and scraped away, and the labia majora stitched shut or bound together with thorns, leaving only a small hole through which to pass urine and menses.
This year as every year, an estimated two million girls are candidates for genital mutilation: one child every five minutes. Of this shocking number, 15% will die as a direct result of this practice. Those who survive will suffer for years with chronic pain and infections, hemorrhaging, bladder, urinary and kidney disorders, extreme complications during pregnancy and sexual intercourse, and a loss of sexual sensitivity (Si-Kata, 1995)
The term FGM covers three main varieties of genital mutilation:
"Sunna" circumcision: Consists of the removal of the prepuce and/or the tip of the clitoris. Sunna in Arabic means "tradition".
2) Clitoridectomy (also referred to as excision): Consists of the removal of the entire clitoris (both prepuce and glands), and the removal of the adjacent labia.
Infibulation: (also referred to as pharaonic circumcision) This is the most extreme form, consists of the removal of the clitoris, the adjacent labia (majora and minora), and the joining of the scraped sides of the vulva across the vagina, where they are secured with thorns or sewn with catgut or thread. A small opening is kept to allow passage of urine and menstrual blood. An infibulated woman must be cut open to allow intercourse on the wedding night and is closed again afterwards to secure fidelity to the husband.
In some Ijaw communities in Delta and Bayelsa States, circumcision is done when the girl is about 4 years old and sometimes when she is an adult female. There have been cases where women have been circumcised during pregnancy.In another community in Obio-Akpor local government area of Rivers State, it was confirmed that infants are circumcised at ages as young as two weeks .
In a vivid case of female circumcision that I experienced as a child was in 1980. A group of young women ages ranging from 8 years to 16years were kept in a house where they were treated as maidens ready to undergo a special ritual. They were all young virgins, had never experienced sexual intercourse and did not even understand what they were about to pass through. (Annie you need to add the pain here!)
The girls were treated by both the male folks and the women folks with courtesy. The girls stayed together for about two days before the ritual started. A professional traditional birth attendant (a woman, TBA) appeared on the fourth day with her tools for the operation.
The house was always full o f men and women while children watched with curiosity at the young virgins. It was clear to me as a child that something very important was about to happen. Every day I stood outside to watch what was going to happen next, then on that faithful day it happened. The young girls were circumcised one after the other. There were more than twelve women in the house who held the girls down. One after the other, the traditional surgeon 'worked' on them.
FGM is mostly done in unsanitary conditions in which a midwife uses unclean sharp instruments such as razor blades, scissors, kitchen knives, and pieces of glass. 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. Antiseptic techniques and anesthesia are generally not used, or for that matter, heard of.
This is akin to a doctor who uses the same surgical instrument on a number of women at the same time without cleaning any of them.
Beyond the obvious initial pains of the operations, FGM has long-term physiological, sexual, and psychological effects. The unsanitary environment under which FGM takes place results in infections of the genital and surrounding areas and often results in the transmission of the HIV virus which can cause AIDS. Some of the other health consequences of FGM include primary fatalities as a result of shock, haemorrhage or septicaemia. In order to minimize the risk of the transmission of the viruses, some countries like Egypt made it illegal for FGM to be practiced by any other practitioners than trained doctors and nurses in hospitals. While this seems to be a more humane way to deal with FGM and try to reduce its health risks, more tissue is apt to be taken away due to the lack of struggle by the child if anaesthesia is used.
The girl is not given any form of anesthesia, the operation is done raw with her eyes open and her legs, hands held down by a few powerful women so she doesn't shake when the operation is on. In the case the operation was done in a home as it was always and still is in the present day. The cries of the girls during the injection of the labia minora was unbearable as the pains gushes through you the onlooker as if you are the one undergoing the process.
At the time the clitoris is been cut off the girl does not feel any pain anymore because the cells of the labia minora has been killed. The entire clitoris is sliced off. After the operation, they were all made to wear sanitary pads for about a week. They were not to take a bath in the first few days of the operation, this is to avoid water from touching the wounds so it can heal faster.
They were all catered for by 'chaperons' (their mothers, other relatives and friends of the family). They were washed with hand towels every morning and evenings and given special kinds of tradition meals. A situation and treatment that is very similar to the treatment of a pregnant women with complications who is at attendance at a traditional birth clinic you will understand the picture better.
The young girls obviously bled for about a week or more. They were not allowed to go out of the house. They were now considered 'real women.' The fathers of the girls were very exited about the ritual and the mothers were praised for a job well done. The parents were glowing with pride for being able to accomplish a part of their responsibility to their children as parents.
After the operation and the euphoria of the girls now initiated into womanhood, a traditional ceremony is organized in the village. The ceremony is to mark the arrival of young girls who are now women enough to be seen as women, treated as women and respected as women. The ceremony is so well planned and implemented that even the girls feel honoured and proud of their new status.
A group of young newly circumcised virgins are dressed in the traditional regalia. The girls tie wrappers on their chests and tie a one piece wrapper from their waste down. They do not wear blouses (only the piece of cloth covering their breasts). The ceremony starts in the evenings with the parents of the girls sitting as special guests, while they watch their children with lost of pride.
The girls are arranged on a straight line according to their heights and made to dance in a straight line as the life band plays on. The master of ceremony calls the names of the girls and their parent while the onlookers cheer and clap. The ceremony goes on till the next morning. After that the girls are welcomed into the realm of womanhood.
This situation to peculiar to Ijaw communities in Nigeria. The process might be slightly different in other parts of the country. It was also realized that some families carry out this act even when they live in urban areas as in the case of the young virgins mentioned above. Their families were all living in the cities.
During the process of undertaking this research, I new it was going to be difficult for the girls and women who have been victims to speak out. I was wondering what I would say to encourage a real story and not a made up story. It was very difficult for the women to speak. But they did. They realized it was important for them to speak out so the real pains and feelings of women that have been circumcised could be heard from their own stories.
Ms Angela (not real name) is a young woman of about 22 year of age. All the while the discussion of the issue was on, she was relatively quiet, never spoke a word and just listened. After the interviews she looked at me and said Annie I want to talk with you.
I did not realize what she was about to talk about until she started her story. This is Angela story: I have listened to you all day ask questions and interview people on how they feel as circumcised women and if they notice a difference in their health, sexual response and their general well being. The questions opened my heart to want to speak about my pains and frustrations. I realized that I never felt any form of sensitivity during sexual intercourse but I thought maybe it was the natural thing because I was circumcised at an early age.
I have had a couple of relationships in my life, very few but I am yet to understand what sexual satisfaction really is. I felt like a castrated male every time a man touched me. I was dead to male touches. I didn't feel a thing. Sex started becoming a pain to me because I always felt used after every sexual intimacy that I had.
In 1999, I had this urge to try having an intimate contact with a female, it wasn't something that I planned for really it just happened. It was more convenient for me because I felt more secure with a woman and decided to stay that way. I don't know what to do. Its such a shame for me to tell any one this story and I am telling it to you because the organization has decided to take steps towards fighting for the eradication of female circumcision. I don't know if I will get married, if I do I want to marry a man who really understands the pains of FGM, what I am going through and how we can help each other .
The case is no different with a 46 year old woman politician who is a past councillor of one of the local government areas in Rivers State. She explained to the team what it feels like to be married. She was circumcised as an infant, got married and now has four children. Though it took her time to explain to us what it feels like to be circumcised and the feelings she gets now in her marriage.
She said ' Sometimes I don't feel like having sex with my husband and because I don't want to offend him I don't say. It is never pleasurable. I have stayed six months without having sex and I didn't feel it, not even the urge to.' But as long as I am married that could lead to a problem between me and my husband. I also noticed that during childbirth, I had a few complications, I am yet to understand what really caused it.
Another woman we visited in another community told us that she has been circumcised and she has also circumcised her little girl whom she called out to show to us. She said 'Ada is only 5 years old, but I circumcised her when she was two weeks old. It is a tradition that we must follow because it helps to curb the sexual promiscuity of a child. I don't want my child to be promiscuous so I have to follow tradition. For me I am still living though as other women would feel, it is not normal to be circumcised because you are like a dead wood and there are so many other medical complications that result due to the practice.'
A woman activist, the team interviewed said though she was circumcised, but she will never allow her female children to be circumcised. She said 'the practice is inhuman and criminal. Why should a woman be the one to be deprived of sexual satisfaction when they are even the less promiscuous ones because of the culture. Women are treated unfairly by tradition and most families are being greedy about the practice because they make so much money from it during the ceremony.
In Obagi and Erema communities in River State she said, a boy would have to pay for the circumcised girl. It is considered a traditional pride. It is only then that the whole community appreciates the girl and the family. The boy is praised for choosing a woman. There is a negotiation of the amount of money the groom is expected to pay on the circumcised bride.
In another story by a renowned female activist from Delta State, she was very passionate about her situation and spoke with so much emotion. In the course of the interview she cried a couple of times and said this is the most embarrassing moment in my life. I never knew that I would have to speak about my experience as a circumcised woman. It is very painful and to tell you the truth, I don't feel happy about it at all. The thoughts are unhappy thoughts for me and I have never spoken about it before.
I was circumcised at the age of 8. I didn't even know what was happening to me because my older sisters were also being circumcised at the same time. I was a young virgin so also were my older sisters. I did not realize what had happened to me until I turned 17 when I had my first boyfriend. My first relationship was a mess. You know girls always dream of their first love, in my case it had no spice, it was empty. I also realized that I always had severe menstrual pains, my mother always wondered why her female children had such painful menstrual pains (a situation which could or could not have been as a result of my being circumcised). I also realized as I grew older, that something was wrong with me. It took me so much courage to think of how I could ever experience an orgasm. I didn't think I could ever experience it, it never really happened in my relationships. I had female friends in the university speak about the joy of sexuality. I didn't even know what it meant because I had never experienced it. I couldn't ask. I did not have the courage to. I was so ashamed.
I kept wondering what was wrong with me, the answers were no where. There was this day at school, I asked a girl friend what she thought was the most sensitive part of a woman and she said the clitoris. Then I asked what next? She said the nipples. Then I asked again what if the woman had no clitoris, that sounded like an unreasonable thing for me to say. She then said how can a woman not have a clitoris? That was when I realized that she was not aware of female circumcision. I couldn't bring myself to tell her as I was afraid she would think I was not normal.
Then one very faithful day, I went to visit a cousin of mine whom I asked if she was circumcised and she said yes. It was hard for her to say at first as she asked me in return if I have been circumcised also and I said yes. I pleaded with her to help me out with these questions that have been troubling my mind for so long. I said how do you feel in all ramifications as a circumcised woman and she asked me what I meant.
I was a little bit embarrassed now to say the things I wanted to say. I braved up myself and I asked have you ever had an orgasm? She said no and I said me too. We spoke at length about the issue. She was even involved in an act that was generally unacceptable by people and the society as a whole. She was into the act of masturbation.
Though, we are all adults, the psychological traumas and the myths involved in speaking about sex keeps us away from talking about this very important aspect of circumcision. It makes women loose confidence in themselves and it creates a very dissatisfied feeling of low self esteem especially in a relationship.
Some of these confessions were very hard to listen to as some of the women wept while they told their stories. They are afraid of what society will think of them. What use to be considered prestigious in some cultures and customs is perceived as a taboo in other cultures. The condemnation is one aspect that discourages victims of this brutal act camouflaged as culture not to talk of their experiences.
The After Effects:
Some paediatricians defend the practice of infant genital surgery. Dr. Anthony A. Caldamone, head of paediatric urology at Hasbro Children's Hospital in Providence, RI said: "I don't think it's an option for nothing to be done. I don't think parents can be told, this is a normal girl, and then have to be faced with what looks like an enlarged clitoris, or a penis, every time they change the diaper. We try to normalize the genitals to the gender to reduce psychosocial and functional problems later in life."
Dr. Justine M. Schober, a paediatric urologist at Hamot Medical Center in Erie, Pa. has said "The truth is, genital surgery is being done, but we don't know what the outcome of it is, sexually or otherwise. We don't have any long-term studies." David Thomas, a paediatric urologist at St. James's University Hospital and Infirmary in Leeds, UK conducted a scouting study. It involved only about a dozen intersexual individuals aged 11 to 15 who had been subjected to genital surgery. Results were not encouraging. 6 Dr. Thomas reports: "Every girl required some additional vaginal surgery...The results are indifferent and frankly disappointing."
Long-term complications include sexual frigidity, genital malformation, delayed menarche, chronic pelvic complications, recurrent urinary retention and infection, and an entire range of obstetric complications whereas the foetus is exposed to a range of infectious diseases as well as facing the risk of having his or her head crushed in the damaged birth canal. In such cases the infibulated mother must undergo another operation whereby she is "opened" further to insure the safe birthing of her child. The process is quite crude with no sterilizer to sterilize the needles and blades that were used on the young women. The traditional surgeon firstly takes out a broad looking injection like object and pierces it through the labia minora of the vagina. The intention is to kill the cells of the labia minora. After that she takes out a new blade and cuts off the clitoris. Chapter Four:
The World Health Organization had a conference in February 1979 in Khartoum, Sudan, and unanimously condemned the mutilations as disastrous to women's health and as indefensible on medical as well as humane grounds.
In the United States, Rep. Pat Schroeder has written a bill to prohibit female genital mutilation (FGM), H.R. 3247. Legislation against FGM can be counter-productive in some cases. It might force the practice deeply underground. Women may not seek medical care later in life because their parents might be charged. The operation can be life threatening if performed by untrained individuals; if the operation is botched, the parents may be reluctant to take the child to a hospital out of fear of being criminally charged with child abuse. On the other hand, it does indicate that the government has taken a stand against FGM. This, and potential penalties, may well cause some parents to decide against having their daughter(s) mutilated.
In the some countries in the West, such as in Britain, Canada, France, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States the procedure is outlawed. According to the report, it stated that It took over 20 years of personal effort by Representative Patricia Schroeder (D-CO) saw a US federal bill, "Federal Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act of 1995" passed in 1996-SEP. The bill had been introduced by Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada). The law provides for prison sentences of up to 5 years for anyone who "circumcises, excises, or infibulates the whole or any part of the labia majora or labia minora or clitoris of another person who has not attained the age of 18."
In Nigeria,some states such as Bayelsa state and Edo state, assembly members have passed bills to ban female circumcision. In Bayelsa state the only female house member Mrs. Vivian Ere- Imananagha representing the Southern Ijaw 1 and the deputy/chief whip of the house sponsored a bill for the eradication of female circumcision in early 2000. She was said to have been jeered and laughed at by the all male dominated house members. She was so embarrassed that the speaker of the house Mr. Heineken Lokpobiri rose to her safety. Out of sympathy, the speaker proposed that a well grounded and experienced professional in women issued would be invited to speak on the issue of female circumcision to the house members before there will be a vote on the bill.
Accordingly, Dr. Ayibaemi Spiff a lecturer in the chemistry department from the university of Port Harcourt was invited to speak on the issue. She attended the session and spoke on the implications of female circumcision. At the end of the speech, the speaker proposed that the bill be revisited and a vote should be made on the bill. The house which has a total of twenty four house members was halved after the vote. The bill had hope, because more members of the house who would have voted against a bill reorganized their thoughts after the speech by Dr. Ayibaemi Spiff.
In Edo state the bill was passed in the year 2000 and it became a law that no one must practice the act of female circumcision in the states. In March 2001, a female senator sponsored a bill for the eradication of female circumcision, the bill is still been discussed.
US representatives to the World Bank and similar financial institutions are required to oppose loans to countries where FGM is prevalent and in which there are no anti-FGM educational programs. The law took effect on 1997 MAR-30. FGM has also been criminalized at the state level in California, Minnesota, North Dakota, Rhode Island, and Tennessee. At least one FGM assistance, education and support group is operating in the U.S. among immigrants from countries that practice FGM.
Section 273.3 of the Canadian Criminal Code protects children who are ordinarily resident in Canada, (as citizens or landed migrants) from being removed from the country and subjected to FGM. In the US and Canada, the very small percentage of Muslims who wish to continue the practice often find it impossible to find a doctor who will cooperate. The operation may then be done illegally in the home by poorly trained persons, under less than sterile conditions.
Though, the practice is outlawed in the Western countries, Dr. Terry Dunn, director of a women's clinic in Denver city commented: "I know of one patient where it was clear it was performed in this country." About 4 mutilation cases are seen each year at the clinic.
As recently as 1979, the "Love Surgery" was performed on women in the United States. Dr. James E. Burt, the so-called Love Surgeon, introduced "clitoral relocation" (i.e. sunna circumcision) to the medical establishment. He believed and acted upon the idea that excision does not prevent sexual pleasure but enhances it. Dr. Burt practiced in Ohio for almost ten years before he was exposed after which he gave up his license.
The United Nations, acknowledging each individual's fundamental and inherent human right to an intact body, has made urgent appeals asking that all nations ban this practice. There hasn't been any charges against parents who circumcised their children in Nigeria. The practice has been seen more as a traditional way of life. Till date in some parts of the country the practice is still very much on and well celebrated.
On 1999-FEB-3, Hawa Greou went on trial in France on charges of "voluntarily bodily injury causing mutilation or permanent disability." She is alleged to having mutilated the genitals of about 50 young girls. (Some sources say 48) Also charged were 27 parents of the victims. The case was triggered by a complaint by a woman of Malian origin, Mariatou Koita. Both she and her sister were allegedly mutilated by Greou. Jean Chavais, the defendant's lawyer, admits that the mutilations were carried out.
He said : "If the trial can help bring about an end to this custom, then it will be useful. But punishment is not as effective as education and prevention...This is an African custom that has existed for centuries. It takes a long time to change habits." Ms. Greou, known among the Malian community in Paris as "Mama Greou" had received a one year suspended sentence in 1994 for excising two girls. This time, she was given an 8 year jail sentence. Parents received sentences ranging from a 3 year suspended sentence to 2 years in prison.
"States parties shall take all appropriate measures……to modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women,….to achieve ..the elimination of prejudices and customary practices which are based on the idea of ..inferiority or superiority of either of the sexes or on stereotyped roles for men and women; to ensure that family education includes a proper understanding of maternity as a social function and the recognition of the common responsibility of men and women in the upbringing and development of their children….States Parties shall…..suppress all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of prostitutes of women."
-------CEDAW, Arts. 5 and 6
Female circumcision has become a matter of international concern, particularly with respect to the health of the woman, gender equity, and human rights. Because of the large number of cases of FGM and some of the deaths it has caused, FGM is now outlawed in some European countries (Britain, France, Sweden, and Switzerland) and some African countries (Egypt, Kenya, Senegal) and in some states in Nigeria.
The international conference on population and development in 1994 and the fourth world conference on women in Beijing China in 1995 made strong statements on the need to combat violence against women, including female circumcision and called on governments all over the world to adopt policies to prohibit female circumcision and to support states and local communities to eliminate the practice.
According to Nathalie Angier she wrote: "The debate raises difficult questions about who has the right to decide what ranks as aesthetically acceptable genitalia, whose interests are being served by surgical intervention and whether one's sexual identity is so entwined with the appearance of one's genitals that it is worth subjecting infants to a major operation to assure visual concordance between one and the other.
The Federal Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act does permit genital surgery if it is "necessary to the health of the person on whom it is performed." Activists are now trying to modify the law, so that it cannot be performed without the informed consent of the individual. Cheryl Chase, founder of the Intersex Society of North America commented: "Africans have their cultural reasons for trimming girls' clitorises, and we have our cultural reasons for trimming girls' clitorises. It's a lot easier to see what's irrational in another culture than it is to see it in our own."
With regard to the proposed change in the law, she commented: "That would break the paediatricians' argument that they do this to prevent psychological and mental trauma for the child...We don't expect this to be finished up in six months, but we're not going to go away, and we have more passion than they do."
Though Chase's argument on cultural difference on reasons why girls clitoris are trimmed, in Africa and in West is very valid it also shows the barbaric nature in both cultures how women are treated. The act of trimming girls clitoris in Africa is no different from the act of trimming girls clitoris in Europe. The end result is the same for both the African female and the Western female. They undergo the same psychological pains and traumas and they loose their womanhood for ever.
In light of her argument, I have come to realize that most Westerners are not even aware of the tradition in their own society. It is an act that damages a woman and must be made known to all both in the West and in the South.
PRIVATEAccording to a report on Female & intersexual genital mutilation in North America & Europe, it stated that "This is an invasive procedure that is usually performed on girls before puberty. It is occasionally performed within Aboriginal, Christian and Muslim families who have emigrated to the US or Canada from some Muslim countries where it is practiced as a social tradition. It is also done at birth to some "inter-sex" infants for what are seen by some as medical reasons".
The report also indicated that the operation is occasionally performed on children of immigrants from some Muslim countries. It is seen by some of its supporters as a religious duty, social custom, and/or a necessary operation for health reasons. It is criticized by those in opposition as a cruel mutilation of a young girl in order to reduce her sexual response after puberty.
It is important to note that even though FGM is currently illegal in many countries in Africa and the Middle East, this has not reduced the number of the girls that are mutilated every year. The governments of these countries have no way of monitoring the spread and practice of FGM. The United Nations, UNICEF, and the World Health Organization has considered FGM to be a violation of Human Rights and have made recommendations to eradicate this practice.
The act of female circumcision is an act of the violation of the rights of the girl whether it was carried out as a cultural practice or carried out for operation correction reasons. This is because it is done without the consent of the girl. On the other hand who says female circumcision is a practice that was initiated and accepted by women themselves?. Chapter Five
Women of participating cultures are often shocked to find that this practice is not common in all countries, for it is so deeply rooted in their tradition that they believe it to be a universal right of passage. Because of the complexity of this issue, FGM must be addressed with the utmost cultural sensitivity, respect and integrity.
The USAID Intra-Agency Working Group on Female Genital Circumcision report indicated that between 100 million and 180 million women around the world have undergone female genital cutting and that some 600 girls are at risk everyday. There have been stories of girls bleeding to death after the surgery . There have also been reports of serious health implications, with short term complications such as injury to adjacent tissues of the urethra, haemorrhage, pain, shock, acute urine retention, infection, and failure to heal.
The long term health effects can include recurrent urinary tract infections, pelvic infections, infertility, keloid scars (cysts), damage to the urethra or anus, and problems during child birth, emotional instability, and psychological traumas.
Though there had been discussions on the issue of female circumcision, not much has been done in creating awareness on the issue. Public education is one aspect of creating wide spread awareness on female circumcision Activists campaigning for the eradication of female circumcision have not spent enough time pushing for policies that will not only be enforced but must trickle down to the awareness of the major players who are the elders especially the men at the local communities. Policies implemented at the state and federal levels of government must also be implemented and enforced in the local level of government. The local government which is closer to the grassroots coordinates with local leaders and develop programs that will lead to the education of the stakeholders on the impact of female circumcision on both the women and the community as a whole.
One reason why the local government and the traditional institution must work together is because even if the policies and made into law in the constitution, the local communities are not aware because majority of the people don't even have an idea of what government does or the laws of the country. A growing number of individuals, organizations and governments are coming forward in opposition to FGM, but efforts are fragmented, limited in resources, and lack focus. The Niger delta Women for Justice Project is aimed at exposing the crimes of FGM and acting as an advocacy medium in which individuals, groups, organizations, government and other interest groups can use as a resource for their campaign against the act.
In addition,the Niger Delta Women for Justice project is seeking support from the many grassroots, governmental, legal and medical organizations already doing work in Nigeria. in the areas of children's health, women's advocacy and human rights.
The myths and the cast out has been the stumbling block for most circumcised women in other words they prefer to keep silent over the issue. Trying to fight FGM on legal terms could be ineffective since those who practice it oftentimes do not report it. FGM is also widely practiced in villages and remote places where the government does not have an easy access or even if they do most local governments are governed by people from the same background that are oftentimes men.
A better and more effective approach would be in dealing with it could be:
· A cooperation on the national level as well as the international level.
· The UN and the WHO have already taken the first step in abolishing these practices. Countries also need to have rigid laws that deal with FGM cases.
· Anthropologists, educators, social scientists, and activists have to go into these villages and areas and educate the practitioners of the dangers of FGM.
· Female Genital Mutilation can only be abolished by a grassroots approach which would take into consideration all aspects of a particular culture and try to work within that system of beliefs to eradicate this no less than torturous practice.
· Churches and other religious institutions could use its medium as a an advocacy route to educate its members.
· To avoid community elders and traditionalists from reacting to the eradication, there should be wide spread education of the issue to both men and women. Local governments must also educate the people on government stands on the issue if any one violates the law. Approaches:
On the United States level, there are many efforts that are being made in order to abolish the practice locally and internationally.
· The National Organization of Circumcision Information Resource Centers (NOCIRC), a networking organization brought together social scientists and medical practitioners from all over the world who are fighting FGM as well as male circumcision.
· The Washington Metro Alliance Against Female Genital Mutilation in Washington DC has also been targeting FGM risk groups, and provides peer education for African Women by African women in WA Metro Community and interfaces with western health care providers and policy makers.
· In addition Si-Kata has begun efforts to bring together the efforts of researchers and organizers around the United States in the hopes of exposing this practice on a national level as well as changing policies. (Si-Kata's website)
On the National Level:
· Congresswoman Patricia Shroeder introduced H.R. 3247, a bill to outlaw FGM in the United States in the fall of 1994. The bill was then combined with The Minority Health Initiatives Act, H.R.3864. This bill was then combined with H.R. 941 on February 14, 1995 which was to be cited as the "Federal Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation of 1995." At the present, this bill has not been approved.
· In Nigeria, the legislative process is very slow. As much as the country exhibits some civility in its actions, it is still a very traditional society which is male dominated. Female house members, politicians and activists are working very hard to see that the law favours the eradication of female genital mutilation. But most of all, the tradition which is a core religious issue in Northern Nigeria needs tireless education in the North. However its is a stepping, stone to establishing more concrete more concrete policies
Some overdue effort is being made to abolish FGM, but there is still much work to be done. Education is a very ideal strategy in creating awareness on this issue. Education of ourselves, as well as of others is a way that we can begin acting upon the convictions that human rights should not be violated, and that violence against women is intolerable. Many people are still unaware that practices such as FGM are still widely practiced, and only an awareness can bring this inhumane practice to a halt.
Compiled Biography for Female Genital Mutilation BOOKS-
"Warrior Marks" by Walker/Parmar (That is Alice Walker who wrote "The Color Purple" and "Possesing the Secret Joy". "The Circumcision of Women: A Strategy for Eradication by Koso-Thomas. Bryk, Felix. Circumcision in Man and Woman: Its History, Psychology and Ethnology. New York: AMS Press INC, 1974. Fillingham, Lydia Alix. Foucault For Beginners. New York: Writers and Readers Publishing Inc, 1993. -Foster, Charles. "On the trial of a taboo: Female circumcision in the Islamic world." Contemporary Review. Vol. 264 p 244 (1994)
-Hicks, Easther K. Hicks. Infibulation: Female Mutilation in Islamic Northeastern Africa. New Brunswick: Tansaction Publishers, 1993.
· -Lingis, Alphonso. Excesses: Eros and Culture. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1983.
· -McLean, Scilla, and Stella Efu Graham, ed. Female Circumcision, Excision, and Infibulation: The facts and proposals. London: Minority Rights Group, 1980.
· -Moen, Elizabeth Williams. Genital Mutilation: Everywoman's Problem. Michigan: Michigan State University, 1983.
· -Toubia, Nahid. "Femal Circumcision as a Public Health Issue." The New England Journal of Medicine Vol. 331 p 712 (1994).
· Simons, Marlise, "France Jails Woman for Daughters' Circumcision". New York Times. 11 January 1993: A 8:4
· -"World Trouble Spots: Africa." Time 08 November 1990.
· WOMBS AND ALIEN SPIRITS- Women, Men and the ZAR Cult in Northern Sudan by Janice Boddy, U of Wisconsin press, 1989.
· Atlanta Circumcision Information Center David J. Llewellyn, Director 2 Putnam Drive, N.W. Atlanta, GA 30342
· Betsy Konefal et al; A Human Rights Resource Packet (p.47)
· Bruce A Robinson; (1998 to 2000) Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance: Originally published: 1998 MAR-16
· Congresswoman Patricia Shroeder (202)225-4431
· Interview with Ms Tubodeigha Brisibe (1996)
· Interview with Ms Angela of the Niger Delta Women for Justice
· Interview with Emem J Okon, of Women In Nigeria (WIN) Rivers State Branch
· National Organization of Circumcision Information Resource Centers (NOCIRC) P.O.Box 2512 San Anselmo, CA 94979-2512 (415)488-9883
· Si-Kata website : 1995, http://hamp.hampshire.edu/~mnbF94/clitorectomy.html
· Si-Kata P.O.Box 204 Venice, CA 90294 (310) 314-4833
· Vanguard newspaper: (March 2001)
· Special Projects Fund, Population Action International 19th St, NW Suite 550 Washington, DC 20003
· The Washington Metro Alliance Against Female Genital Mutilation Catherine Hogan, MS 17700 New Hampshire Ave. Ashton, MD 20861 (301)774-4456
· Women's International Network News Fran Hosken 187 Grant Street Lexington, MA 02173 (617)862-9431
· "Warrior Marks" by Alice Walker:
· "Rites": A documentary film by the American Anthropological Association (AAA)
· "Possessing the Secret of Joy" by Alice Walker. This is a novel which explores the traumas that a woman faces after undergoing FGM.
· "Prisoners of Ritual" by Hanny Lightfoot-Klein.
· "The Hosken Report" by Fran Hosken.