The Cruellest Cut
In some parts of Africa, the clitoris it’s believed is poisonous. A baby, its thought will die if it comes into contract with its mother clitoris during birth and even a man can sicken or die if his penis touches it.
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a procedure that is performed on girls before they reach puberty and sometimes on women after marriage and/or childbirth, in some parts of Africa, FGM is delayed until two months before a woman gives birth. This practice is based on the believe that the baby will die if it comes into contact with its mother’s clitoris during birth. Although there has not been any medical evidence to support this belief. Some girls undergo the procedure alone, but more often the mutilation is done in group i.e. sisters, close relative or neighbours.
The most severe form is infibulation. It is believed that an estimated 15% of all mutilation in Africa is infubulation. The procedure consist of clitoridectomy (where the entire clitoris is removed), excision (removal of all, or part of the labia minora) and cutting of the labia minora to create a raw surface which are then stitched together in order to form a cover over the vagina when they heal. A small opening is left to allow menstrual blood and urine to pass. FGM is widely practiced in Africa, where it originated, it was and remains, a cultural, not a religious practice. It usually happens in small villages where they are isolated and without any contact from the outside world, often in places where it is male dominated and men wanting to take control of women inside and outside of marriage.
Usually mothers request the ritual genital procedure for their daughter as they believe that it will promote their daughter integration into their culture, protect their virginity and thereby guarantee their desirability as a marriage partner. The girls alone are unable to give their consent on the matter and, if the parents refuse for the girl to be circumcised, the girl is kidnapped and has the procedure forced on them either by relatives or community members.
The procedure can be carried out in a girl’s home, a hut or a heath centre. It is mostly practiced in a hut, although those who are financially better often request the procedure to be done in a health centre. In severe cases, the girl is taken to a dark hut, blindfolded and ordered to strip naked. Once naked, the girl is pinned to the floor, with usually three women holding her down. One sits on her chest to prevent her body from moving, the other two hold her arms and legs. Sometimes a cloth is put over the girl’s mouth to stop her screaming and the operation takes place. Part or the entire clitoris is surgically removed. Because of poverty and lack of medical facilities, the procedure is frequently done under less than hygienic conditions, and often without anaesthetic.
On the odd occasion the girl is told to sit in cold water in order to numb the area before the operation is to be performed. Razor blades, knives or scissors are usually the instruments used and after each operation the instruments used are simply wiped with a piece of cloth, sometimes rinsed first with water before used again on another girl. The use of the same instrument on several girls without sterilisation can cause the spread of HIV and other known medical conditions.
In the worst cases, after the operation is performed and if the husband goes away for a while, the woman is sewn up and when he returns, she is opened up again and so on. This is done to stop the woman being unfaithful and also for the husband to keep an eye on his wife.
After circumcision, the female legs are lashed together for 1 – 6 weeks while she heals. Any sort of drinking liquid is refused to discourage urination. She is sewn almost completely shut, leaving an inadequate opening for the passage of urine and menstrual blood. FGM is not only the beginning of a woman’s suffering but also of a lifetimeof endless labour, early arranged marriages often to older men and few basic rights. After circumcision, the girl is officially considered to be a woman. The side affects resulting from the operation includes; shock, painful scars (both internal and external), fibrosis, difficulty during childbirth and lack of sexual pleasure. FGM is performed mainly to reduce feelings of sexual desire in women so that they cannot get involved with anyone else other than their husbands. Women who have not been circumcised living in countries where FGM is done often have difficulty in finding a man or getting married because they are considered to be impure and more likely to be unfaithful.
The importance given to virginity and an intact hymen in these societies is the reason why female circumcision still remains a widespread practice. Behind circumcision lies the believe that, by removing parts of girls external genital organ, sexual desire is minimised. This permits a female who has reached the dangerous age of puberty and adolescence to protect her virginity and therefore her honour with great ease. Similarly female circumcision is meant to preserve the purity of young girls by reducing their desire for sexual intercourse.