By Joanna Abaraoha
Female genital mutilation is a prime example of violence against women and is a visible manifestation of the inequalities women face in the areas of the world where this practice is upheld. Female genital mutilation is practiced in western, eastern and north-eastern regions of Africa in countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Mali, Egypt, Ghana, Nigeria and many more.
Female genital mutilation is classified into 4 major types: Clitoridectomy (Type 1), Excision (Type 2), Infibulation (Type 3) and Type 4. Clitoridectomy is the partial or total removal of the clitoris. Excision is the partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora (inner folds of the vulva) sometimes including the excision of the labia majora (outer folds of the vulva). Infibulation is the narrowing of the vaginal opening by creating a seal. This seal is created by cutting and reposition the labia minora or labia majora. Type 4 is the net that catches all other harmful procedures that happen to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes which does not fit into the first three categories.
You may be wondering why this practice of discrimination, cruel torture and degradation, which has no health benefits and is not associated with any specific religious beliefs is allowed to be perpetuated against women and girls in 29 countries across the continent of Africa.
If you are asking this question, good for you.
But unfortunately I don’t have a clear cut answer for you.
In several cases FGM it is like a social contract; as a mother you might not want your daughter to experience this but she would be an outcast if she remained uncircumcised. It has been practiced for so long it is seen as an irreplaceable aspect of the culture of a people. It is not understood to be torture but to be beneficial to women even though every woman in the village who has gone through this knows that when you pee it feels like an “open wound rubbed with salt of hot chilli.”
In several other cases, such as the one seen through the character of Genet in Cutting for Stone by Dr. Abraham Verghese, it is a practice used to curb the sexuality of women and girls because of course women are not supposed to be sexual beings, just sexual objects right?
If you are wondering if this can be stopped and what can be done to protect our women and girls then again I say, good for you.
Nigeria, which has the highest number of FGM worldwide, made history on May 5th 2015 by passing the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act effectively outlawing FGM. Countries where this practice runs rampant should follow suit and have similar legislation passed in order to make this practice illegal. We should also realize that this legislature will not work very well. A law passed in the capital will not protect a young girl in an outlying village. This is exactly the case in Tanzania where girls are often forced to undergo FGM even though it is illegal.
The next part to this solution is education. If village elders and leaders are educated on the reality of the practice they are promoting they will stop it of their own volition. If we educate ourselves and make it our business to educate those around about these issues problem solving conversations will be had on an international scale. We cannot solve a problem if we do not know of its existence.