Much of what I write is based of of things I see or hear in every day life. It should go without saying, then, that many of these topics are based on American life and American issues. I’m not blind when it comes to world wide issues, though – especially when it comes to women. Western society is not above criticism when it comes to gender equality, but women in other countries often face far greater problems than I ever will in suburban America. Nothing details this quite more clearly than FGM.
I’m often surprised when people don’t know what FGM means. I don’t know if it’s my education in human rights or my interest in feminism, but FGM is a common term to me. It stands for female genital mutilation and is the act of marring a woman’s healthy genital area. The modification is usually based on some kind of cultural or religious belief. There are some cultures who believe a woman’s clitoris will grow into a penis if not cut off, making the act more about defining gender than anything else.
The actual act ranges from a simple prick to the clitoris to near complete removal of the outer sexual organ. Often called Type 3 FGM, this form involves the removal of the clitoris and labia minora. The labia majora are then sown together, leaving only a small hole to allow menstruation to pass through. The procedure is usually done on older girls and performed with whatever is at hand, such as a piece of glass. There is no anesthesia, no antibiotics. It goes without saying that a number of women needlessly die from complications to the procedure.
Luckily, type 3 isn’t performed as much as other forms. Still, it’s a gruesome practice which should be erased from the modern era. That’s an opinion I hold today and it’s an opinion I held when I wrote my senior thesis on the subject. However, as I did my research, the conclusion I reached for the immediate future was not to eradicate the practice, but to sterilize it and promote lesser forms.
In my research, I read about communities where NGOs had been successful in replacing FGM with ceremonies or celebrations celebrating a coming of age for girls. I also saw a number of cases where people had tried to compromise only to be met with failure. For example, there was a news story years back (I’m not even sure it made waves) where an immigrant couple from the Sudan living in America went to a doctor requesting the procedure be performed on their daughters. They told him they would send their daughters to the Sudan if they had to, where the procedure would be done without sterilization or anesthesia. He talked them down to a simple prick of the clitoris – just enough to draw blood. They agreed, but then the law got involved. The doctor retracted his offer. The story ends there, but chances are those girls were sent to have the procedure done elsewhere.
It was stories like these that proved to me there must be some kind of transition. We can’t just waltz into these other countries with our Western-based ideas about equality and human rights expecting to be taken seriously. Cultures can be respected and criticized at the same time. We can acknowledge and respect their way of life, their religion and anything else important to them while still frowning upon clear human rights abuses.
In most cases FGM is something not only performed on women, but by women. Whether or not a woman has had the procedure may determine whether or not she will be married. In cultures where a woman’s value is based on her husband and/or the children she bares, this is a huge motivating factor. Parents may not want to subject their daughters to FGM, but the alternative of being ostracized from their community may be even worse.
In my research, I stumbled upon a pilot program aimed at reducing AIDs. The program involved giving out clean needles for free to drug users in the streets. The program was rather successful in its objective, although some scoffed it promoted drug use (an opinion I disagree with).
Likewise, I proposed allowing trained doctors, in sterile environments with anesthesia and antibiotics at hand to perform certain forms of FGM. Before performing the procedure, parents and girls would be given some form of education, perhaps a pamphlet, explaining all the risks involved and promoting other ways to celebrate femininity. Maybe all they would do is choose a lesser form of FGM, but that’s still change. There’s still an understanding being developed that the procedure is unnecessary and wrong.
Such action would be step one, with the end goal being complete eradication of the procedure. There are so many other factors at hand when it comes to FGM. Would the procedure still be performed if women could be successful in their culture without being married?
Every fiber of my being wants to stand up and declare the horrors of FGM, to insist all its forms be ceased immediately and left to the history books. I understand the slow pace of culture, though. FGM won’t disappear overnight. It won’t disappear with UN declarations, treaties or laws just as dowries, outlawed in India, have not stopped dowries from existence in the country. People in that culture must be convinced the procedure is unnecessary and wrong. Such thinking will probably come along with the furthering of all women’s rights.
What do you think should be done to rid the world of FGM? How do we get people involved in these cultures to listen? Do you think the progression of global human rights might be hindered by the way Western societies push their way of life as the only ‘modern’ way to live?