The Pulse

Of Female Genital Mutilation

Ashenafi Zedebub

Many researches show millions have undergone the so called “Female Genital Mutilation” around the globe. By the way, what is “Female Genital Mutilation”? The word “mutilation” by itself had its own controversy prior to its familiarization with the public.

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is – by definition – the cutting or partial or total removal of the external female genitalia either for cultural or religious or other non-medical reasons. Such mutilation is said to be usually performed on girls between the ages of 4 and 10. There are also people still using its “original identification”- i.e. “female circumcision.” However, here I prefer to stick to the internationally accepted word “mutilation” or rather “FGM” in short as to join the majority.

As one research indicated, “FGM results in the cutting or removal of the tissues around the vagina that give women pleasurable sexual feelings.” In its most extreme form, the female’s genital part is sewn shut in order to “ensure virginity.” In some cultures where FGM has been a tradition for hundreds of years, families fear that if their daughters are left without circumcision, they may not at all be marriageable. As in most cultures – including my native country Ethiopia – there is also the fear that an uncircumcised girl might bring shame to the family by being sexually active and becoming pregnant prior to her marriage.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that between 100 million and 140 million girls and women have undergone FGM in one form or the other. As a very deeply rooted cultural and religious tradition still practiced in over 28 countries of Africa and Asia, up to 2 million girls are reportedly at risk annually. The highest number of occurrences of FGM is in Guinea (99%), Djibouti (98%), Egypt (97%), Eritrea (95%), Mali (94%), but Somalia at the top (98 -100%).

As more and more people move to countries of the western world from countries where FGM is widely performed, the practice has reportedly come to the attention of health professionals in the USA, Canada, Australia and Europe. Studies suggest some immigrant families have, in an effort to integrate their old customs with modern medical care, requested physicians in the west to perform FGM. While trying to be rather “sensitive to cultural traditions “, health care providers are said to find themselves sometimes  in quite difficult position of “choosing to perform such procedure in a medical facility under sanitary conditions, or refusing the request, knowing that it may be done anyway with no medical supervision.”

It is illegal to perform FGM in many countries including the USA, Canada, France, UK, Sweden, Switzerland, Egypt, Kenya, and Senegal.

There is no green light to FGM in today’s Ethiopia either. However, it is doubtful whether adequate work has been done as to make the public aware of the risks – the  most severe consequence that follow the procedure being  death due to excessive blood loss. It is also worth mentioning that sexual intercourse could be painful in addition to the mere loss of pleasure in having it.

I think awareness must be done in Ethiopia as it has once been done to raise awareness on HIV/AIDS in our society. At that time people like Zewdu came out in the open and declared publicly. Government officials, parliamentarians, men and women of all walks of life did a lot to encourage each and every one as to come out publicly.   Thus, they saved several lives. Nowadays, most HIV/AIDS positive persons are usually not that much ashamed to report to medical facilities and take the required antiviral drugs as to live longer and enjoy the warmth of the God given sun.  They are not stigmatized, to say the least.

Concerning FGM, I think our sisters should also come out in the open and say a few words to encourage others to declare the same to the society. “Look! I suffered a lot by having been circumcised. I lost the pleasure of having sex with my beloved one, I feel pain even when I think of having intercourse, I do not have the intense desire of sexual intercourse, my husband is no more happy to live with me as I do not make him pleasurable” and so on and so forth. They must say so by coming out in the open and save lives of others. They should have the courage and also be open-hearted .I know there are a few women with good intentions to do it. What about you sister?

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