Saturday, October 8, 2011

Female Genital Mutilation in Africa

Uchenna Anozie, Nigeria

Female Genital Mutilation is a cultural practice that started in Africa approximately 2000 years ago. It is primarily a cultural practice, not a religious practice. This practice is so well inculcated into these cultures.
What is Female Genital Mutilation?
Female Genital Mutilation is the term used for removal of all or just part of the external parts of the female genitalia. There are three varieties to this procedure.
Types of Female Genital Mutilation
  • Sunna Circumcision - consists of the removal of the prepuce(retractable fold of skin, or hood) and /or the tip of the clitoris. Sunna in Arabic means "tradition".
  • Clitoridectomy - consists of the removal of the entire clitoris (prepuce and glands) and the removal of the adjacent labia.
·         Infibulation (pharonic circumcision) consists of performing a clitoridectomy (removal of all or part of the labia minora, the labia majora). This is then stitched up allowing a small hole to remain open to allow for urine and menstrual blood to flow through.
Most times this procedure is done without the care of medically trained people, due to poverty and lack of medical facilities. The use of anesthesia is rare. The girl is held down by older women to prevent the girl from moving around. The instruments used by the mid-wife will vary and could include any of the following items; broken glass, a tin lid, razor blades, knives, scissors or any other sharp object. These items usually are not sterilized before or after usage.

Side Effects of Female Genital Mutilation
This procedure can cause various side effects on the girls which can include death. Some of the results of this procedure are serious infections, HIV, abscesses and small benign tumours, haemorrhages, shock, clitoral cysts. The long term effects may also include kidney stones, sterility, sexual dysfunction, depression, various urinary tract infections, gynaecological and obstetric problems.
In Africa
In most societies in Africa a girl cannot be considered to be an adult until she has undergone this procedure. As well as in most cultures a woman cannot marry without female genital mutilation.
It is obvious in cultures that carry out this procedure as an initiation into womanhood. Most FGM societies feel that unless a girl has this procedure done she is not a woman as well as removal of these practices would lead to the demise of their culture.
Belief and reasons this procedure should be done and these are as follows:
·         This procedure will reduce a women's desire for sex and in doing so will reduce the chance of sex outside the marriage.
·         Some view the clitoris and the labia as male parts on a female body, thus removal of these parts enhances the femininity of the girl
·         Intact clitoris will generate sexual arousal and in women if repressed can cause nervousness
·         Removal of clitoris makes a women's face more beautiful
·         Clitoris can lead to clitoris can lead to masturbation or lesbianism.

Legislation and policies on Female Genital Mutilation

Amnesty International now has taken up the fight to do away with this practice that mutilates millions of girls each year. Today FGM is seen as a human rights issue and is recognized at an international level. FGM was in the universal framework for protection of human rights that was tabled in the 1958 united Nation agenda. It was during the UN Decade for Women (1975-1985) that a UN Working Group on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children was created. This group helped to develop and aided to the development of the 1994 Plan of Action for the Elimination of Harmful Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of women and Children. the World Health Organization, the United Nations Children's' Fund and the United Nations Population Fund, unveiled a plan in April 1997 that would bring about a major decline in FGM within 10 years and the complete eradication of the practice within three generations.

Personal experiences and Confessions
In Sierra Leone, the women say and sing in their native language:” today the ripe mango will be plucked” this means it’s time to remove the clitoris. They are initiated into the women hood, they believe this makes the women to be unpromiscuous and reduces sexual urge.
The girls range between 6 to 12 years. The cost of the procedure and ceremony is also high and are often delayed so that the parents can get enough money for the ceremony. They believe they are maintaining tradition.
They also believe that excessive bleeding or death during this procedure is caused if the girl is possessed by a demon.
Talking with a Isha from Guinea, she stated that her mother had her younger sister’s daughter undergo excision twice. First when she was 8 years old and after that her grandmother felt the clitoris was not properly removed, the grandmother forced her to undergo the second circumcision at the age of 18. She said the girl’s experience was indescribable but it is still a mark of a strong woman and she strongly believes that what her grandmother did was the best thing she could do for her.
Some Key Information
  • Current status: Excision and circumcision are reportedly practised in Guinea-Bissau. According to information available to the WHO, average prevalence could be 50% and affect 100% of Muslim women. It is reportedly 70 to 80% for the Fula and Mandigue women. In urban areas, it is estimated that 20 to 30% of girls and women have been mutilated. However, there is no first-hand official
  • Legislation: In 1995, a bill was reportedly rejected by Parliament. Nevertheless, the Assembly has reportedly approved a proposal calling for criminal liability for female excision practitioners in the event of death brought on by female genital mutilation.
  • Other information: A nation-wide awareness-building programme was launched by the Government in January 1997 with the support of NGOs.
  • Current status: Excision and circumcision are reportedly practised in Guinea. According to official estimates in 1999, 98% of women between 15 and 50 have undergone FGM. However, awareness-building campaigns conducted since 1998 have brought this percentage down to 20%, and 450 female excision practitioners have abandoned their trade. Nevertheless, the IPU has no first-hand official statistics or other details on this subject.
  • Legislation: 
    - Article 6 of the Constitution prohibits cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
    - Article 265 of the Penal Code (1994) prohibits female genital mutilation and provides for the death penalty in this respect; however, the Parliament has not yet forwarded the references and text of the law to the IPU.
  • Other information: The Government launched with WHO a 20-year programme (1996-2015) for the elimination of female genital mutilation and works together with NGOs. The programme includes films, TV shows, workshops, etc.
Regrets, reality and the untold truth.
Talking with some nurses, mid wives and doctors in Burkina Faso, Senegal, Nigeria and Guinea. I personally found out that despite these efforts made by the government, United Nations, Amnesty international, these health workers still carry out these surgeries which violates the law and collect money from clients. I personally found out that some health workers do not do this for money but believe that irrespective of orthodox medicine, culture should be maintained and sustained.
Trying to go deeper into the matter, I found out that even the members of the legislative arm of government perpetuated these practices and still publicly announce that FGM is prohibited.
In fact irrespective of these laws put in place against FGM nobody has been apprehended nor arrested by government on female genital mutilation, they just put up a front that FGM is prohibited to distract the international concern against FGM.
FGM is women right violation and should be seriously condemned due to numerous reasons: the practice is cruelly conducted in most places, the women are denied sexual pleasure during sexual intercourse, numerous infections and diseases can emanate from this practice.
The most concerning aspect of this practice is that since a circumcised woman has limited sexual pleasure during sexual intercourse, the mucous secretion is limited and can lead to wares and tires of the virginal walls due to friction in sexual intercourse, this leads to serious exposure to STI and HIV transmission.
More awareness and serious legal emphasis should be put in place to condemn female genital mutilation. Also for public health workers, global health professionals, policy makers, social and developmental workers should see this area of study as an explorable avenue of study and analysis.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Riveting article, particularly if you do not understand culture. For this mutilation to occur still to this day is barbaric. Women are oppressed and will continue to be oppressed, if parts of Africa continue with this tradition. I may be showing some ignorance, but Education and wisdom is key in terms of the health implications from these practices...