Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Female Genital Mutilation: The Power of the Clitoris

Posted by Enshrah Ahmed of FORWARD

The World Health Organisation defines Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) as “Comprising all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for cultural or other non-therapeutic reason.”

There are four main types of FGM, the first three are classified according to the severity of the procedures. For example FGM type one consists of the excision of the prepuce with partial of total removal of the clitoris itself while FGM type 2 consists of the removal the prepuce and the clitoris with total or partial excision of the labia minora. The most serve type of FGM is type three which consists of the excision of part or all of the external genitalia and a stitching or narrowing of the vaginal opening.

Why People Practice FGM:
Each practicing community has explanations / rationalisations of why they practice FGM. These explanations include religion, culture, hygiene, health and beauty. For example it has been documented in Mali’s oral culture that clitoris harms men’s penises during intercourse, due to this belief they carry out FGM as proactive and preventive measure. It has also been reported that some of the Yoruba people in the west African coast think the clitoris harms the baby’s head during delivery, therefore, they practice FGM on pregnant women during the second
trimester i.e. FGM is carried out before the delivery of the baby. Likewise some communities in Northern Ghana, they hold the believe that if a woman doesn’t go through FGM and touches /steps across a tree, the tree would not bear fruit.
Interestingly, in the Horn of Africa particularly Sudanese and Somali view women with their intact genitals as “wild” women. For some Muslim FGM practicing communities, the removal of the clitoris means lesser sexual desire for women which is thought to prevent them from being promiscuous.
Underpinning all these explanations is the fact that, these FGM practicing communities view the clitoris as distinctive source of women’s power .Thus for these communities to attain complete control over women, they opt for FGM. FGM like any other form of gender based violence(GBV), must be seen as an indictor of the dynamics of gender power within that community.
Throughout history societies have come up with various forms of GBV particularly violence against women to curtail women’s freedom and prevent them from the full enjoyment of their rights.

For more information on FGM please visit FORWARD’s website www.forwarduk.org.uk.

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At 2 March 2008 at 01:18 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re: FGM Today: in ref to: The UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women and the Special Rapporteur on Traditional Practices affecting the Health of Women and the Girl Child should pay more attention to the current FGM situation.

"The UN’s softer approach seeks to curb such customs from the grass-roots up, and is more convincing than the criminalization of such conduct per se for three reasons: First, condemning these practices within the arena of a domestic court will not deter, rather those under scrutiny may perceive it as a cultural attack. With the practice not only firmly established in the community but also considered beneficial act communities may not understand why it should be considered a crime and thus judicial mechanisms are an inadequate solution. One based on education as to the harmful health effects of such practice and women’s rights could effect change from the bottom-up with the community working to end it and coming to a decision that is more likely to last.

Secondly, governments may still fulfill their state responsibility provided that all appropriate means are adopted, and arguably this approach is more appropriate in a civilized and tolerant nation. Governments should ensure specialist NGOs are able to reach families, religious and local figureheads, and those who perform the practice to provide access to confidential information and support. By co-operating with local communities will also assuage fears that they are falling victim to western imperialism.
Thirdly, such strategies have been successful abroad, for example the work of the NGO Totsan, in Senegal. This is not to say that those who perpetrate gross acts in clear violation of human rights norms should go unpunished, but rather that this should be a last resort mechanism for sending out a message that such practices will not be tolerated." Ana M Nacvalovaite


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