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Female Genital Mutilation: Ascending Awareness Worldwide

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The issue of FGM has reached a stage where it has been freed from its taboo on the social level. Throughout the past 20-30 years, many individuals have invested their time in research and created numerous writings on this topic. The issue of FGM nowadays is more easily discussed than years ago and has reached the international level. Therefore, its sacredness has finally been removed to reveal the true reasons why it occurs. In October 2006 I conducted an interview with Mrs. Marie Assad, an ex-coordinator of the National Task force and veteran activist. She explained to me how about 20 years ago, when she first started to do research of FGM, she relied mainly on primary data and only a small number of secondary data. This was due to the way people viewed the issue of FGM, and how there weren't many doctors and professionals who devoted their time on researching this social phenomenon. Nowadays, thanks to the many writings and studies carried out by Marie Assad, Nawal El Saadawi, Nihad Toubia among others, this issue of FGM is more widely discussed on all social, national and international levels.

The purpose of this essay is to select a number of writings on female circumcision which represent the different perspectives from which FGM is looked at, and which had an impact on changes of attitudes towards it. The different writings I selected look at it through anthropological, sociological, political and feminist views. Some of the perspectives are different and therefore view FGM from a different standpoint. Some of the writings are extreme and feminist, like Nawal El Saadawi's book "The Hidden Face of Eve", while other views remain more political and informative, like Nihad Toubia's book "Arab Women; A Profile of Diversity and Change". Anthropologists and sociologists share very similar techniques in their research and, therefore, the writings of Ellen Gruenbaum and Elizabeth Boyle look at FGM from a very similar perspective. One thing that links together all of these writings is that the authors seek its eradication.

Nawal El Saadawi is known for her feminist views in concern the Egyptian woman in her relation with many aspects of society, mainly sex and patriarchy. Apart from her famous fiction novels which depict real societal problems, she is also known for her research and long collaboration in the lives of real women. Her writings could be studied from a sociological/anthropological, feminist and political point of view. She breaks the boundaries of different perspectives to study the interconnection between women and sex to politics, culture, religion etc.

Saadawi's book "The Hidden Face of Eve" deals specifically with oppression of women in society. In her chapter called Circumcision of Girls, Nawal begins by giving a background about the process, and then goes deep into minds of Egyptians to reveal their attitudes about the woman. First she begins her chapter by describing her experience when treating women who had undergone the procedure and provided an interview with a circumcised woman. Through her questions, she unveils layers of experiences that the woman went through, from the details of the operation to her sexual experiences during childhood. She also talks about how through her career, she found a very small number of doctors who were completely familiar with neurosis. Nawal describes how hard it was to find studies on female circumcision and its effects on women. At that time, the only thing she found was a joint article made of two parts written by Dr. Mahmoud Koraim and Dr. Rushdi Ammar. The first part was called "Female Circumcision and Sexual Desire" and the second part "Complications of Female Circumcision". To summarize it, they came up with five conclusions.

1) Circumcision has harmful health effects and causes sexual shock to young girls. It also stops the woman to reach the peak of her sexual pleasure, and reduces desire for sex. 2) Education helps to limit the degree of circumcision practiced on women, and educated parents often refuse to perform it on their daughters. People who do perform it are uneducated due to their attachment to tradition, and their belief in it reducing the sexual desire of girls. Therefore, their chastity and virginity are preserved until marriage.3) FGM doesn't reduce the chances in cancerous diseases. 4) There are immediate complications after the operation that includes hemorrhage, swellings, cysts, and the obstruction of the urinary flow and the vagina. 5) Circumcised girls masturbated less frequently than the girls who weren't circumcised. (38)

Some of the writings of Nihad Toubia look at FGM from a political view, while many other are concerned with female cirucumcision and the abuse of human rights. Although her writings aren't radical and are on the large part informative, Toubia, like Saadawi, is greatly concerned with the well-being of women.

One of the famous writings by Nihad Toubia was "Female Genital Mutilation; A Guide to Laws and Policies Worldwide". In it Toubia answers basic questions on FGM such what it is, who performs it, where, and how it is done. To begin with, the author claims that FGM is a "common name" applied to different traditions that consist of cutting the genitals of women. Usually, this practice is performed on girls from ages four to twelve years, serving as a rite to womanhood. In some cultures, women who manage to escape this terrorizing act at an early age end up being victimized later in their lives, usually prior to marriage and pregnancy. Although most girls are circumcised separately, in some regions it is common for girls to be circumcised along with other girls from their community. Usually this act is performed by an elder woman who has circumcised women in a family over generations, but more recently in some countries, it is performed by health professionals such as nurses, physicians, and midwives. (pg 3)

In regard as to how widespread FGM is, Toubia claims that about 130 million women have been circumcised by the time her book was published in 2000. More or less 2 million women each year are at risk of undergoing this procedure. The countries which practice FGM are mostly African countries and include Egypt, Sudan, South Africa, Eritrea, Mali, and Tanzania, Congo, and Uganda among others. It is estimated that about 28 African countries practice FGM on women, but the rates vary from country to country. In another book by Toubia called "Arab Women; A Profile of Diversity and Change", statistics are provided to grasp a more accurate image of the widespread of female circumcision. In 1993, statistics varied from 25% in Mauritania to about 98% in Somalia. In other countries such as Yemen and Oman, statistics about the rate of FGM was unquantified. (pg 27)



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