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Female Genital Mutilation (fgm)

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Female genital mutilation or FGM as it is referred to by many is a cultural practice that started in Africa approximately 2000 years ago. It is known to many as a cultural practice, not a religious practice. This is a common misconception; religions do include FGM as part of their practices. These practices have taken many symbolic forms, forms such as birth practice, a childhood or adolescent rite of passage, a symbol of reaching womanhood, a sign of tribal affiliation, or a protection against sexual activity prior to marriage. (Watson, 2005) Female circumcision is practiced in many African countries but, based on individual tribal or cultural practices, not necessarily in every region of each individual country. It is estimated that at least 100 million women are circumcised currently, representing various socioeconomic classes and different ethnic and cultural groups, including Christians, Muslims, Jewish, and followers of African religions and cultures. (Watson, 2005)

Brief History of Female Circumcision

Feminists and human rights activists continue to see female circumcision as form of gender oppression. The idea of female circumcision is seen as women's victimization by the patriarchal authority or as an act of aggression and transgression of the human rights of the women subjected to it. (Turshen, 2000) Circumcision during the early fifth century was believed to be more of an economic necessity since the men would be away from their homes for long periods of time, and therefore, wanted assurance that any children born during their absence were their own. (Watson 2005)

Many would argue that female circumcision began during slavery. Female circumcision was first implemented by the female slaves. Female slaves started the idea genital mutilation because many felt that they would be less appealing by slave traders and therefore would be less likely to be sold into the slave trade. Though this idea didn't work in turn it started a long trail of violence to come. (Hicks 1996) The slaves thought the idea of a circumcised genitalia would deter slave traders and owners from them but in all actuality, it was more attractive. The price of the slave was much higher and sort out more. (Lightfoot-Klein 1989)

What is Female Circumcision?

Female circumcision or female genital mutilation can be defined as removal of all or just parts of the female genitalia. The procedure is carried out at a variety of ages, ranging from shortly after birth to some time during the first pregnancy, but most commonly the procedure occurs between the ages of four and eight. (Lightfoot-Klein 1989) Some girls undergo genital mutilation alone, but mutilation is more often undergone as a group. Some girls will undergo mutilation with their sisters or cousins etc. Sometimes Female Genital Mutilation is carried out as part of an initiation ceremony. There are times where the procedure is more likely to be carried out on all the girls in the community who belong to a particular age group. (Lightfoot-Klein 1989)

The procedure can be carried out in various places such as the girl's home, or the home of a relative or neighbor, in a health center, or, if its apart of an initiation, at a specially designated site, such as a particular tree or river or particular hut. The person performing the mutilation/procedure can be anyone from an older woman, a traditional midwife or healer, a barber, or a qualified midwife or doctor. (Lightfoot-Klein 1989)

Girls undergoing the procedure have varying degrees of knowledge about what will happen to them and why this is happening to them at all. Sometimes the event is associated with festivities and gifts. Girls are expected to be brave and not cry. Where the mutilation is part of an initiation right, the festivities may be major events for the community. Usually only women are allowed to be present at the time of the mutilation. (Lightfoot-Klein 1989)

Types of Circumcision

There are three varieties of circumcisions that are practiced. The first type is the Sunna circumcision, which is the removal of the prepuce or (the hood of the clitoris) and also the tip of the clitoris as well. (Watson 2005) Sunna is the Arabic word for "tradition" therefore many Islamic cultures practice this type of circumcision. The next is the Clitoridectomy which consists of the removal of the entire clitoris (prepuce and glands) and the removal of the adjacent labia (Watson 2005) Perhaps the most painful of all the procedures is the Infibulation which involves the removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, plus cutting of the labia majora to create raw surfaces that are stitched together to cover the urethra and the entrance to the vagina, leaving only a small opening for the passage of urine and menstrual blood. (Watson 2005)

Circumcision Procedures

Sometimes a trained midwife will be available to give a local anesthetic to female . In some cultures, girls will be told to sit in cold water before the procedure takes place, to numb the area and reduce any chance of bleeding afterward. The average procedure has no steps that are taken to reduce the pain. (Lightfoot-Klein 1989) The girl is then held down by an older women, with her legs open. The procedure is sometime carried out using broken glass, a tin lid, or some other cutting instrument. When infibulation takes place, thorns or stitches may be used to hold the two sides of the labia majora together, and the legs may be tied/bound together for up to 40 days. (Hicks 1996)

Antiseptic powder may be applied but most likely they will apply pastes - containing herbs, milk, eggs, ashes or animal dung - which are believed to help aid or facilitate healing. (Lightfoot-Klein 1989)The female may then be taken to a specially designated place to recover. For the very rich, the mutilation procedure may be performed by a qualified doctor in hospital under local or general anesthetic. (Hicks 1996)

Religious Beliefs

The idea of female genital mutilation can be seen as both a religious and social practice. In society a girl can not be considered an adult without having this "operation". With that being said most cultures and religions in Middle Eastern countries will not allow women to marry at all without receiving it as well. (Lightfoot-Klein 1989) Depending on the particular location and the particular ethnic group, the ideas about circumcision vary. The location; whether rural or urban, ethnic group, as well as the socio-economic status also play apart in what type of circumcision



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