Without having to reach out for a dictionary to check the meaning, the word itself ‘mutilation’ says it all. It has connotations of destroying/terminating. Then for the word to be associated with the genital area, it inevitably sends massive shivers down the spine and makes one cringe at the thought of it. The horrific reality of it is that the very act which makes some cringe at the slightest thought of it has actually been a real event in some young girls’ lives.
FGM is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons”. FGM has been a common phenomenon in Africa for the past decades, although in recent years it has been openly discussed and condemned with human rights activists, feminists and even some governments. It is mainly carried out on young girls and usually done in the name of culture and tradition so as to preserve girls as virgins until marriage. ‘Preserving” them in the sense that since the vaginal opening is forcefully narrowed in one type of FGM, the fear of pain will deter girls from engaging in sex. In other instances, the reason for mutilation is that women’s genitalia are not as feminine as they should be and are unclean. Others also believe that FGM enhances male sexual pleasure. You literary have to wonder what criteria one uses to determine the ideal feminine genitalia and that which is not, without any hint of medical background, knowledge or qualification whatsoever. Besides, even if the supposed aforementioned basis for FGM were authentic, what happened to freedom of choice? The ability to choose what you want at your own free will without being subjected to imposition. It is no wonder numerous people support the fact that many social ills such as oppression, cruelty and abuse are done under the guise of the so-called culture.
Photo Credit: Chart showing statistics of FGM. (N.D). Retrieved July 26, 2015 from http://www.wordpress.up.edu
According to Raymond Williams, “culture is the ordinary ways in which people live, a whole way of life”. In this context and meaning of culture, one questions what is ordinary, usual, normal and wholesome about inflicting excruciating pain on minors? Not only is this exercise sore in the actual process of mutilating, but according to WHO it further causes pain when having sex, when giving birth and during menstruation and urinating. This is especially common in the type of mutilation where they sew and reduce the vaginal opening. In other cases, it can lead to loss of sensitivity and infertility and more-so death as a result of heavy bleeding. It is without a doubt that FGM is a traumatic ordeal because no sane child can go through such torment and come out unscathed.
FGM is pure child abuse and violation of women’s rights. In what seems to be the beginning of a new era in the eradication of FGM, the United Nations general assembly in December 2012 unanimously voted to work for the elimination of FGM throughout the world. WHO’s statistical data reveals that across the world 125 million women and girls have undergone FGM, and out of the 125 million, the highest number of victims are from Nigeria. However, it is very comforting to know that although the United Nations declared a ban against FGM in 2012, some parts of Nigeria had already advocated prohibition of the act. In that essence, the recent signing into law against FGM by Nigeria’s former President Goodluck Jonathan’s, comes as a bigger ray of light and hope for protecting girls and women to their rights to dignity and privacy. Who knows? It might start rubbing onto other African nations. Progress has a starting point and Nigeria could actually be recorded in history in the years to come as Africa’s role model in establishing a law abolishing FGM. Speaking out and condemning FGM is one thing, but to actually pen it down as a law is another (very plausible). Nigeria’s bold step in actually constituting a law against FGM will set the agenda in motion for other African leaders and FGM will be a discussion point.
Photo Credit: Stop FGM. (N.D). Retrieved July 26, 2015 from http://www.fahrenheit211.net
The first step to fighting any so-called taboos is to expose and talk about them and in that way, people are eventually enlightened to factual information and they begin to alter attitudes and behaviour and consequently stereotypes are broken. The law then becomes effective for the adamant ones who have no plans to change attitudes and still hinge on subjecting young girls to abuse, and so if they cannot stop archaic practices for the sake of embracing new acceptable social norms then at least for the sake of fear of the law, they will stop. Nevertheless, a lot of ground work is still needed in community mobilization, outreach, and education and empowerment programs for women and girls to eradicate this social and cultural ill of FGM. A cure needs to be found and it would be amazing if Africa unites as a continent and eliminates FGM.
It is positive to insinuate that the trend will continue and spread in other parts of Africa because we have a starting point already and seeing that the world has become a global village, what becomes effective in one part of Africa may inevitably apply everywhere else especially if it accounts for needed moral, respectable and suitable change. Times gone by have shown Africa uniting in fighting social ills such as early forced marriages and denying the girl child education so the same can be done with FGM.
Written by Gladys Mutemeri