Oh! What a shame,
That you who drum to our ears
To revere the dignity between our legs,
Become the ones that destroy it.
– Chinwe Azubuike
Female genital mutilation or FGM is a procedure by which an operation is done to the vagina of young girls for various reasons. In some cases, only their prepuce is taken off as well as their clitoris. But what is more horrific is that in many cases, this involves the sealing of the vagina by sewing together the labia minora and the labia majora, leaving just a little passage for urination and menstruation.
Now why would anyone want to inflict such horrors on their children? Yes, indeed – the same age-old reason! Sex must be a shame for women, and if it is not so, it must be made so by FGM. The result of this extremely painful, illegal (in most countries) and useless operation is that it reduces sexual feelings in a girl, and intercourse would be a pain, not a pleasure. Of course, allowing women to take pleasure from sex cannot be allowed at all. What is even worse is that this operation sometimes does not even leave them capable of performing a woman’s traditional role in society naturally, that of giving birth.
The procedure carries with it the risk of infection, bleeding and even death. The operation has been proved to be medically useless and of no advantage to the girls whatsoever in any way. But that does not seem to stop this practice. A girl who has not undergone this mutilation would be looked upon as promiscuous and frowned upon, since this procedure is believed to reduce a woman’s sexual urges.
Girls reaching puberty or about to attain puberty are most often circumcised. Some girls are circumcised at a much younger age as the younger the girl, the lower the expenses.
Since this practice is mostly pertinent to the remote and underdeveloped areas of Sub-Saharan Africa, many of the operations are performed in a crude and unhygienic manner, adding to the risk that is already very high. According to WHO, knives, scissors, razors and even sharp pieces of glass have been used to perform this procedure. Sharp stones are also a common tool used in Sudan, and Ethiopians use burning as part of the procedure. Fingernails are used in Gambia!
The FGM are classified in four parts, part IV being the most horrific.
- Type I, clitoridectomy, involves removing the prepuce with or without excision of part or all of the clitoris.
- Type II, excision, removes the prepuce and clitoris together with partial or total excision of the labia minora.
- Type III, infibulation, removes part or all of the external genitalia and stitches/narrows the vaginal opening. (In northwest Nigeria, infibulation is often performed after a clitoridectomy.
- Type IV, unclassified, includes all other procedures such as pricking, piercing, or incising of the clitoris and/or labia; stretching of the clitoris and/or labia; cauterisation by burning of the clitoris and surrounding tissue; scraping of tissue surrounding the vaginal orifice (angurya cuts) or cutting of the vagina (gishiri cuts); introduction of corrosive substances or herbs into the vagina to cause bleeding or for the purpose of tightening or narrowing it, and any other procedure that falls under the definition given above.
Often, these operations would be performed by local village women without the necessary qualifications. However, these women also act as midwives during birth. Anaesthesia is not used and the screaming girl is held down by other women if she protests. The wound would be kept clean by lemon juice (ouch!), ash, herbs or cowdung and the legs are sometimes bound together until it is completely healed.
Congo and Tanzania have a somewhat different procedure. The following is taken from a WHO manual for spreading awareness.
In some areas (e.g. parts of Congo and mainland Tanzania), FGM entails the pulling of the labia minora and/or clitoris over a period of about 2 to 3 weeks. The procedure is usually started by an elderly woman designated this task, who places sticks of a special type to hold the stretched genital parts so that they do not revert back to their original size. The girl is instructed to pull her genitalia every day, to stretch them further, and to add additional sticks from time to time to hold the stretched parts. Usually no more than four sticks are used, as further pulling and stretching would make the genitals unexceptionally long.
In some countries, it is the custom for the husband to tear it open during the wedding night. What is even more horrific is that if the husband leaves on a long trip, the flap is then sewn up again until he returns.