Imagine you’re a young girl, just blossoming into the first years of puberty, when you’re told by older women that you need to have a little procedure that will make you “part of the tribe”, it will be “good for your future” and is “part of your culture”. You comply or you’re goaded. Either way you’re now lying on a bed surrounded by women - those who should know better than to inflict the lifelong pain they’re about to pour on you - and one is wielding an unclean blade towards your clitoral hood, slowly slicing it off. Or worse still they butcher all or part of the hood and the inner labia, which once healed has to then be recut each time you have sex, and then again with the birth of each child.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) isn’t just something that’s carried out in the deepest, darkest recesses of the globe. It is estimated that in the UK over 20,000 girls under the age of 15 are at risk of FGM every year, and approximately 66,000 women are living with the consequences of this practice. Although illegal in this country for the past 30 years, there are concerns that the procedures are carried out in the privacy of family homes, or that some girls are taken abroad and have it forced upon them.
FGM is usually carried out in some African, Middle Eastern and Asia countries, however because of migration there are now cases appearing in Europe and America. The reasons for this practice vary from: religious justification - (though most Muslim scholars reject the practice) - to family honour or increased sexual pleasure for the male and a decreased female libido - and, ultimately, social acceptance. It is only through education and grass roots groups working to challenge these accepted norms that practitioners or supporters of FGM will realise the damage they are doing. Short term health problems include infection, urine retention or immediate fatal hemorrhaging. In the long-term; extensive damage of the reproductive system, increased risk of fistula and complications in childbirth and pregnancy. There is no known health or physical benefits to FGM. In fact, it is startlingly apparent from the problems that occur over the course of their lives that these women will end up suffering more as a result.
Aside from the actual act of FGM, the saddest part about it is that it is predominantly carried out by women on women. Women play a key role in inflicting this suffering on young pubescent girls (or sometimes infants) because of some misguided patriarchal, cultural or religious notions. This is why the stigma and social silence surrounding FGM must be broken and more people must be made aware of this vicious practice.
It seems that the tide may be slowly changing as the UN last month reported a decline in FGM cases in Kenya. More countries are bringing in legislation to ban the practice of FGM, yet there are some countries like Indonesia that are resistance.
The involvement of the UN, the World Health Organisation and countless other charities on this issue has led to a perception that this is Western imperialism trying to impose itself on another culture, but FGM isn’t one of those acceptable "cultural differences" which we must learn to live with. It damages these young women for life. This brutalising act must not be allowed to continue, wherever it occurs in the world. Enough is enough.
Find out more about the campaign to end FGM here
Read more on the Independent Voices / Evening Standard campaign to end female genital mutilation:
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