"Neglected" Facts About Female Genital Mutilation
Nine years ago, when the world was celebrating the memory of "Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation", the Sudanese society was shocked by the tragic death of a little girl as a result of infibulation. The four year old Inaam, who had been heavily cut by a traditional midwife, was transferred from a rural hospital to Khartoum Teaching Hospital where all medical efforts to save her life were met with bitter failure.
Inaam's death has brought the extraordinary suffering of girls and women into the limelight. Four other girls from the outskirts of Khartoum had died as a result of this inhumane practice.
A study entitled " a report on cutting in Khartoum state", estimates that about 6,000 girls fall victim to genital mutilation every day, which is about 2 million per year. 89 percent of Sudanese females have undergone this practice at the hands of midwives and practitioners.
According to Wikipedia, Health Organization (WHO) defines FGM/C 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".
There are three types of FGM/C known to the public: Type I which includes the removal of the hood of the clitoris, Type II which is the total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora with stitching, and Type III infibulation or Pharaonic which indicates the removal of all outer genitalia.
Type l and ll are the least favored. They are normally put on the shelf. Besides, midwives and practitioners normally ignore the first two types and follow the law of supply and demand which favors having the external genitalia left like the back of a hand.
There is no control or mechanism to monitor practitioners inflicting this harm on minors or have it repeated at marriage, or after child birth. Once a girl is cut, the exciser will guarantee having her enrolled in a lifelong process of infibulating and reinfibulating. The excised girl will find herself urinating, menstruating and later having sexual intercourse through one hole, the size of a match or a pinky finger at best.
This profession has attracted qualified health personnel as well as barbers; specifically, the ones with lower wages. In 2008, gynecologist and prominent female figure Sit Albanat Khalid Mohamed Ali who works at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Khartoum, initiated a website called Umatiyya organization, which she dedicated to defending Type I FGM/C or Sunna. She did this in order to defend her religious views on the legality of what she called "Safe Female Circumcision".
Sadly, she is not ashamed of promoting false ideas and notions. Please consider these excerpts and attached pictures downloaded from her online research paper entitled "Safe Female Circumcision."
- Prepuce frequently a site for unwanted secretions,
- Its removal stops unpleasant smells
- Reduces incidence of urinary & genital tract infection.
- Preserves sexual joy in its best form (Source)
Practicing communities, normally in developing countries, claim that this practice is part of their cultural identity. However, it is shamefully and shamelessly used as a medium to subdue women and rob them their characters and integrity, .
WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA and the World Bank had estimated the maternal mortality ratio in Sudan to be at 750/100,000 live births (http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/9789241503...). The report ranked Sudan number 8 in countries responsible for 65% of global maternal deaths.
In relation, a report on cutting in Khartoum state, estimates that (65%) is the prevalence in the state of Khartoum. This figure can be justifiable, since the capital has become an attraction center for migrants and displaced families from the four corners of Sudan. On a more positive note, this situation has made target groups at the reach of activists, which in turn led to a minor improvement in regards to women's attitudes surrounding this issue.
In spite of that, FGM/C is still a global problem. Around 130 million women worldwide have to bear the awkward reality of FGM in their lives, and to suffer from health complications such as infections, urine and menstrual blood retention, infertility, orgasm deprivation, abscesses, dermoid cysts, keloid scars, difficulty in childbirth, death, as well as the ever-lasting mental torture.
Rejection of this practice in closed communities may result in stigmatization.
I believe this kind of torture has flourished in the hegemony of "false" religious concepts, as well as ineffective laws, lack of awareness, media bias, lack of education and deteriorating economic conditions.
It is well known that FGM/C, especially in Africa, is practiced in pagan, Christian and Muslim communities in 28 countries, but the latter is normally associated with the broader concept of Islam, and the attitude of Muslim groups reinforces this to guarantee the control of females.
There is no mention of male or female cutting in the Quran. But, there are two Hadiths (sayings attributed to prophet Muhammad (PBUH), judged weak by some Muslim scholars and strongly supported by those who are in favor of cutting.
Umm Atiyya was a woman who used to perform circumcision in Medina. As narrated, Prophet Muhammad told her in response to a question she posed: "Do not cut severely as that is better for a woman and more desirable for a husband".
There are no reports of Prophet Muhammad and his followers had this practice done to their wives or daughters.
The second hadith says "When the two circumcised (male and female) parts (al-khitaanaan) meet, ghusl (an after sex shower according to Muslim rituals) become obligatory,” (http://umatia.org/2011/safecircumcision.html).
Religious scholars with their appraisal of the FGM as an indispensable female religious rite and initiation are challenging all activities and efforts to eradicate this issue and uproot it. Sadly this behavior is encouraged by the government's support.
For Muslims, male circumcision is obligatory, and is considered "… the Sunnah of Ibraaheem (Abraham) and the Prophets after him," (http://islamqa.info/en/9412). They believe that Ibraheem had performed circumcision when he was eighty years old and that prophet Muhammad was born circumcised. But up to this date FGM/C is as controversial and debatable as ever, largely in part due to contradicting views on this problem. Unfortunately, those who have the scale of power tipping where they stand are those who are in favor of the barbaric ritual.
It is interesting to note that this concept is emerging from the fact that sexual morality and virginity of female and male at marriage are crucial factors in Islam in the given communities. But they have turned a blind eye to the male's end in the obligatory virginity rule and shouldered the woman with the responsibility of bearing the family's honor. That in turn led to legalized deprivation of sexuality as a crucial mechanism for "protecting" unmarried females' virginity and ensuring that they remain untouched until marriage.
This is very contradictory, as Islam assigns a woman the right to divorce her husband on the ground of not providing sexual satisfaction. Therefore, it is impossible for the religion to deprive her of sexuality.
In my point of view, FGM/C isn't an issue of culture. Having a culture that we share with others makes us more human, more open and non-hesitant to share our experiences with the rest of the world. How can an outdated brutality that undermines women and prevents them from living normally be assigned to a culture?
To me, this is a matter of underdevelopment, and corrupted totalitarian regimes that exploit all means to subdue women. It's Machiavellian behavior!
In this millennium, women lack the most basic principles of life. This situation aggravated by the temporary or long absences of males as the case in contested regions of Darfur, has made women who have undergone FGM/C prey to rapists' sharp instruments, which are mostly not sterilized and used to have them re-infibulated. Nomadic tribes still believe that infibulation can protect a female's virginity, so this also produces a crucial and agonizing cycle of cutting and sewing.
Other African communities believe removing external vaginal organs help girls grow fast, or that an uncut clitoris will grow as the size of a male's penis or more and complicating her life. The absurdity is everything but a laughing matter.
Others claim having girls mutilated is for the purpose of purification, beautification, and assimilation. In Jazira, central Sudan, FGM/C is called Arabicization. That is, to have them initiated into being a full Muslim Arab, thus lifting his status higher up the societal hierarchy.
In the old days, those who were not cut were normally the enslaved women whose descendants had to bear the imprint. "Wad Alghalfa" (an Arabic term for an uncircumcised woman's son), is used an insult that may mount to physical altercation in societies like those in Northern and Central Sudan, where the dominating effects of slavery still show up, with songs reminding of the old days of this issue still being broadcasted through the state-owned radio and TV.
Changing this mindset will help speed up the fight against female genital mutilation dilemma, as well as help dissolve the racial tensions that barricade and confine a lot of the Sudanese public into an isolated, bigoted mind state.
None of the successive Sudanese governments that ruled Sudan between the time periods of 1956 until 2009 worked earnestly to curb this practice.All laws and policies banning the practice had exempted Type l from the ban.
By repealing article 13 in the Child Act, 2009, that protects children against all kinds of harm, Sudan has turned its back to more than 60 years of advocacy, dishonoring regional and international conventions on protecting human rights, of which it has either signed or ratified. Ironically, the State had adopted, "…the National Strategy for the Elimination of FGM 2008-2018 in partnership with the civil society organizations, the UN Agencies and the specialized international organizations." back in 2008 (Source).
The government took the exemption decision while Dr. Tabita Botros was at the head of the Ministry of health, thus ensuring the support of Muslim pressuring groups in the 2010 elections. The decision came back with mutual benefits as well, since the government used the Muslim groups to tailor "fatwas" (legal religious opinion) to its demand. With this, it has internally "made some futile gains". This was done while overlooking the phenomenon of customary marriages, the notable increase in abandoned children, unemployment of university grads, poverty, displacement, etc.
This decision gave thousands of practitioners' exemption from punishment, and a government guarantee of sufficient work opportunities, especially with the wave of displaced people and migrants to urban centers.
The government's decision managed to cut the road to the approval of the proposed national FGM/C strategy draft and the Proposed Amendment of the Criminal Code of 1991 before they were submitted to the cabinet for consideration. Article 145, of the Proposed Amendment of the Criminal Code of 1991, is considered the first one in Sudanese history that bans all types of cutting and recommended a harsh punishment for the practitioners.
An excerpt from the amendment reads:
"There shall be deemed to have committed female circumcision any professional or practitioner using any or all methods that lead to the deformation or partial or total removal of the external sexual organs of the female.
Whoever commits female circumcision shall be punished with: (a) Ten years imprisonment and compensation if the act resulted in the death of the victim; (b) Imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years with compensation if the crime is committed for the first time; (c)Life imprisonment in case of repetition."
Researches and reports haven't dwelled into the lives of midwives and practitioners and explored the economic need that connects them to this issue. In Sudan, this group relies entirely on excising for a living, attending births which normally take place at home, and checking the tightness and virginity of the future bride as the case in some remote parts of Sudan. Any doubt of having her touched before the wedding night, will be an everlasting source of shame for her and her family.
"Trained" midwives or practitioners are normally semi illiterate or completely illiterate, middle-aged to elderly women. They have no training, retirement age or pension. Any call towards eradicating this practice, that neglects this segment, will be a failure.
Having mentioned training above, the phrases "trained" and "untrained is loose and inaccurate. What differentiates the so called trained midwife from an untrained practitioner is a fictional "midwife bag", a hustling strategy which alludes to grandeur. All curriculums from midwifery schools, nursing schools, or the first College of Medicine (Feb. 1924) in Sudan, don't contain an educational chapter on (FGM). This practice is done on personal endeavors. Only on 2009, upon legalizing Type l, had the government declared its intention to train midwives for this purpose.
Moreover, midwives/practitioners (as their victims), don't distinguish between the different types of FGM/C and believe that in spite of the damage they are inflicting on minor girls and women, they are cutting according to religious teachings.
In early 1990s, I participated as data collector in the Demographic Health, carried out by the Bureau of Census and Macro System Institute. I roamed all the Northern regions of Sudan. I noticed that all the female interviewees, whether victims or practitioners, claimed circumcised Sunna. Further questions and interviews had showed that the majority were sewed and stitched.
In most other parts of the world, Female Genital Mutilation is considered a crime, except for developing communities which look upon it as a ceremony of purification, beautification, and initiation to womanhood that's received with festivals and ceremonies.
Though FGM is considered a females' affair, males are also partners in this crime. They normally provide the money for the ceremony or pay the incentive for the midwife. Socially, they have the higher voices to stop this procedure for good.
As victim against this practice, I believe raising people's awareness about their values as human beings and the anatomy of their bodies is essential. Creating cultural, educational and religious programs that help spread knowledge and motivate people to lead change and transform their lives is a must.
Educate people on the anatomy of their bodies, especially on female anatomy, and raise their awareness on the hazardous and tormenting effects FGM brings upon them should be a priority.
To completely eradicate this practice, the international community, governments, civil society organizations, NGOs, religious groups, artists, writers, dramatists, cartoonist, musicians, activists, media practitioners, physicians, the whole family, etc…, must join hands and work together towards abolishing this practice for ever.