Female circumcision, also known as female genital cutting and female genital mutilation is the ritual removal of some or all of the external female genitalia by a lay person who is not a medical professional and does not perform the procedure for medical purposes. Further, nearly all female circumcisions are done under unsanitary conditions, with often crude and unsanitary tools, and without anesthetic. The practice has its origins in Africa, but it is practiced in Yemen, Iraqi Kurdistan, and to a lesser degree in areas of surrounding Asia, as well as in areas where the immigrant populations of these areas settle.
Proponents of the practice call it a rite of passage and a preparation for marriage and womanhood. Others consider it a symbol of cultural identity and even a religious obligation, but those who oppose the practice call it ritual child abuse, violence against women, and even a danger to the health of women.
What is Female Circumcision?
Female circumcision is performed in different manners according to local customs, ethnicities, and even among individual practitioners. The practice involves circumsizers who are usually older women who have no medical training. These women use a variety of crude and even homemade instruments to perform the procedure, including knives, razor blades, scissors, glass and other sharp objects. Practitioners often perform these procedures on up to 30 girls and young women at a time, assembly-line fashion, using the same instrument.
The ages of the girls when they undergo the procedure also varies widely, from as young as a few days after their birth to as old as 14. This depends largely on where the girls are born and raised.
It has been estimated that between 100-140 million African women have undergone female circumcision. Further, more then three million girls and women are considered to be at risk of the practice in Africa alone. More are in the countries of the Middle East and others are in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and even the United States.
Origins of the Practice
The exact origins of the practice of female circumcision are not known. It is largely assumed that it began in the are of sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in the area of the present-day Sudan. There is also speculation that the practice started as a means to control the access to women and increase the confidence in paternity.
There is a reference to an “uncircumcised girl” written in hieroglyphs as well as a spell found on the sarcophagus of Sit-hegjhotep, an Egyptian diety, now located in the Egyptian Museum, which dates to 1991-1786 B.C.E. There is also a mention of female circumcision on a Greek papyrus from 163 B.C.E. in the British Museum.
Variations of female circumcision as well as the modification or mutilation of male genitalia became associated with slavery as noted by the Portuguese explorer Joas dos Santos who wrote of a group of
It is interesting to note that even in the early medical history of the United States, female circumcision was practiced by gynocologists for the treatment of “maladies” as insanity and masturbation. According to the Obstetrical and Gynecological Survey in 1985, the procedure was still in practice as late as the 1960s as a relief of hysteria, erotomania, and lesbianism.
Reasons for the Procedure
The reasons for the procedure also vary widely, according to culture, religion, and other influences. Interestingly, although religious reasons for the procedure are often given, there is no evidence of any religious group that calls for the procedure to be done. In fact, according to many groups, not only do they wrongly believe that their group/religion calls for female circumcision, but many also believe that it is practice by many other groups around the world.
Other reasons include:
* preservation of virtue
* social acceptance, especially for marriage
* increase in sexual stimulation for the male
* family honor
* a sense of unity with a group or family unit
* enhancing fertility
Types and Terms of Female Circumcision
According to the World Heath Organization, there are four basic types of female circumcision in most common practice. These are
Type 1: There are actually two methods of type 1 female circumcision: a.) the removal of the clitoral hood, which is rarely performed alone, and b.) the removal of the clitoris and the clitoral hood.
Type 2: A partial or total removal of the clitoris and the inner labia. This can be done with or without removal of the outer labia.
Type 3: A total removal of all of the external labia and fusion of the wound. This might be accomplished with or without the removal of the clitoris.
Type 4: The WHO calls any cutting that is performed on a woman’s genitals (with the exception of that done for cosmetic or sexual reassignment surgery) as female genital mutilation (FGM)
After the cutting is complete, the wound is closed around something that will keep a small hole in the vulva open for the passage of urine and menstrual blood. The incision is sutured by surgical thread or a variety of thorns. Often a pultice of raw egg, herbs and sugar is packed onto the wound to slow blood loss and facilitate healing. Unfortunately, many girls die as a result of the procedure.
The Consequences of Female Circumcision
It is important to remember that there is no known benefit to female circumcision. There are, however many negative consequences for those who undergo the procedure. These include, but are not limited to:
* pain and shock
* urine retention
* injury and/http://nobullying.com/honor-killings/of surrounding tissues
There can also be long-term effects which can include:
* extensive damage to the external reproduction system
* uterine, vaginal, and pelvic infections
* cysts and neuromas
Opposition to Female Circumcision
Beginning in the early 20th century, Protestant missionaries in present-day Kenya began the effort to eradicate the practice of female circumcision, which happened to have been practiced extensively, along with circumcision of boys. At that time and in the region, those who had not had this procedure done were considered outcasts. In fact, a woman who had not been circumcised was consider taboo and not marriageable.
In 1925, missionaries of the Church of Scotland Mission in Kenya declared that female circumcision was prohibited for African Christians, and that any female who was circumcised would be excommunicated, resulting in many who left or were expelled.
In 1929, in the effort to re frame the controversy and to test the loyalty of many, the Kenya Missionary Council began referring to female circumcision as “female genital mutilation.” Unfortunately, one strong opponent of the practice, an American missionary named Hulda Stumpf, was murdered 1930 after being circumcised by her attacker.
In 1956, a ban on female circumcision was announced by a board of male members of the church. As a result, over the next three years, thousands of young girls protested the action by cutting each other’s genitals with razor blades, even going so far as to insist that they had cut themselves in an effort to protect those who had done it to them.
In the 1920s, the Egyptian Doctors’ Society called for a ban on the practice of female circumcision, and in the 1920s and 1930s, Anglo-Egyptian control over the Sudan was forced by the ban of the practice. The Egyptian-run hospital system also banned the practice of infibulation, but did allow female circumcision if a patient requested it.
Beginning in the mid-1970s, several feminists came together to publish and speak about the subject of female circumcision in their effort to bring attention to the issue as well as to study the numbers of those who had endured the procedure since until that time most actual numbers had been unavailable.
In 2012, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution calling for an end to female circumcision. By 2013, 22 of 27 African nations had agreed to the ban. In Egypt, where the practice is thought to have originated, a law was finally passed in 2008 making it illegal after a national outcry resulted from a documentary was shown that covered the procedure done on a child in a barber shop in Cairo. This incident caused the highest religious authority in Egypt to proclaim that the practice had no authority in Islam, which was quickly outlawed by the government in 2008.
Spread of the Practice into Non-Practicing Countries
Unfortunately, one of the drawbacks in efforts to contain and make female circumcision illegal in countries where it is commonly practiced, is the the fact that those who commit the practice often immigrate to other countries, taking it with them. Some of the most common of these immigrant countries include Australia, Europe, North America and Scandinavia.
As of 2013, 33 countries outside of Africa and the Middle East have passed laws prohibiting female circumcision. And although several former colonial countries followed suit by passing their own legislation, there were others still that did not since they considered the issue covered by existing laws.
In July 1994, Canada became the first country to call female circumcision a form of persecution, thus opening the door to those who would flee to the the country as a result of the threat. And although Canada has implemented laws that forbid female circumcision, thus far there have been no persecution under those laws.
In France, which considers the practice of female circumcision an act of child abuse and prosecutes it as such, there have been 100 punishments issued as a result. More than 30,000 women in that country alone are thought to be victims of female circumcision.
In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control estimates that in 1990 there were 168,000 girls living in the country who had undergone the procedure. Further, several foreign-born women were successful in fighting deportation because they feared being forced to undergo the procedure if they returned to their native countries. In September 1996, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Responsibility Act made it illegal to perform female circumcision on a minor for non-medical reasons. The first conviction for a violation of this act occurred in 2006 when an Ethiopian immigrant was sentence to 10 years in prison for attempting to remove his tw0-year-old daughter’s clitoris with a pair of scissors.