By Janine Alhadidi
Image from Buzzfeed.com
When we think of the phrase “coming-of-age,” many of us may consider a cultural tradition, a transitional period, or a rise to adulthood. However, for some, this occurrence may entail a torturous practice violating fundamental women’s rights, a practice called Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). FGM is the antithesis of the coming-of-age of a woman: it negates the survivor’s freedom, trivializes the importance of sexual health, and neglects her right to decide. It’s an imposition of a value on an unwilling agent. The World Health Organization defines female genital mutilation as the partial or full extraction of female genitalia. It is one of the biggest threats to the safety and health of women in developing countries. Whether the imperative to mutilate a woman is for cultural reasons, or to ‘preserve the virginity of women before marriage,’ women are still scarred, physically injured, and psychologically traumatized from a practice that is thought to cleanse a woman of her sexual drive. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 200 million women worldwide are subjected to this inhumane procedure, spreading to over 30 countries in total, particularly that FGM is particularly common within North African countries.
FGM has also found its path across borders as one of the leading causes of injury and health issues for women in developing countries, and even some cases in developed countries. The WHO reports that this has led to a greater risk on women’s health that may include higher chances of postpartum hemorrhages, and newborn infants that are resuscitated after birth, and neonatal mortality. Although FGM has decreased drastically over the past few decades, North African women are still suffering from this practice, and their human rights continue to be violated. Surveys run by the WHO that collected information from women over 15 years of age have reported that an approximate 90% of cases of FGM include Type 1 (clitoridectomy), Type 2 (excision), or Type 4 (nicking), with only 10% being Type 3 (infibulation). Cases of FGM in North Africa, as well as North-Eastern Africa have been reported to adhere to Type 3 FGM, also known as infibulation, while in West Africa Type 1 and 2 are more common.
Where did it start?
It is unclear as to when FGM first started in North Africa, but evidence showed that it may have started in the Nubian areas of Africa, now known as Egypt and Sudan, as hypothesized by Julia Lalla-Majarajh, Chief Executive and Founder of The Orchid Project, a British foundation with the goal of eradicating FGM. Lalla-Majarajh discussed this in an interview for Emirates Women Magazine that “some ancient mummies possess markings that indicate the practice. According to some historical accounts, the practice began when one Pharaoh cut his harem of women in order to control them. When others wanted their daughters to marry into his social group, they cut their daughters too. The practice was passed down into different social strata” .This is not much different from the state of this epidemic today in the 21st century, whereby FGM is still referred to a vehicle for the marriageability of certain women and is carried out without their consent. United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) reports even show that some women have become so embedded in the so-called cultural dimensions of FGM that they have begun to support the process and subject their daughters to it . The WHO has found that in Sierra Leone, 66% of women between 15-49 years old have endured some form of FGM, and this percentage reaches 77% in lower-income areas.
What are people doing to fight it?
Over the past few decades in North Africa, CNN reports that FGM has decreased from 60% in the 1990s to around 14% in 2015. Rates of FGM in West Africa have also decreased from an astounding 74% in 1996 to 25% in 2017. This change was a result of joint efforts between domestic governments and international bodies such as the WHO, UNICEF, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), as well as various NGOs such as The Orchid Project and Stop FGM Middle East Campaign. These efforts include global strategies published by the WHO in 2010, the 2012 UN General Assembly Resolution to eliminate FGM, and the 2016 joint Programme created by the WHO and UNFPA-UNICEF on the administration of healthcare surrounding FGM, including the treatment and aid of survivors of FGM.
As expressed in a speech to the UN on February 6th 2018 by the Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, “FGM is an act that cuts away equality.” Although FGM rates have decreased over time, its presence in the 21st century remains as a pertinent barrier to the creation of an equitable world where no one is subject to torturous procedures that negate agency and choice.
“Statement: ‘FGM Is an Act That Cuts Away Equality.’” UN Women, 2 Feb. 2018, www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2018/2/statement-ed-phumzile-international-day-of-zero-tolerance-for-fgm.–→ Quote by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka
Steven, Lyndsey. “FGM In The Middle East | Investigating Cutting Customs – Emirates Woman.” Emirates Woman, Emirates Woman, 28 Apr. 2015, emirateswoman.com/fgm-in-the-middle-east-investigating-cutting-customs/.–→ Quote by Julia Lalla-Majarajh
“Female Genital Mutilation.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/female-genital-mutilation.—-→ Types of FGM and International Response
Smith-Spark, Laura. “’Huge and Significant Decline’ in FGM in Africa, Report Says.” CNN, Cable News Network, 7 Nov. 2018, www.cnn.com/2018/11/07/health/fgm-decline-africa-middle-east-report-intl/index.html—→ StatIstics of FGM that have dropped over the years.