Female Gender Mutilation
The procedures that constitute the removal of the external genitalia of the females, whether in part or wholly, is referred to as female genital mutilation or briefly as FGM. It also constitutes other forms of injury to such organs for non-medical reasons. The practice is usually carried out by traditional circumcisers who are recognized individuals in communities, and are often present at important functions such as child births. There are instances when health care providers carry out the procedures under the false assumption that it is safe to do it in controlled medical facilities (UNICEF 87). However, the world Health organization requests all medical professionals to refrain from carrying out such procedures. The practice has been recognized all over the world as a violation of the rights of women. It is a sign of major inequalities between males and females of the human species, and is known to be a strong indicator of the underlying serious discrimination against women. It is a major form of the violation of the rights of children since it is normally carried out on children. It is a blatant violation of one’s right to health, physical integrity, security, freedom from torture, and all forms of ill treatment of fellow humans; plus, the right to life (the procedure often leads to death) (WHO 1).
This paper seeks to expose the fact that FGM is a wrong practice regardless of cultural beliefs, as it is a violation against the rights of human beings.
Defining the Practice
The procedure entails partial or total removal of the external genitalia of a woman. The procedure is carried out on children of all ages; although it is most common among girls between the ages of 5 and 10. Although the procedure is sometimes carried out by trained medical personnel, the procedure is mostly done by untrained people in as far as norms of medical health practices are concerned (Dorkenoo 8). The instruments used to carry out the procedure range from blades, scalpels to broken glass pieces. In some instances, even pieces cut from tins are used to carry out the procedure. Normally, when the procedure is carried out, there is no anesthesia applied to ease pain. Rather, older women who are usually close relatives that also passed through the practice hold the girl being mutilated. It is a very painful procedure that cannot be adequately described in words. Often, physical complications result from the procedure. Girls and women are reported to experience shock, injury to the surrounding tissue, and organs, and hemorrhage. These result from the struggles that ensue as the mutilator tries to mete out their crude procedure on them. Other complications commonly linked to the practice include obstruction of the urinary tract, incontinence, infection and serious scarring that interferes with sexual intercourse and child bearing complications. It is also a well-known fact that women suffer a myriad of complications because of the procedure. The most obvious effect drawn from the procedure is the failure by a woman to experience sexual sensation and pleasure (Scott 1). This is because all FGM procedures involve the removal of the clitoris.
Surprisingly, the number of girls and women who have gone through the practice in the world today is staggering. It is estimated that there are between 100 million to 140 million females living with the consequences of the practice of FGM today. These women are reported to be predominantly found in Sub-Sahara Africa and the Arab World. The rates are, however on the rise. This is noted to be a sign of global population increase. The problem has to be tackled on two fronts. Firstly, the girls who are already born need to be protected. Secondly, there needs to be a way that girls that will be born in future are protected from the heinous practice. This is urgent and because, notably the practice is most prevalent in countries that are also recording high population growth rates and base a greater percentage of their population falling under the youth bracket. For instance, the female population in Gambia, Uganda, Somalia and Mali stood at 45% for females under the age of 15 years. The practice of FGM has grave effects on the reproductive health and sex lives of women and girls. The eventual effects of the procedure are influenced by such factors as the health of the victim at the time of the cut, the type of procedure, the experience and expertise of the person carrying out the procedure, the general environment in which the procedure is done and even the level of resistance and struggle during the procedure. Although complications suffice from all types of FGM, they are most serious in infibulations.
There is a myriad of complications that arise from the procedure. Shock, hemorrhage, urine retention, ulceration of the area, urinary tract infection, Septicemia, fever, and tetanus infection are some of the common and immediate effects of the procedure. Death can result from infection and hemorrhage. There also long-term effects that include the formation of abscesses and cysts, keloid scar, incontinence, painful intercourse, sexual dysfunction and hypersensitivity in the genitals. There is also an increased risk of contracting HIV, transmitting it, experiencing complications during child birth and a myriad of psychological effects. Serious scar formation results from infibulations. It is the cause of a wide range of serious complications affected women report. Some of the most serious highlights point to the possibility of infertility, interference with menstrual cycles, urinary tract and bladder infections. In certain cases, the vaginal channel is almost entirely blocked. This leads to the clogging of the menstrual flow and the resultant accumulation in the bladder and uterus. Infibulation is a notorious form of FGM. It requires that the woman is cut to open the vaginal channel when she gets married so as to allow her husband to be intimate with her. It also calls for further cutting during child birth since the opening is usually too small for normal exit of the baby (UNPF 1).
How Two cultures approach and view FGM differently
The U.S. has instituted strict laws against anyone who carries out or facilitates the FGM of women under the age of 18. These penalties include fines and imprisonment. Later, the congress saw the need to extend the legal hook to any persons that facilitated the procedure by transporting girls under the age of 18 years outside the U.S. for the sake of carrying out FGM. The practice of evading the law in these circumstances is commonly known in the U.S. as vacation cutting. There is a national hotline for people to report violations of the FGM statute. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS 1) in the U.S. has recommended that new arrivals are screened to ascertain that they have not been taken through such procedure. The HHS maintains a public information and support unit (USAID 1).
On the other side of the world in Europe, there is tolerance to FGM for political reasons and over-sensitivity to cultural concerns. Although the media tries hard to delink FGM from Islam, there is the unspoken link to Islam from geographic, historic and doctrinal perspectives. The general perspective is that there should be cultural sensitivity. Therefore, the populace and the media feel they have an obligation not to link the practice to Islam because it would be perceived as religious intolerance (Kern 1).
Why is there such a difference between the two cultures?
The societies in which the practice takes place are usually patriarchal. Historically, in patriarchal societies, women do not have much freedom to choose on most issues, even personal ones. All the important decisions are made by men. There are various explanations for the practice of FGM. However, there is always a convergence at the point of controlling the sexuality of women (Dorkenoo 29). FGM is an issue in Europe because the region has been experiencing a refugee influx for a long time. The European Union has placed the figure of female refugees living with FGM in Europe at over 500,000 women and girls. The union says that over 180,000 girls are at the risk of FGM. Britain records the highest number of FGM cases in Europe. A government funded study conducted in 2007 indicates that over 66,000 girls have undergone the procedure since 2007. The study indicates that there are over 20-000 girls under the age of 15 at risk (Kern 1). Westerners largely view the practice as barbaric and inhuman. Americans recognize FGM as violation of human rights and outlaw it even in its simplest form. It is worth noting that such protection in the U.S. does not cover men. Boys can be subjected to circumcision for non-medical reasons without legal ramification to the facilitators or perpetrators (England 1).
The Objectivist Argument
FGM is culturally prescribed in some communities while it is proscribed in others. The practice is recognized as a violation of human rights across the globe but is still prevalent in parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Many international treaties prohibit any form of discrimination against women. One such treaty is the Convention to Eliminate Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Despite the existence of these conventions, many communities continue with the practice. Many Islamic communities, for instance, openly restrict the rights of women. The question is central to a prolonged controversy that explores universality of the human rights and the issue of cultural relativism. Some schools of thought argue that human rights are universal and must remain as such. They must reign supreme even when they are in contradiction with local cultures of groups and communities. They state that the conventions are therefore universal. Those who champion cultural relativism argue that it is wrong to allow conventions to overrule the local cultural beliefs and that, that amounts to the violation of sovereignty (Musalo 1). Culture is important but should not be used as a shield to promote violence and harm to fellow humans. Therefore, there are no two ways to the FGM campaign. The practice should be stopped but in a socially and culturally sensitive way so as to cut out emotional dimensions and fallacies from the whole perspective. Awareness is therefore essential in the campaign. People should be informed of the hazards of the practice. They should be made aware that it is possible to give up some retrogressive practices without surrendering the valued aspects of their culture. Children, including girls have the right to be protected from harm. The movement against FGM aims at protecting girls from harm. There is evidence that there is increased support for de-campaigning FGM; even in countries where the practice is common, e.g. Sudan and Egypt. Stopping FGM requires concerted effort from all sections of the communities that have practiced it, including the international community (UNPF 1).
The conflicting views can be consolidated if individuals reflect on the purpose of international conventions and ponder over the polemical justifications set forth. It is clear from all quarters involved in the efforts to stop the practice that it is a violation of the rights of women and those of humans in general. The Universal Declaration of human Rights guarantees right to life, liberty and security for all humans. The declaration prohibits cruelty and torture too, in addition to related acts that demean another human being. It is impossible to support the practice of FGM in the light of human rights. How can the painful and often crude removal of parts of the vagina of a girl escape torture and cruelty (Diallo 1). Humans are born naturally and are open to the options of nature. The relativist view that the practice is a people’s culture is defeatist because humans are not born depending on the will of others but are subject to the laws of nature. Locke’s argument is that humans are born with a right to choose their destiny and that their rights go beyond culture. It is therefore wrong for cultures such as those in support of FGM to impose the practice on humans without presenting them an option (Scott 1).
The supporters of universality state that international human rights are superior because they arise from a consensus between nations on matters that relate to ethical practices between people and governments. From this perspective, therefore, it is easy to see why FGM should be ended in order to guarantee everyone freedom from torture and grant them the benefits of related liberties as prescribed in the stated rights.
Diallo, Khadi. “Taking the Dress.” UNESCO Courier july 2001: 40.
Dorkenoo, Efua. Cutting the Rose: Female Genital Mutilation: The Practice and Its Prevention. London: Minority Rights Publishers, 1995.
England, Joseph. “Circumcision in America.” The Objective Standard 10.1 (2015).
Kern, Soeren. UK: The Crisis of Female Genital Mutilation. 9 may 2013. 18 February 2016 .
Musalo, Karen. “When Rights and Cultures Collide.” Issues in Ethics 8.3 (1997).
Scott, Jennifer. Eliminating Female Genital Mutilation..
UNICEF. Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: a statistical overview and exploration of the dynamics of change. New York: United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund, 2013.
UNPF. Female genital mutilation (FGM) frequently asked questions. December 2015. .
USAID. Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: United States Government’S Response. 4 February 2016. 18 February 2016 .
WHO. Female genital mutilation. February 2016. 18 February 2016 .
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