UN Women declared February 6th the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), a practice criminalized in several Muslim countries, with Egypt one of them. It recently increased the period of imprisonment for anyone guilty of doing this from 5-7 years, to 5-20 years.
Dar al-Ifta the highest Islamic legislative body in Egypt, proclaims that FGM is forbidden under Islamic law because of the physical and mental damage that it causes. The punitive measures in place do little to deter some parents from subjecting their young daughters to this atrocious procedure.
Too often we hear about girls who die due to a botched circumcision or from excessive bleeding. Many FGM victims who survive the attack on their genitalia, then endure the physical and emotional scars that can cripple their future mental, reproductive and sexual wellbeing. The detrimental physical and psychological effects of FGM are well documented and well communicated, but the question remains: Why is FGM still practiced? The answer is the female body.
FGM is a crude and abhorrent version of a chastity belt, applied with the misguided and malicious intent to keep a girl’s pureness. It guarantees the young woman will not lose her mind in moments of passion and act on her lust, and on this very basis the people who believe this are preposterous.
The recent case of a grown married woman coerced by her husband to undergo a FGM procedure because he suffered from sexual dysfunction, and his unfounded suspicion of her infidelity shows his weakness; not hers.
This is hardly an isolated incident. Husbands have ordered several wives to endure the humiliating and painful procedure. Iran jailed an academic partly because of his research on FGM. The female body doesn’t just scare people; it terrorizes governments too.
Politicizing the female body is hardly new. Yet the underlying assumption is rarely questioned. Instead, the intention is explained away as conforming to an ancient practice.
FGM rests within the perception that women are either inferior beings who are unable to control their libido or that they are gullible creatures who need guarded against the faceless seducer who will sully her honor. Both assumptions are founded upon the primordial conception that a girl’s body is an object belonging to another, whether a father or a husband. Girls, naturally, lack the ability to make their own decisions.
Eradication of lust from the female body is essential because saving a girl or a woman from her innate desires is a man's mission. Men are doing the right thing because as soon as a girl starts to show any signs of womanhood pruning her body protects the family honor. Utter nonsense.
FGM isn’t merely an ugly practice that some Muslims aim to continuously repudiate in front of the Western world. FGM is a statement articulated on the feminine body, a stigma that she must carry her whole life to attest for her inaptitude as a human being, of her inferior status, of the pain she must endure simply because she was born a girl. FGM is a painful manifestation of gender inequality.
As countries take steps to end the practice of FGM, through legislative measures that punish its perpetrators, they must address the foundational preconditions that allow this practice to thrive.
Imagine this: A father takes a 12-year-old girl to a makeshift clinic, and assures her on their way that she will be alright, that the procedure won’t hurt as much as she thinks, and that this pain is necessary, and compensated with the congratulatory gifts that she will receive. She will be an adult. The girl continues to walk beside her father aided with the pride that she will now be a grown up, and the faith that her father will never do anything to hurt her. She enters the clinic, lies on the cold steel examining table, the nurse pulls up her dress and ties her legs so that she doesn’t kick to protect herself. Her father holds her arms to prevent her from moving. A man emerges holding a blade. He approaches the girl, spreads her legs. She screams. Let her screams be heard, and end the abomination that is, FGM.