The mutilation, cutting and alteration of female genitalia is a tradition that is still upheld in certain areas of Africa, the Middle East and Asia. At least 140 million women and girls have fallen victim to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), the World Health Organization reported in Feb. 2013.
The latest incident to make media headlines is the death of a 13-year-old in Egypt, which is not only a tragedy for the family, but a catastrophe for those working to eradicate FGM.
FGM is practiced in at least 28 countries. WHO estimates that up to 101 million females have experienced such barbaric treatment in Africa aloneSophie Ghaziri
The young teen’s parents have said they hold the doctor, who also circumcised their eldest daughter, accountable. “I waited half an hour, hoping that my daughter would wake up, but unfortunately, unlike the rest of the girls, she did not,” Mohammad Ibrahim told an Egyptian newspaper.
FGM is practiced in at least 28 countries. WHO estimates that up to 101 million females have experienced such barbaric treatment in Africa alone. Should this brutal tradition still be taking place today? What purpose does it serve?
It traumatizes a child both physically and psychologically. The United Nations has stated many a time that FGM has neither medical nor religious justification. The U.N. Children’s Fund has long maintained that the practice “violates girls’ and women’s basic human rights, denying them of their physical and mental integrity, their right to freedom from violence and discrimination, and in the most extreme case, their life.”
FGM can cause death through hemorrhaging and later complications during childbirth. It also carries risks of infection, urinary tract problems, infertility and mental trauma.
Shocked to death
According to the family’s lawyer, the child may have died as a result of shock trauma, which is a sudden drop in blood pressure.
Egypt did ban FGM in 2008, but a recent report by the BBC shows that the procedure is still common. Egyptian women are struggling to fight against this old tradition. Some are afraid to even voice their rejection as it goes against custom.
FGM is carried out by both Muslims and Christians in Egypt and Africa. It is a misperception that the practice is solely an Islamic one. In fact, several Muslim leaders have campaigned for its abandonment, which goes to show that the problem is one of mentality, not faith.
Women in Egypt and elsewhere feel that they are guarantors of a certain social order, given that the tradition goes all the way back to the time of the pharaohs. Females dare question the ritual, despite stories of others bleeding, suffering infection and other despicable traumas. FGM is instead embraced as morally acceptable. Comparing male and female circumcision is like clipping a nail and cutting a whole finger off, respectively.
Education can help abolish this horrific act, which serves no real purpose other than social acceptance. The tradition is based on ideas of purity, status and honor, an effort to maintain female chastity before marriage.
FGM involves the partial or complete removal of the external female genitalia for non-medical reasons. This barbarism is performed sometime after birth, and up to the age of 15. There are several classifications, according to WHO.
Type 1: Clitoridectomy, which is the removal of the clitoris.
Type 2: Excision, which takes the procedure a little deeper and removes the inner labia.
Type 3: The complete removal of the inner and outer labia, and sealing of the wound, leaving a small space for the girl to urinate and menstruate. The wound is then opened later to enable childbirth and sexual intercourse.
Some young girls may have the surgery performed in a hospital, but it is mostly done without anesthesia, for traditional purposes. Those are carried out in unhygienic environments, with utensils such as a knife, razor or scissors.
According to Amnesty International, women who have not had the procedure are regarded in certain societies as unclean, and therefore cannot handle food or water. How can a 13-year-old or a newborn be considered unclean?
Sophie Ghaziri is a Shift Editor at Al Arabiya English. She has previously worked as a producer, presenter and a writer at the BBC, Al Jazeera and she was Head of English at Future News in Lebanon for 2 years. She can be followed on Twitter on: @sophieghaziri