Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) refers to the ritual removal of external female genital organs for non-medical reasons. An approximated number of 130 million girls around the world have already undergone this procedure and have been left with deep physical and psychological scars. It is estimated that two million more will experience some form of FGM each year.
The extremely dangerous consequences of this practice make it difficult to understand the reasons why victims have to endure excruciating pain and downright violation of their human rights. Some words come in to mind when this topic arises: control, subjugation, ignorance, and fear. This practice reflects the need to control women’s sexuality, to subjugate women to rules and conceptions of the world that have not been informed by women themselves. FGM speaks to antiquated notions that women cannot be tamed or dominated, if not mutilated. Indeed, fear paves the road for the most nonsensical and violent actions.
Although the practice is most popular in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, it takes place in the West as well, with numerous cases reported in Europe, most often among families of migrants who insist on keeping this tradition. If there are no benefits for women, then why does it still take place?
In countries where FGM is a deeply embedded cultural practice, practitioners claim that it is meant to make a woman more chaste and faithful. Women are cut at a very early age and sewn up until they marry and are ready to have children. This is mostly done using crude tools and by traditional circumcisers, with danger of bleeding to death or getting an infection. In some countries such as Egypt, around 70% of cases of FGM have been done by doctors, who argue that this practice can´t be stopped, so it is safer to be done in a sanitary environment. There is, however, a financial component attached to carrying out this practice, which might add to the willingness of hospitals to continue rather than combat FGM.
In Western societies, campaigns against this practice have started, all aiming to eliminate FGM forever. Even though this is a noble goal, seeking to eradicate an act of pure violence, it might be impossible to reach. Despite it being illegal in the West, FGM is still performed, behind closed doors, not visible, not talked about. For the young victims, however, the pain will always be there.
Can we speak here of an instinctual fear of the female body? FGM is an inhuman response to lack of knowledge and education. Beyond tradition, legitimation of this practice rests on pre-modern understanding of female sexuality. The assumption that their own bodies make women behave in a promiscuous, unclean, unchaste manner leads to tragic, irreversible actions, such as FGM. The female body becomes a site of projection of an archaic fear, which persists, with a surprising resistance to education and modern science. Female Genital Mutilation needs to stop, and instinctive notions must be replaced with knowledge – knowledge of what it means to be a woman, and also of what it means to be a human being.
Words: Astrid Scheuermann
Copy edited by: Elena Stanciu