Female Genital Mutilation is believed to have started in Egypt 2,000 years ago and spread from there. Only a few years ago, FGM was considered a cultural tradition, but now the United Nations has labeled it as a violation of human rights. Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, and the United States has declared Female Genital Mutilation grounds for seeking asylum and is a punishable offense (1).
Many of us never heard of Female Genital Mutilation until the story of Kauziya Kasinga, a woman from West Africa. Her father did not believe in polygamy, forced marriage, or "female circumcision". He died when she was 17 and the father's sister inherited the home, banished the mother, ended Fauziya's schooling, and arranged a marriage as a fourth wife to a man she had never met. The aunt scheduled her for the circumcision and she ran with 3,000 dollars that one of her aunts had saved.
What is female circumcision? The female genital mutilation term covers three main varieties of genital mutilation (2). There is the "sunna circumcision"; this consists of removal of the prepuce and/or the tip of the clitoris. Ironically, sunna in Arabic means "tradition". This is done because it is believed that the clitoris is a very dangerous part of the female anatomy. In our culture, Freud stated in his book, Sexuality and the Psychology of Love, that the "elimination of clitoral sexuality is a necessary precondition for the development of femininity. In 1979, the "Love Surgery" was performed on women in the United Sates. Dr. James Burt, the "Love Surgeon", introduced "clitoral relocation" (sunna circumcision) to the medical field. He believed and acted upon the idea that excision does not prevent sexual pleasure, but enhances it. Dr. Burt practiced in Ohio for almost ten years before he was exposed after which he gave up his license.
Clitoridectomy, also referred to as excision, removes the entire clitoris and the removal of the labia. Thirdly, there is a procedure called an infibulation. This is the most extreme form of circumcision, it consists of the removal of the clitoris, the labia, and the joining of the scraped sides of the vulva across the vagina, where they are secured with thorns or sewn with thread. A small opening is kept to allow passage of urine and menstrual blood. A woman with this type of circumcision must be cut open to allow intercourse on the wedding night and is closed again afterwards to secure fidelity to the husband. It is sometimes opened to allow childbirth, but is sewn up again. In some cultures, the husband will cut her open to have sex with her. In males, you would have to remove the entire penis and testicles (castration) to compare this with infibualtion (3). This was done in the Catholic Church to get men to sing soprano. It is no longer permitted and has been outlawed by the Pope. It was also done to men who worked in harems so that they would not have sex with the girls.
Female genial mutilation is mainly practiced in the African culture. It is also practiced in Christian, Judaism, Aboriginal, and Islamic cultures. FGM is not religious, but is a social custom (4). In some countries it is almost universal. There are over 30 million women currently living in Nigeria that have been circumcised and 24 million in Ethiopia and Eritrea. Some groups say that 114 to 130 million women worldwide have had the operation. FGM has spread worldwide with immigrants coming from Africa and other nations that accept this practice. It is outlawed in the United States, but the practice is still done. Specialists in Denver, CO reported in 1998 that at least 6,000 immigrants have settled in the area from African countries, which widely practices FGM. Dr. Terry Dunn, director of a women's clinic in that city commented: "I know of one patient where it was clear it was performed in this country." About 4 mutilation cases are seen each year at the clinic (5).