Female Genital Cutting and Womanhood in Africa
Since the dawn of history, mankind has developed a variety of practices, which are intricately related to complex social and traditional codes of behaviour. A dramatic and disturbing form of religiously and culturally sanctioned violence is female genital cutting or mutilation, involving many intricacies and sensitivities surrounding the controversy. 80% of all reported cases of female genital mutilation occur in Africa, there they regularly practice it in 28 countries(***). It is performed on young women and girls after reaching puberty and before they are considered as possible brides. The World Health Organization estimates that between 100 and 140 million girls and women worldwide have been subjected to some form of genital mutilation(***). Based on studies conducted this year, an estimated 91.5 million females in Africa, above the age of nine years, are currently living with consequences of female genital mutilation(***). It is also predicted that 3 million African girls will undergo some form of genital mutilation this year(***). Instead of understanding it we, in the West especially, categorize it as inhumane disregarding its religious and social values. Genital cutting is carried out for many reasons which we will explore later in the paper. Throughout this paper, I will be taking a feminist approach to the study of this taboo topic. The paper is organized as follows. In the first section I will briefly define female genital cutting as well as categorize the practice into three widely accepted types of cutting. Next, in section 2, I will present the historical context in which genital cutting originated; and continue to explore the practice’s religious and cultural meaning in the third section. Section 4 will attempt to conceptualize the honor and sacrifice related to female genital cutting. In Section 5, I will uncover the patriarchal explanations through the exploration of the sexual control theory, marriage, and fidelity. The fifth section of the paper I will briefly underline some of the many health risks, and violations of International and African Human Rights due to this practice. Lastly, in section 7, I will cover the controversies surrounding the resistance to education, medicalisation, and prohibition of genital cutting by religiously informed sources. This paper concludes with a discussion of the findings and potential paths towards the ultimate eradication of female genital cutting. 1. DEFINITION
Female genital cutting or mutilation (FGC/FGM) is defined as the partial or total removal of the female external genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for religious, cultural, or other non-medical reason.(***) Informally it is considered any form of cutting, alterations, reductions, or removal of female genitalia, such as the clitoral hood, clitoris, vulva, urethra, labia majora, and labia minora. No one society, culture, or ethnic group practices the same form of female circumcision, yet it is common in all social classes and backgrounds in Africa. This diversity makes it very dangerous to over generalize. To facilitate the labeling of FGC/FGM, varieties of the informal procedure are recognized as 4 types. The mildest forms include scrapping, stretching, nicking, piercing, and pricking the clitoris to draw blood. The most common form of female genital mutilation is genital excision or a clitoridectomy, which involves the removal of some or part of the clitoris and labia minora, leaving the labia majora intact.(***) Infibulation cutting is the most extreme form of female genital mutilation. It involves the excision of the clitoris, labia minora and majora, followed by sewing or cauterizing the raw edges of the vulva, leaving only a small hole the circumference of a straw (Boyle, 26). In some cases after childbirth, or if sutures are ruptured, the raw edges of the wound are sutured again, recreating the small and tight vaginal opening. This is...
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Elizabethe Boyle “Female Genital Cutting: Cultural Conflict In the Global Comuunity.” John Hopkins Press, 2002.
Ellen Gruenbaum, “The Female Circumcision Controversy: An Anthropological Perspective.” (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001)
Nahid Toubia, “Female Genital Mutilation: A Call for Global Action”. Women Ink, 1993.
World Health Organization. Sexual and Reproductive Health: Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and harmful practices. 19 May, 2011.
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