“Cut my life into pieces
This is my last resort
…Do you even care if I die bleeding?”
- Papa Roach
It’s an issue that’s finally garnering public and the media’s attention. The occurrence that has silently existed for centuries is finally evoking worldwide protest. And it’s about time. A practice such as this if allowed to continue unchecked can only spell disaster for one of the least empowered groups of people – children and women.
Female circumcision. Or more accurately known as female genital cutting/mutilation. The term itself credits a wince.
Widely practiced in Africa and Indonesia, female circumcision involves partial or total removal of the external female genitalia for cultural, religious or another non-medical reasons. Unlike self-consent procedures such as gender reassignment and vaginal reconstructive surgery, this process is carried out with parental consent as it is generally performed on a minor. That means that the child, usually between the age of four to eight years, though the operation can be done anytime between infancy to adolescence, has no say in the irreversible alteration that her anatomy undergoes. Considering the tender age of the patient at the time of operation, they have little knowledge of what is being done to them, making dissent almost impossible. It results in them being robbed of health and imposed with a lifetime of hardship.
Practiced in African and Indonesian Islamic communities, opinion among the larger Muslim society regarding female circumcision ranges from forbidden to obligatory, though it is not commanded by the Quran. Hence, majority of Muslims don’t practice it.
While male circumcision is known to have some known health benefits, its female equivalent has none. On the contrary, it can cause infections, obstructed urine and menstrual blood flow, infertility and even death through shock, immense pain or excessive bleeding, when done without administering anesthesia or use of sterile instruments. In parts of Africa, girls are even stitched up with materials as crude as brambles. Reasons for performing this surgery includes increase of matrimonial opportunities, prevention of promiscuity and loyalty to one’s husband, reduction of sexual pleasure but enhanced male sexual performance and pleasure.
But let’s put the gruesome details aside for a minute. The cause for greatest concern is misinterpretation of faith, giving room for abuse of those who have no voice to protest. Radical clerics take to the pulpits, vociferously recommending this unnecessary measure in the name of religion and tradition. What’s scariest is that such steps often find their way into mainstream society over a period of time – almost like crediting a lie makes it seem true after a while. And then there’s no saying until where the madness can extend. What’s next – breast ironing that’s practiced in Cameroon or the well known foot binding native to China? It’s easy to see how such practices solely torture a woman’s body, either for male satisfaction or simply because it is possible to do so.
Somalian-born model, Waris Dirie, who was in the news recently after going missing for three days in Belgium, strongly advocated against female circumcision – something she was subjected to as a child. The WHO is trying hard to abolish the practice. With notable figures and major organisations representing the cause, there is hope that it will soon fade away. But until then, it’s helpless little girls who desperately need to be saved from a deed that gains ground by the suppression of women.
Read Waris's powerful story in her autobiography, Desert Flower.