by Danielle Kent & Nana Preston
All you have to type into the internet are three letters – FGM – and you will find an endless list of horrifying articles which discuss a vicious practice which originated in North Africa, supposedly to retain the purity and innocence of young girls. It is being reported in newspapers almost every day, from The Daily Mail to the International Business Times. So why is it so that when I mention FGM to pretty much anybody, they have no idea what I’m talking about?
FGM stands for Female Genital Mutilation, in other words, female circumcision. Unlike male circumcision which has a range of health benefits to support the religious belief surrounding it, FGM has resolutely no health benefits whatsoever. The procedure quite literally involves restraining a young girl, typically at some point between birth and her fifteenth birthday, and slicing off her clitoris and labia with a knife, scissors, or even glass. About 140 million girls worldwide are living with FGM, and around 170,000 of them are right here in Britain.
Of course, FGM is illegal in the UK, but the figures don’t add up. No one to date has ever been arrested for practicing female genital mutilation in this country, yet there are said to be 65,000 girls under the age of thirteen who are currently at risk within Britain. This doesn’t include the number of girls who have already been cut. Many families will bring their daughters back to their country of origin for the procedure – these are most typically Somalia, Guinea, Djibouti and Egypt, where over 90% of girls are operated on, generally without any form of anesthetic. Taking a child out of the United Kingdom to undergo the procedure is also illegal but if young girls are threatened and frightened into keeping quiet, who is to know.
Why would anyone want to do this to a young girl? ‘Culture’ is thrown around too liberally; sheer cruelty cannot be passed off as culture. It is not religious – the first occurrence of FGM that has been reported was on the mummified body of a young Egyptian woman who died 300BC, meaning that practice predates Christianity and Islam. Practitioners believe that the occasion promotes social acceptance, preservation of virginity , the reduction of female sexual pleasure and the increase of a male’s sexual pleasure. How these reasons are remotely justifiable, I have no idea. They also uphold the idea that it is extremely hygienic for the woman, when in fact that couldn’t be further from the truth. When the child grows up and begins to menstruate,the blood congests within the uterus and the vulva which is not only unhygienic it is also extremely detrimental to the woman’s health.
In Africa, FGM is often a celebrated ritual, where crowds gather to observe the procedure with joy, despite the cries of pain coming from the victim. In Britain, of course, it is a completely private which leaves the woman feeling as though if no one else knows about it, then there is no escape. If she was to avoid having to endure the practice, many men who originate from the Horn of Africa would refuse to marry a woman that had not had not been mutilated.
A few African countries where FGM is practiced are making advances to put an end to the procedure. In Ghana, charities are set up which advocate against FGM, in particular Ghana Association of Women’s Welfare and Action Aid Ghana. But that can’t defend young girls living in countries like Somalia, where it is reported that 99% of girls are subjected to this treatment. A percentage of these girls emigrate to the UK where they are forced to keep this secret until they give birth. They will be asked if they would like the stitches cut open before or during the labour, and while women who have undergone FGM experience a delivery vastly for painful than usual, it is not uncommon for their husbands to ask the midwives to stitch them up again after the birth.
Fortunately, FGM is being challenged and I am proud to support the cause. There are many agencies and charities throughout the UK and abroad where you can seek information and advice about FGM, completely confidentially for those who are at risk or have been subjected to FGM. For more information and personal stories regarding FGM, please visit http://www.dofeve.org/, a company which sees FGM as pure violence directed towards females and are working towards eradicating the procedure.