The Concoction

An Ethiopian woman's musings on Africa, the world and everything in between

Groove section
Currently praising...
    Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
      Similar artists
      • African Music Encyclopedia
      • NPR's World Music feed
      • Supporting

      • Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
      • Books
        This is a Flickr badge showing public photos from Fikirte's travels. Make your own badge here.
        Global Voices Online - The world is talking. Are you listening?
        Friday, July 07, 2006
        Culturally accepted torture

        Harmful culture is one of those things that defy logic – not that culture is often based on logic. Still, it is mind boggling how women carry on the culture of harmful practices on girls as if they were not victims themselves. Female genital mutilation is a wide spread practice in Africa, the middle East and some far east countries.

        Even if parents protect their girls from such practices, society is not too forgiving to girls who are not circumcised. Recently, in an attempt to stop the teasing about not being circumcised, a Kenyan girl performed the operation on herself and bled to death. Then, I wonder, what good is a law against such practices which leaves the culture intact, is not supplemented by education/awareness and can’t even prove that the practice is harmful? If anything, as Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance notes, legislation without changing the hearts and minds of people, will push the practice underground. (This site is worth reading by the way – it explores the religious-based arguments for and against FGM.)

        The child, completely naked, is made to sit on a low stool. Several women take hold of her and open her legs wide. After separating her outer and inner lips, the operator, usually a woman experienced in this procedure, sits down facing the child. With her kitchen knife the operator first pierces and slices open the hood of the clitoris. Then she begins to cut it out. While another woman wipes off the blood with a rag, the operator digs with her sharp fingernail a hole the length of the clitoris to detach and pull out the organ. The little girl, held down by the women helpers, screams in extreme pain; but no one pays the slightest attention. The operator finishes this job by entirely pulling out the clitoris, cutting it to the bone with her knife. Her helpers again wipe off the spurting blood with a rag. The operator then removes the remaining flesh, digging with her finger to remove any remnant of the clitoris among the flowing blood. The neighbor women are then invited to plunge their fingers into the bloody hole to verify that every piece of the clitoris is removed.

        If this is not a human rights violation, I don't know what is. I truly suspect that FGM has its origins in the patriarchal social system. A woman has to be a virgin until married, she has to be loyal to her husband while he can screw around… I’m pretty sure on this one.

        The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is half-arsed when it comes to FGM.

        On one hand, Article 24, paragraph 3 states: "States Parties shall take all effective and appropriate measures with a view to abolishing traditional practices prejudicial to the health of children." But Article 29 paragraph 1.c calls for: "The development of respect for the child's parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values, for the national values of the country in which the child is living, the country from which he or she may originate, and for civilizations different from his or her own." (Source)

        Recently, I read this BBC article on "breast ironing" in Cameroon which chilled my spine. "This involves pounding and massaging the developing breasts of young girls with hot objects to try to make them disappear." All this is to try and protect girls from sexual advances by boys. Whatever happened to over-sized T-shirts?

        Protection against FGM
        I think very little has been done to protect girls from undergoing FMG. Given the fact that the practice is about 1000-2000 years old – depending on whose counting – it is only in the mid 90's that the only two countries, US and Canada, started giving women a refugee status if they are afraid that they will be victims of FGM in their country. It is also the same time that African leaders started taking FGM seriously, at least on paper.

        In September 1997, African legislators endorsed a plan to end female genital cutting in Africa by the year 2005. The forum called all African states to enact specific, clear legislation for the abolition of genital cutting and other harmful practices. It urged legislation and the establishment of concrete mechanisms for implementing policies to eliminate of all forms of violence against women and children. Endorsed by delegates from 40 countries, the declaration also called the "degrading and inhuman practices of female genital mutilation and other harmful practices in Africa" a disgrace.

        Before that…

        1958 – the Economic and Social Committee (UN) invited the World Health Organization (WHO) to do a study on FGM. WHO blew it off saying that FMG is outside its jurisdiction.
        1980 – UNICEF announced that it was going to the root of the problem – awareness and training.
        1979 - WHO seminars on FGM
        1989 – WHO Africa had a change of heart and started urging participating governments to ban FGM.
        1996 – The US Senate passed the Federal Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act of 1995
        1996 – WHO, UNICEF & UNFPA jointly screamed that it was "…unacceptable that the international community remains passive (about harmful traditional practices) in the name of a distorted vision of multiculturalism.” By then WHO has forgotten that it said what is done in the name of culture is outside its jurisdiction. It’s all good.
        1997 – IMF and the World Bank were required to deny loans to countries which practice FGM and don't have anti-FGM education campaigns.

        Legislation against FGM performed even in Western countries fall short of protecting girls because these practices are performed under tightly guarded secretes. For example, the UK bans FGM but about 7,000 migrant girls are estimated to be in danger of undergoing FMG. "Backstreet doctors" are used or the girls return to their original country to be butchered. What's a UK law going to do especially in the latter case?

        A glimpse of hope
        Raising awareness and providing an alternative to social practices must be the best way against FGM. A local organization in Kenya is doing just that. It provides an alternative (and not painful) right of passage for Massai girls.

        Women's groups and human rights activists have placed genital cutting on the agendas or many governments and international organizations. Belgium, Ghana, Sweden, and the United Kingdom have outlawed various forms of genital cutting, while Sudan and Djibouti forbid infibulations. Public education campaigns make open discussion of the practice more acceptable.

        Successful programs have retrained practitioners of genital cutting either to undertake different careers or to modify the practice, retaining its importance as a rite of passage while avoiding inflicting harm. (Source)

        But imagine the pain an organization must go through to convince donors for money to retrain FGM practitioners and give them an alternative harmless social practice.

        Harmful culture can be beaten. In the 19th century, Britain and the US thought that clitoris was responsible for such nervous disorders as epilepsy "What now will be the chance for recovery for the poor epileptic female with a clitoris?" was the question an American doctor asked when his British counterpart was publicly disgraced for insisting that female circumcision was harmless. Mind you, the medical society still believed the Brit about masturbation as the cause for epilepsy and other disorders.

        Britain and the US have come a long way since then. So can Africa – with the right commitment.

        Amnesty International has a comprehensive list of the African Countries practicing female genital butchering.
        Global Campaign against FGM
        History of circumcision
        posted by Fikirte @ 12:38 PM   Digg!
        • name<="c115238113566097443" id="c115238113566097443">

          At 1:52 PM, Blogger The Rendezvous said…

          I think the same projects are done in Kenya where kenyan somalis practice FGM

        • name<="c115262393186782936" id="c115262393186782936">

          At 9:18 AM, Blogger sokari said…

          There are also a number of other forms of violations of women's bodies which also need more attention - see latter part of this piece

        Post a Comment
        << Home
        The face of VAW

        Kamilat - victim of acid burning The face of VAW - violence against women. It should and can be stopped with enough commitment. Helping one woman at a time is a start.
        Go to the blog
      • VAW - Do something!
      • Also blogging at
        Feeds, links and such
        Previously on The Concoction...
        News on Africa
        Blogs on Africa
        On development
        Western development agencies
        Template by

        Free Blogger Templates