What Is Wrong With Female Genital Mutilation?
Beatrice Rumaga (not real name) is in every respect a dignified lady. She hails from Benue State, a minority base in the middle belt area of Nigeria. Tall, slim and elegant, she is an epitome of beauty, much to be desired by men. But she is bitter against her people; she is aggrieved with a tradition, which compelled her to be circumcised at the age of 16. Her story: “At 16, a lady is considered ripe for marriage, and just before she is given out to a man, she is expected to go through circumcision. And so when the community elders came to make this demand, I objected and told them I was not interested. But my parents would have none of such eccentric behaviour. ‘It is forbidden’ my father thundered. My mother cried and pleaded that I consent to it so as to uphold the communal tradition and also prevent my family from being ostracized. I could not help but oblige.”
And what happened afterward?
“Two old men dragged me down on top of some banana leaves and cut off my clitoris. I bled for 12 days and suffered fever for three months. Shortly afterwards, I was given out in marriage. Now I have a daughter who is 16 and they are making the same demand. But I have told them it’s not possible. It just won’t work. If my parents could not stand their ground to protect me, I am going to stand and protect my own daughter from this cruel traditional practice,” she protests.
Tradition calls it circumcision, but today, several NGOs especially those fighting for rights of women and girls argue that it is mutilation. A Nigerian father named Hammed Olalekan Olalowo was recently beaten for objecting to the female genital mutilation of his daughter, According to New Telegraph report, the father was attacked by his kinsmen -family and members of his community – on his way home from an outing for not subjecting his daughter to the exercise.
Olalowo explained that he was on his way home when some men began taunting him for not allowing his daughter to be circumcised. He was thereafter beaten and left to die, with bruises all over his body, a swollen face and severe bleeding. It was gathered that his wife had to run away from her matrimonial home with her children when she was asked to bring her daughter for the circumcision. New Telegraph further reported that human rights activists have described the act as barbaric and have blamed it on the Nigerian government for not providing adequate security to its citizens against such practices.
It is true that both religion and science accentuate the practice of male circumcision. The argument is that it is to prevent infection from settling in the delicate part of the body and to ensure that a man is sexually sensitive. Perhaps, there would not have been so much agitation and national/international campaign against female circumcision if the reasons were as fair as that of their male counterparts. But research finding says otherwise.
Describing it as odious and inhuman, Mrs. Bose Ironsi stated that female genital mutilation is injury; it is the total or partial removal of the female external genitals.” Speaking at a workshop organized by BAOBAB for Women’s Human Rights, she explained that “The external female genitals comprise the vulva, made up of the labia majora and minora, clitoris, clitoris prepuce, virginal orifice and the urinary meatus; hence any interference with the natural appearance of the female genitalia, using a blade, knife, scissors, sharp stone or any sharp instrument in order to bring about either reduction in size of the clitoris or a complete removal of the vulva is mutilation”.
She enumerated various types of mutilation:
· The removal of the clitoris prepuce or top shin. This can be described as equivalent to male circumcision.
· The total removal or partial cutting of the clitoris and all or parts of the labia minora and in some cases labia majora.
· Infibulations involving the excision of part or all of the external genital and stitching narrowing of the vaginal opening. It entails the complete removal of the clitoris, the labia minora and the adjacent medical part of the labia majora in their anterior two-thirds. It is called infibulations because it involves the stitching together of the two sides of the vulva with thorns, cat cut or silk thread.
Scarification of the clitoris prepuce cut into the clitoris and labia minora as well as into the vagina e.g. Gishiro in the North.
· Psycho-sexual reasons: reduction or elimination of the sensitive tissue of the outer genitalia, particularly the clitoris, in order to tame sexual desires in the female, maintains chastity and promote virginity before the marriage and as well as fidelity during marriage.
· Sociological reasons: Identification with the cultural heritage, initiation of girls into womanhood, social integration and the maintenance of social cohesion;
· Hygiene and aesthetic reasons: the external female genitalia are considered dirty; and are to be removed to promote hygiene and provide aesthetic appeal;
· Myths: enhancement of fertility and promotion of child survival.
· Religious reasons: some Muslim communities practice FGM in the belief that it is demanded by the Islamic faith, although the practice predates Islam.
Thus, while some traditions hold that it be performed when a girl child is under two weeks old, some others believe it should be at the inception of puberty. Others still do it, either before marriage or during a woman’s first pregnancy.