The word circumcise is defined as ‘the cutting off of the prepuce or clitoris’. This age-old practice of mutilating the genitals was originally thought to be a religious rite, but nothing could be further from the truth. The history of both male and female circumcision can be traced as far back as the early 1800’s. As myths and scant documentation would have it, the procedure was performed on boys as a symbol of the covenant between the Jews and God. Another tale from the past is one of a young boy that came to the doctor, pale and wan, with severe infections for his foreskin had become so constraining that it actually had strangled his penis by cutting off the blood flow. From this point on, male circumcision has evolved into a minor medical procedure to promote cleanliness. In today’s global society, male circumcision has become an elective procedure.
Female circumcision, however, is not the equivalent of male circumcision in terms of its short and long-term effects. To begin with it is much more brutal. It is a forceful and non-elective procedure for an entirely different reason than to ‘promote cleanliness.’ And sadly for these women and girls, the ability to experience an orgasm may be permanently affected, particularly in cases when the clitoris is completely removed, as it is in most cases. For this reason, it’s questionable whether the term circumcision is even appropriate; mutilation is a more apt description.
In other parts of the globe far, far away from the civilization of the States, female circumcision is prominent and far from elective! This procedure has been defined by the World Health Organization as “all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” For over 2000 years, the practice of female circumcision (or FGM for female genital mutilation) has been widely practiced in 28 countries including the Africa countries of Kenya, Sudan, Tanzania, and Somalia. The statistics are more shocking than one in a civilized world can imagine. Over 92 million women and girls in Africa and over 140 million immigrant communities in the Middle East and Europe have or have had this procedure done.
What is FGM?
The circumcisions are carried out by the circumciser known as the “gedda” by use of a knife-like instrument or a piece of sharpened glass under extremely unsanitary conditions such as a dirt hut or in the bush, and is performed with no anesthesia.
There of 4 types of FGM that is commonly practiced:
Type I involves the removal of clitoral hood.
Type II is the removal of clitoral hood and the clitoris.
Type III is the removal of the clitoris and the inner labia (the labia minora).
Type IV (not shown in diagram) is the removal of the complete vulva area including the labia majora by inserting the cutting instrument from the root of clitoris and making two quick slices down each side of the vulva, leaving only a small tube opening and a small hole for the drainage of urine and menstrual blood.
Once the procedure has been done there is profuse bleeding. The remaining skin is stitched together with thorny branches of a nearby tree. A twig is then inserted to allow for urine and menstrual blood to flow out after which the girl’s legs are tied and splinted shut for 4 to 6 weeks of healing.
The first question that comes to mind is, “Why???”
In certain tribal societies, women who are not circumcised are not considered “clean”, even enough to carry water or handle the food. It is also believed, the clitoris is a “male” body part; and that by removing the clitoris, it will also remove the sexual desires that would distract the woman from being a good mother. It is also believed that the clitoris is dangerous if it touches the baby’s head during childbirth. In these tribal countries, female circumcision is not elective, and to not be “cut” would ostracize them from the tribe, a fate worse than death.
The average age of an African woman is about 33 years; so at 16, a young girl is already considered middle-aged and will usually marry by the age of 10. The circumcision, or this rite of passage into woman hood, is performed somewhere around the ages of 8 to 14, and sometimes as young as 4 years of age. It is usually accompanied by a ceremony and performed on small groups of girls in the bush. The girls are dressed in white so that it absorbs the blood as evidence of their passage into womanhood. They never know when it is their time; but they know it will be their time at some point.
After the marriage, the wound is then re-opened to allow for intercourse and childbirth. The future husband will examine his new wife’s body before the ceremony as approval that his new wife is pure and untouched. On the wedding night, the wound is cut open to allow for intercourse. After impregnation occurs, the woman is again sealed shut until childbirth when it will be cut open for a third time. Some men try to open the wound themselves by making a series of “tiny cuts” until the opening is big enough to insert the penis.
The medical repercussions of all this is horrific! The spread of Hepatitis is rampant from using the same tools from girl to girl to girl. There are severe, numerous infections. There is no accountability for death. Invariably, girls bleed to death or die from infection; but no one knows. They are just hauled off into the bush. Who is going to miss them? Anal sex is prevalent producing extremely high rates of HIV.
Are these practices going to change? NO! Since 1979, there have been numerous consorted efforts to change or stop FGM by several organizations; but the cultural aspects of the practice makes opposition a questionable one. Government intervention is nearly nil. This rite of passage has been practiced for over 2000 years and the only hope for change is education, and that will take centuries to come full circle, if ever. What is more of a concern is the infiltration of Africa
women immigrants making their way into other countries and bringing their customs with them. Some countries have made practicing FGM a felony. Even in America, it is a known fact that high school girls of African tribal heritage are cutting each other in secrecy with razor blades in the attempt to preserve the tribal commitment and unity.
I wish to thank the African missionary lady who allowed me to interview her on this subject. One point that she made as we ended our conversation was how enjoyable it is to have “circle time” with the women there. She made it a point to bring to light that these women live for the day and are at peace with the simplicity of their lives. She also went on to tell me that ironically, one of the main questions they ask her is, “What is like to have sex with an American man?”
For more information or to become actively involved, please contact your local women’s-rights group or click the link The Giving Circle to find out how you can donate. Education means everything!