Female Genital Mutilation in Africa; Some Things to Cringe About

By Ginikachukwu Moses

Female Genital Mutilation also known as FGM goes by several terms. It is know as Female Genital Cutting or Female Circumcision. FGM involves the cutting of some or all the external part of the female sex organ.

Before I go further, let me amuse you a bit. Did you know that some Africans nurse a superstitious belief that during childbirth, if the head of the baby touches the mother’s clitoris, the child is doomed for immediate death? Now you can see why Female genital mutilation thrives in some parts of the continent.

The UN estimates that 200million women and girls around the world have undergone FGM with 80% of these cases occurring in Africa. This means that Africa is by far the continent most affected by the issue of FGM, with 80 per cent of known cases.

You may wonder how it even happens. This is it: The act is carried out by a traditional circumciser or by an health worker if there is one in the society. If it is done by a traditional cutter, we can trust the procedure to be carried out in a not so healthy way.

The procedure is carried out with the use of a blade, a sharp piece of glass, scissors, a sharpened rock, knife or fingernails. These work tools could be used for about fifteen girls and more without being sterilized. A girl is cut following the custom of the people (society).

Weirdly, these acts could also be performed by a male if he is the health worker. Secondary forms of Female Genital Mutilation involves other forms of injury to the Female sex organ for non- medical reasons e.g piercings, markings etc.

According to research( not mine) the primary form of FGM is common in some parts of Africa, Southeast Asia, the Middle East and other parts of the world.

Types of Female Genital Mutilation

The following are the types of FGM:

(1) The procedure of removing some or all of the clitoris. It is also known as Clitoridectomy.

(2) The partial or total removal of the labia of the vagina. It could involve just the labia minora or both the labia minora and majora. In a case where the clitoris wasn’t cut, all three are done here. This type is known as Excision.

(3) The partial or total stitching of the already cut labia majora. This process leaves the vagina smooth(calling it a vagina at this point is particularly weird). If it is a partial stitch, the girl is left with a little vagina opening. But if it is a total stitch, then she is only left with a tiny hole left for the purpose of passing out urine and menstruation fluid. This process is sometimes difficult because of the length of the hole. This one is known as Infibulation.

(4) This fourth type is described by The WHO as “all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes” and includes practices including pricking, piercing, incising, scraping, and cauterizing the genital area.

Not all the societies practising FGM follow through with all the types. The type of FGM done is dependent on the society and are conducted on women of several age ranging from 0-49. Although, in most cases, it is conducted before puberty.

Procedures

According to Edna Adan Ismail, in Somalia, the girl squats on a stool or mat while the adults pull her legs apart. The clitoris is pinched by the circumciser who holds it between her nails and cuts it off with a slash.

If the part cut out isn’t considered satisfactory by the older female relatives, the process is repeated again. After the desired cut has been achieved, the entire skin of both labia minoras are cut off. The labia majoras are then pulled together tightly to aid a clean sewing.

Try to picture the attitude of this child, the first stage is enough to drive the child into a frenzied state, how much more this process that requires even more cut and precision.

The labia majoras are sewn tightly with a needle and thread or acacia thorns are applied. The child is tied from hip to ankle for weeks, the bind is loosened a bit a week after it was binded and it is completely removed after 2-6 weeks to ensure the wound is properly healed. The already healed wound leaves a thick bridge-like scar covering the sewn part of the vulva. The skin that was cut out might be put in a pouch and carried by the girl on her neck. The whole process is done with or without anesthetic.

If after the healing process, the hole left is considered too large by the girl’s family, the stitch is loosened and the process is repeated. Sigh.

Health Benefits and Side Effects

FGM has no health benefits, but of course if we are to consider the fact that it rids the vulva of hair and provides tightness, then, yeah.

But talking about side effect, the list is endless ranging from short to long term. Meanwhile, the risks would be lesser if the process is carried out by a medical professional with sterilized tools. But of course, that only happens in rare cases.

Among the effects are loss of blood, excruciating pain, mental trauma of it, swelling, prolonged and painful urination due to the size of the hole etc. She may also have the urge to always urinate and there is the risk of urine retention as some urine may hide in the scar.

Now, because the part is always wet, it could lead to the formation of small stones, wound infestation, necrosis, scars, keliods, epidermis cysts, etc. The list is endless!

Women could also be at risk during childbirth because of the tiny hole; it could cause laceration to the mother. The newborns could also be affected by the mother’s FGM-incurred infections

The Victim’s Sexual Life

The stitch is not opened till the girl comes of age and is married. It is opened by a midwife with the aid of a small knife or by her husband with his penis. If her husband decides to do the opening himself, it doesn’t happen immediately. It takes him days and sometimes months to cut through. He could eventually opt for a midwife. Imagine cutting through a stitch that has existed for years without a knife. Reflect on the pain.

During this research, I discovered that in some areas, girls as young as eight are advised to stretch their inner labias also known as labia minora using sticks and massage. The aim is to increase sexual pleasure for the man and for the woman to be regarded as ‘tight’. I think I need to chip this in here; ladies, do not for any reason engage in harmful practices because you want to please one man out there. It could lead to severe health problems like vaginal cancer.

I once saw a quote that said, “No vagina is loose, it depends on the size of what is going in.” So, do love yourself enough to embrace your body. Things to apply no dey finish, but if yawa gas, another woman would be there ready to replace you. Don’t be shamed into harmful practices.

Reasons for Female Genital Mutilation in Africa

These acts stem from a place of gender inequality. Societies and communities that practice these acts believe that a woman with clitoris has the tendency to be wayward since it houses sexual feelings. But a woman without it is good to go because really, why should a woman have sexual urges in the first place?

There are also religious reasons for FGM in Africa. It also comes with the mentality of ‘purity’; a woman must remain a virgin until her wedding night

In some parts, the female relatives of both couples sit to watch the process to ensure the bride is a virgin. At childbirth, she is opened more and closed afterwards. After childbirth, if her vagina is considered too wide, the vagina could be cut again to restore it’s previous tiny state.

An Unbalanced Scale

Male Circumcision in comparison with FGM has a numerous number of benefits, so much that WHO and other health bodies recommend it to be put in play.

Male circumcision involves only the cutting away of the foreskin of the penis. Research says it helps reduce the risk of being infected with certain diseases like HIV amongst sub-Saharan heterosexual men, cancer causing forms of HPV and UTI. It also reduces the risk of cancer of the penis. There are risks attached to this act though; it could lead to bleeding, the removal of too much or too little foreskin and Meatal stenosis.

Despite the complications that could arise, it is clear that Male Circumcision doesn’t mutilate this sex organ as much as FGM does to the female sex organ and holds benefits that could do the male a lot of good. Every male should probably go get circumcised! And maybe it is important to note that FGM is not even circumcision, because the vagina does not have a circumference!

FGM has no health basis and should be totally eradicated. Save a girl today. Help spread the awareness. End Femal Genital Mutilation.

Share your experiences in the comments, I would love to read them!

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