The truth behind Female Genital Mutilation
I grew up in Somalia and there was one particular day in my childhood that I will never forget. It was a Sunday. I was about six or seven years old and everyone was talking about a lady who was coming to circumcise some of the girls in the area including my elder sister.
The girls who were going to get circumcised that day were continuously being re-assured by their mums that the circumcision would be painful and hurt for a long time but that it also had to be done. They were told that it was a part of growing up and ‘becoming a woman’ and that being circumcised would make them pure and chaste for their husband in the future.
I remember seeing the lady arrive with her razors, thread and knives. She had some other equipment that I can’t remember. She caught me catching a glimpse of her kit and asked my mother if I was also one of the girls that would be circumcised to which my mother replied “No, Not her, she’s too young”. ‘Relieved’ would be an understatement of how I felt. That was the luckiest escape I have ever had. A few months later, we left Somalia and I came to the UK where I was free from FGM and worrying about when and where it would happen.
That day the girls got taken one by one to a room to get circumcised. With no anaesthesia, no pain relief and no professional medics, the torture they were going through can only be left to the imagination. The screaming that could be heard can not do any justice to the pain that they were in. Some girls were in so much agony that they couldn’t even scream. You could just hear a weak, muffled moan from them.
Then my sister went in. She was twelve when she was circumcised. My mother had already left it too late. Most girls in Somalia get get circumcised before the age of 8. Some even as babies and toddlers. The common tradition was to circumcise them before puberty and as my sister was approaching puberty she had to get circumcised.
They called her name and I knew what was about to happen to her. Completely helpless, I stood there and watched her go in to that room. After a few minutes I could hear her crying and I could hear the women next to her constantly reminding her that she had to be a strong and this circumcision would make her a better woman.
But how? How would having part of her clitoris removed with a sharp object make her a better women?
How would having her labia stumps sewn together leaving a tiny whole for urination make her a better woman?
How does having a lifetime of infections, bleeding, physical and mental pain make her a better woman?
Why would anyone think that such an immoral act can make anyone a better woman? The answer is simple – so she doesn’t have sex. So she doesn’t lose her virginity before marriage.
The most common reason for FGM is to stop girls exploring the sexual desires and prevent them from wanting to have sex. A woman whose labias are sewn together is probably going to hesitate to have sex more than a woman whose labias aren’t sewn together.
Millions of women are circumcised every year, especially in developing countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Somalia has one of the highest rates of FGM in the world with majority of girls being circumcised before puberty. It is a mixture of ignorance as well as love for culture which makes this practise so wide-spread. Instead of talking about sex to girls and helping girls to understand their bodies and their needs, girls are being shun away to get circumcised so they fear sex and lack any sexual desire. Sex is a natural part of life and just as important for women as much as it is for men.
FGM is an unethical, immoral practice with no logical or religious background. Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and Islam have turned down any link or affiliation of FGM with their religion.
The reality is that it’s a cultural belief that some people made up years ago and ignorant people have just followed their footsteps.
The saddest thing about FGM is that the perpetrators only see good in this practice and ignore all the risks and harms such as the life-long implications it has on women. Some women struggle with walking as well as having regular periods. Most women who have FGM will never enjoy sex as penetration will always be painful, some will have complications in childbirth. FGM can even result in blood poisoning or death.
FGM is a human-rights violation and needs a worldwide ban. It may be a prominent part in some cultures but many countries have banned it already. I don’t know if Somalia will ever become one of those countries that ban FGM, but I have hope that one day Somalis and other nations who support FGM will learn to speak to girls about sex rather than ruining their bodies and their lives with a such a dangerous procedure.