“Mummy’ll Fetch the Scissors…”

Though we don’t acknowledge it as such, female genital mutilation is a growing problem all over the world today; practised in 42 African countries and now a prevalent problem in the UK, long gone are the days when we could shrug it off or not acknowledge it for the devastating effects it can have on young women and girls everywhere. We need an insight, we need an education, when little girls are cut and mutilated in dire circumstances, and women are still treated with such hostility in this day and age. The intentions of those who wish to practise FGM may not be as extreme, but the actual social, medical and moral ramifications can be far greater than we expect: it’s not a clear cut question, but it’s one that demands answers when mummies and daddies all over the nation are fetching the scissors...

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1. An Insight into Female Genital Mutilation

~~You are sat there now, glancing at a screen, caught up in your daily life. Fatma is not. You are comfortable at home, or out and about. Fatma is also at home, in a lone, dark room. You are busy and preoccupied with your schedule, or have the luxury of relaxing. Fatma sits and waits for her wounds to heal, and the pain between her legs to stop, and for the screams to die in her strangled throat. Fatma is one of 20, 000 young women and girls at risk of female genital mutilation (FGM) in Britain today, but she’s a statistic lost among numbers and figures-girls all over the country face the same suffering, but so few are able to admit their harrowing stories, and fewer still can be treated for this brutal procedure. We in Britain seem to be caught up in this culture of female circumcision, imported all the way from Africa and other third world countries, but so very few of us know about this terrible legacy: fewer still will acknowledge it for the problem it is.

   The procedure is generally performed either with or without anaesthesia, and is often helmed by an older woman who acts as the circumciser of the community-no medical personnel are usually involved at all. The process will most often take place in the girl’s family home. When traditional circumcisers set to carry out the procedure, they will use non-sterile cutting devices such as knives, scissors, cut glass, sharp rocks, razors and even fingernails-a Ugandan nurse is cited as saying that sometimes the same knife is used to cut thirty or more girls in a day.

   If we are to go into the details of the procedure itself, there has to be said that there are many different types and forms that FGM can come in: it can range from the removal of the clitoris to the removal of all external genitalia so that the woman may be sewn up until there is only a small hole through which urine and menstrual blood can be passed. In the latter, in order for the stitches to remain intact the girl has her legs bound together by rope or any other material, which can last 2-6 weeks. They risk fatal bleeding and HIV, but it’s supposed that it’ll be alright so long as they are ‘cleansed’ and ‘pure’, when often they are anything but.

   But it might not just be the fact that these girls are being harmed, severed; it’s the fact that they’re being severed for ideals that aren’t culturally acceptable (or not in our culture, at least). It’s as if they’ve been drawn from a Margaret Atwood novel, the idea that these girls are bred to have babies and make their husbands happy, while the consensus says that their husbands won’t be happy unless they sacrifice their womanhood for his sake. Among other basis, female genital mutilation is often practised for the purpose of male sexual pleasure: the women are also bound to their husbands with the belief that sex is so painful that for their own sakes the actively practise monogamy and shun infidelity.

   A famous poem by Somali woman Dahabo Musa claimed of the ‘three feminine sorrows’ that consist of the day of the circumcision, the wedding night when the husband cuts the women open again to sleep with her, and the day of childbirth when she has to be cut open again for the baby. Most striking and poignant are the poet’s own words on the matter, repeating what she has long since been told by the women of the community:

“When fear gets hold of me,
when anger seizes my body,
when hate becomes my companion,
then I get feminine advice, because it is only feminine pain,
and I am told feminine pain perishes like all feminine things.”

   All the mythology, all the beliefs surrounding the practise- they don’t amount to very much when it comes down to a little girl on a table with her legs spread apart. The roots of modesty, purity go out of the window when a woman’s sexuality is manipulated in this way.

   Though, as we argue this, a surprising number of women have come forward to state that they think female genital mutilation is a good thing. In fact, many women see it as a source of honour and authority; many families see it as an essential part of raising a daughter well. In these cultures, an uncircumcised woman is a pariah. An uncircumcised woman is “morally loose, whorish and childish.”

   They are considered to be sexual deviants, which is not typically a role many young women of society aspire to be-one particularly shocking example of the effect the culture of FGM has is when a Somali woman gave birth; she cut herself again soon after having the baby, despite fear of gonorrhoea. When asked why she did this, she insisted that she could not stand her own sense of impurity.”

   And it is a given that we as outsiders to this cultural belief and practise can’t pass judgement on it, when we don’t know the real story and don’t have a definite answer to one of the biggest moral questions of our time. If we think it’s wrong, but the people susceptible to the procedure aren’t as worried by it, then what’s the right way? Who is right in this matter? The UN have voted unanimously against it in the past, and it is illegal in some countries, but that’s not to say that it doesn’t still happen, because we know full well it’s still a present issue. But you’re still sat there, staring at a screen, while Fatma lies in her darkened room. At the end of the day, it all boils down to one question: Is FGM right and is it acceptable today?

And though we may all have strong personal opinions, when it comes to questions such as these, it can never truly be clean cut.
 

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