Waris Dirie | FGM vs Circumcision

Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-Chief
Last Modified: 16:00 PM EDT, 3 May 2012

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is currently one of the most egregious women’s rights abuses occurring globally. It is a subject that is hard to discuss because of its intimate, sexual and graphic nature.

However, it is exactly because of the life-long psychological and physical effects this barbaric practice has on its innocent and unwilling victims, that it is incumbent upon us to publicize this abuse until it is eradicated.

This issue was first brought to the public’s attention by Waris Dirie, Somalian author, activist, and victim of FGM, when she published her memoir titled ‘Desert Flower.’ The book was subsequently made into a movie in 2009, and Liya Kebede, an Ethiopian supermodel, played Waris Dirie in the heart wrenching but ultimately victorious story of survival.

Initially, when we featured a post about this topic, a number of readers commented about male circumcision and how this is just as barbaric as FGM and should also be classified as a human rights abuse.

Though it is true that any type of unwanted genital mutilation is a crime, the major differences between male circumcision and FGM are as follows:

    1. Most boys are circumcised at birth, or in the case of Jews and some Muslims, on the 8th day of life;
    2. Men who are circumcised later in life often elect to have this procedure for personal, religious, or health reasons;
    3. The surgery is performed in a sterile environment, usually under anesthesia;
    4. Male circumcision is usually performed in a non-invasive manner that ultimately results in few, if any adverse psychological effects.

By comparison, FGM has more in common and correlates best to physical castration in men.

    1. Girls who undergo FGM (aka female circumcision) are forcibly mutilated anywhere between 13 and 15 years of age;
    2. The ‘procedure’ occurs without anesthesia in unsanitary environments;
    3. Rusty razor blades, old knives, or shards of glass are used to cut the flesh;
    4. The clitoris and the inner and outer labia are torn away;
    5. Finally, the wound is crudely stitched together and must be cut open for sex and childbirth.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are benefits to men and boys becoming circumcised particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa.

“Strong evidence from Africa indicates that circumcision reduces the risk of HIV infection in heterosexual men by 38-66%, and studies have concluded it is cost effective in sub-Saharan Africa. The World Health Organization (WHO) currently recommends circumcision be recognized as an intervention as part of a comprehensive program for prevention of HIV transmission in areas with high endemic rates of HIV.” (Source: WHO)

The effects of FGM are profoundly debilitating and deleterious to women’s reproductive health and serves no useful purpose. It is a practice deeply rooted in misogyny, tyranny and the concept of women as chattel.

Men who have been circumcised can still enjoy a robust sex life filled with numerous encounters, whereas women who have undergone FGM must suffer immense pain to remove the sutures, and as one can imagine, sexual intercourse thereafter would be excruciating.

In the Europe between the 16th and 17th centuries the ‘Chastity Belt‘ was developed to prohibit women from having sexual intercourse. This device was also a contrivance of men desiring to control the sexuality of the women in their societies.  In comparison to FGM, a ‘Chastity Belt’ was infinitely less egregious, but definitely a women’s rights violation.

Surprisingly, FGM procedures are on the rise in Western nations such as the United Kingdom.  It is easy for most people to acquiesce in the face of such a daunting problem that is occurring half-way across the world. It is also more comfortable to believe that this is an Islamic problem though FGM is no prescribed in the Quran.

It is easiest to effect change in one’s backyard, and thus, in Western societies where there are no health reasons to recommend FGM it is up to the medical establishment and authorities to intervene and halt these procedures.

Misogyny like rape, is less about the object of abuse, in this case, women, and more about control. The net result of FGM is that it diminishes all women everywhere even if it hasn’t personally impacted your life or those of your friends and family.

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Editor: @ayannanahmias

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About Ayanna Nahmias

Ayanna Nahmias was interviewed on Radio Netherlands Worldwide program titled 'The State We’re In,' about her life in Africa and her determination to transcend her past. She started the Nahmias Cipher Report to provide information to readers about life in emerging economies, and to provide alternative insight into the challenges faced by women and children living in these countries. The blog features stories from around the world to inspire other people to persevere and triumph in the face of great adversity. She blogs about current events in emerging economies, international politics, human rights abuses, women’s rights and child advocacy.

View all posts by Ayanna Nahmias

8 Comments on “Waris Dirie | FGM vs Circumcision”

  1. Baltar Says:

    “Girls who undergo FGM (aka female circumcision) are forcibly mutilated anywhere between 13 and 15 years of age;” – So if it were done at infancy, that would be okay.

    “The ‘procedure’ occurs without anesthesia in unsanitary environments;” – So if it were done in a hospital with anesthesia, it would be okay.

    “Rusty razor blades, old knives, or shards of glass are used to cut the flesh;” – So sterile surgical instruments would make it ethical.

    “The clitoris and the inner and outer labia are torn away;” – So removing less flesh is acceptable.

    “Finally, the wound is crudely stitched together and must be cut open for sex and childbirth.” – So FGC is made unethical by the extent of the damage, and less invasive versions are okay. (Also, this is not true of even the majority of cases of FGC – people forget about Malaysia and Indonesia. So this argument erases many girls who have undergone other forms of FGC.)

    Or at least that’s how you should expect FGM apologists to read these arguments. Argument number one should be human rights – there is no line in the sand between an acceptable mutilation of any part of an unconsenting child’s body, and one which is too severe. Any degree of forced surgical alteration on any body part is unacceptable. Any argument short of that will have the effect of spreading many forms of mutilation including FGC. And all forms of ritual mutilation feed into and promote each other.

    Reply

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