The International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation is a United Nations sponsored annual awareness day that takes place on February 6 as part of the UN’s efforts to eradicate female genital mutilation. FGM involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue, and interferes with the natural functions of girls’ and women’s bodies.
Lucinda E. Clarke, author of the suspenseful literary fiction, Amie Cut for Life (Umhlanga Press), which deals with FGM and human sex trafficking, is available to discuss essential aspects of FGM with your audience – the what, who, where, why and how – as well as why the International Day of Zero Tolerance is so important.
OVERVIEW OF FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION:
The practice, rooted in gender inequality, attempts to control women’s sexuality and ideas about purity, modesty and beauty. It is usually initiated and carried out by women (!), who see it as a source of honor, and fear that failing to have their daughters and granddaughters cut will expose the girls to social exclusion.
The reasons why female genital mutilations are performed vary from one region to another as well as over time, and include a mix of socio-cultural factors within families and communities. Where FGM is a social convention (social norm), the social pressure to conform to what others do and have been doing, as well as the need to be accepted socially and the fear of being rejected by the community, are strong motivations to perpetuate the practice. In some communities, FGM is almost universally performed and unquestioned.
FGM is often considered a necessary part of raising a girl, and a way to prepare her for adulthood and marriage.
FGM is often motivated by beliefs about what is considered acceptable sexual behaviour. It aims to ensure premarital virginity and marital fidelity. FGM in many communities is believed to reduce a woman’s libido and therefore it will help her resist extramarital sexual acts. When a vaginal opening is covered or narrowed, the fear of the pain of opening it, and the fear that this will be found out, is expected to further discourage extramarital sexual intercourse among women with this type of FGM.
FGM is more likely to be carried out where it is believed that being cut increases marriageability.
Female genital mutilation is widely practiced in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. However with many people now making their home is new countries, the practice is now seen in North America (USA and Canada) and most countries in Europe – despite it being illegal. Children are often sent overseas to their country of origin for the procedure during the school holiday (the cutting season). UNICEF estimated in 2016 that 200 million women living today in 30 countries have undergone the procedure. Since 1990, the estimated number of girls and women in the US who have undergone or are at risk of the practice has more than tripled.
SOME OF THE DANGERS
The procedure can cause bleeding (haemorrhage), chronic pain, scar tissue and keloid, recurrent infections (eg tetanus), swelling of the genital tissue, fever, wound healing problems, difficulty urinating and passing menstrual flow, the development of cysts, an inability to get pregnant, sexual problems, complications during childbirth, infant mortality, shock and even death.
This does not even touch the damage to the dignity and self-esteem of the victim.