Essay, Research Paper: Female Genital Mutation

Anthropology

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Struggling against genital mutilation in Sudan
In the country of Sudan, in Northern Africa, there is a procedure that is
tradition and is performed on most women called female genital mutilation, or
FGM, which used to be known as female circumcision. It has been a normal
practice for generations, but is now the subject for international controversy
on the morality and safety of this procedure. It is now known that 82 percent of
Sudanese woman have an extreme form of genital mutilation done on them, normally
at a young age. This form of mutilation is called the Pharaonic form and
includes the total removal of the clitoris and labia, and stitching together of
the vulva, leaving only a small hole for urination and menstrual cycle. This is
normally done without any type of anaesthetic or professional medical care.
There is also a more moderate form of mutilation, called Sunni, where only the
covering of the clitoris is removed. This practice started and became tradition
in foreign countries in order to ensure that women practice chaste behavior, and
to suppress female sexuality. It has also been attributed to religious beliefs
of monogamy although most religions do not support this type of practice. In
today's society it has become more of a traditional and social norm, and has
less to do with religious beliefs. This problem is not only in Sudan; it is
practiced in the majority of the continent of Africa as well as other countries.
In other cultures, such as Australian aborigines, genital mutilation is a part
of the rite of passage into maturation, and is done on both men and women (Bodley,
p. 58). FGM has often been referred to as female circumcision and compared to
male circumcision. However, such comparison is often misleading. Both practices
include the removal of well- functioning parts of the genitalia and are quite
unnecessary. However, FGM is far more drastic and damaging than male
circumcision because it is extremely dangerous and painful. It is believed that
two thirds of these procedures are done by untrained birth attendants, who have
little knowledge of health. They are often unconcerned with hygiene, and many
use instruments that are not cleaned or disinfected properly. Instruments such
as razor blades, scissors, kitchen knives, and pieces of glass are commonly
used. These instruments are frequently used on several girls in succession and
are rarely cleaned, causing the transmission of a variety of viruses such as the
HIV virus, and other infections. There are many side effects of this procedure
including trauma, stress or shock from the extreme pain; and bleeding,
hemorrhaging and infections that can be fatal from improperly cleaned
instruments. There can also be painful and difficult sexual relations and
obstructed childbirth. The effects of this one procedure can last a lifetime,
both physically and pyschologically. Today, 85 to 114 million girls and women in
more than 30 countries have been subjected to some form of genital mutilation.
It was declared illegal in Sudan in 1941, although that did little to stop this
age-old tradition. To this day, about 90% of women are still being subjected to
the mutilation, especially if it is a family tradition. In various cultures
there are many "justifications" for these practices. Many older women
feel that if they have an uncircumcised daughter, she will not be able to find a
husband and will become a social outcast. Family honor, cleanliness, protection
against spells, insurance of virginity and faithfulness to the husband, or
simply terrorizing women out of sex are sometimes used as excuses for the
practice of FGM. Examples similar to this are found in other cultures, such as
the Maasai, an African cattle peoples tribe. A clitoridectomy is performed on
adolescent girls in this tribe as part of their rite of passage, and signifies
that they are ready for marriage. This practice is openly accepted by these
women as another ritual and a normal precondition of marriage (Bodley, p. 121).
The efforts to stop procedures of this kind are mounting though, especially with
the help of women ages 16 to 30 who realize the dangers of this practice. These
women can help to save their daughters and many other women from this if they
are educated of the dangers. It ends up damaging their health, as well as their
socio-economic lives; which is why it needs to be put to a stop. It is also
unnecessary in today's society. These women have joined together to create the
Sudan National Committee on Harmful Traditional Practices, and are now working
to eliminate it completely. They have also joined together with government
support and are a part of the National Plan of Action for the Survival,
Protection and Development of Sudanese Children, where they work to educate
people of the dangers of this procedure. In the United States and other Western
countries, both female and male circumcision is practiced, although male
circumcision is much more common. Female mutilation is still an issue in Western
countries though, and needs to be dealt with. These countries commonly used FGM
as a means to deal with unruly, insane or temperamental women earlier in this
century. Routine circumcision as a preventative or cure for masturbation was
also proposed in Victorian times in America. In females, it was once thought
that the application of pure carbolic acid to the clitoris an excellent means of
allaying the abnormal excitement. The procedure of circumcisions, on both men
and women, became commonplace between 1870 and 1920, and it consequently spread
to all the English-speaking countries such as England, Canada, Australia and New
Zealand. As a form of social control it fell out of fashion some time in the
1930's or 1940's. However, it has continued to the present in some form or
another. In the United States alone it is estimated that about ten thousand
girls are at risk of this practice in today's society. A bill was recently
presented to the U.S. government in 1994 prohibiting female genital mutilation
to be performed, unless done for a medical reason by a trained professional.
Although we are fighting for preventative measures, this surgery is still
routinely performed on women in the United States. Some doctors believe and act
upon the idea that excision does not prevent sexual pleasure but enhances it.
FGM is also entering the United States with some immigrants who are holding on
to their customs and identity. On the United States level, and in other places
around the world, there are finally numerous efforts being made in order to
abolish this practice both locally and internationally. Many laws have been
passed over the last decade, in the United States and other Western countries,
prohibiting any kind of mutilation on young girls, other than for medical
purposes. In the future, leaders are hoping to enforce these rules in other
smaller countries, where the government can do little to stop these unlawful
acts, especially in Tribal peoples and other communities were laws are not
strictly enforced.

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