Picture this, a young innocent girl, between the age of eight and twelve, running around, playing, and having a good time. Then she is snatched away to a foul hut, whose floor is nothing but dirt. Once in the hut, the helpless girl is stripped of all her clothing and pinned to the dirt floor. Her tiny legs are spread and held wide apart with a tight grasp. Soon afterward, a midwife, with no education in human anatomy or medicine, enters the hut and says a prayer. While the young girl is held down in this most vulnerable position the midwife takes a handful of sand and rubs it all over the girls genitals (Walker 106).
With no anesthetics and a jagged rock, that merely has a sharpened edge, the midwife begins to cut on the most tender area of the young girl (Rushwan). The midwife cuts away the clitoris and the tissue at the entrance of the vagina. When the midwife is finished cutting and perfecting her excision, she takes a thorn bush needle and sews from the head of the clitoris all the way down to the vaginal opening with the exception of one small place where a sliver of wood is placed. The wood is put into place so that when the scar tissue forms a minute opening is left for urine and menstrual flow to escape.
After the raw edges have been sewn up a mixture of butter and herbs is placed over the wound. This is done to cease the blood that is now gushing out of this helpless young girl (Female Genital Mutilation). The above is only a brief description of a type of mutilation that millions of girls encounter every year in Africa. What is it that would cause parents to inflect such pain on their little girls? Female genitalia mutilation consists of four principal types. One type of FGM is very similar to the type of circumcision that is performed on males.
This includes cutting around the perimeter of the hood of the clitoris in order to remove it, but leaving the body of the clitoris in place. This form of FGM is called female circumcision or Sunna circumcision. Another form of female genitalia mutilation is called excision or clitoridectomy. Removing the entire clitoris and either part or all of the labia minora is performed in this type of mutilation. Intermediate circumcision, another form of FGM, is very similar to a clitoridectomy. The difference is that in addition to the removal of the clitoris and part or all of the labia minora, that part or all of the labia majora is also removed.
The last and most severe form of FGM is called infibulation or pharaonic circumcision. This includes the removal of both the clitoris and the labia minora, as well as much of the labia majora. Then the remaining sides are sewn together (Walker 367). This ritual begins with the facilitator praying and singing praises. Then, as a woman identified as P. K. retells her dreadful experience, she was instructed to lie down on a mat. P. K. says that no sooner had her frail, young, legs hit the mat they were tightly grasped by heavy hands and spread wide apart. Her legs and arms were both immobilized.
Next, she tells that a foreign substance was rubbed all over her genital organs and that it caused a very unpleasant sensation. She later discovered that the foreign substance was sand and that it was used in order to assist in the operation. P. K. goes on to tell that as a hand grasped a part of her genital organs [Her] heart seemed to miss a beat. [She] would have given anything at that moment to be a thousand miles away; then a shooting pain brought [Her] back to reality as her excision had begun (Walker 106). This operation is performed under extremely poor hygienic conditions.
The facilitator of this excision will often use an UN-sterile knife or a rock that merely has a sharpened edge. In addition, the entire process is done without any form of anesthetics (Rushwan). When Waris Dirie retells her memory of when her body was sliced and mutilated she whispers Its not a pain you forget. In her account, she retells how she was held down, blindfolded and crying, by her mother so that a gypsy could perform this brutal rite of passage on her. The gypsy used a filthy dull razor and no anesthetic to perform the operation (Cheakalos and Heyn).
Depending on the type of mutilation, Sunna circumcision, clitorictectomy, intermediate circumcision, or infibulation, the midwife will begin cutting from the top and go to the bottom of the small lip. Next, she will scrape out the insides of the large lip while having an assistant stick her finger inside the wound to verify her work (Walker 308). All the while the girl twists and wails in anguish. According to P. K. the operation seems to go on forever, as it has to be performed to perfection. She tells how she was suffering through an endless agony, torn apart both physically and psychologically (Walker 106).
After the operator is finished with the cutting, she will use a thorn bush needle to sew the raw edges together to encourage the growth of scar tissue. A small sliver of wood is placed in the vagina to ensure that an opening will be left for urine and menstrual flow to escape. Dirie also describes how the ragged edges of her wound were sewn together, leaving her only a minute opening for urination and menstruation. She tells how menstruation became so painful that she would routinely faint (Cheakalos and Heyn). Once the midwife has completed sewing up the wound, a paste of butter and herbs is spread over the wound.
This is done to cease the blood gushing out of the young girl. After the mutilation, the girls legs are bound together for up to a month to ensure proper healing (Female Genital Mutilation). As a result of the poor hygiene used in this procedure, the young girl will often have problems with her wound and will continue to experience intense pain. One such problem is the loss of a large amount of blood. During and sometimes following the mutilation, the young girl will have torrents of blood pouring out of the wound.
As a result of the loss of blood and the excruciating pain she has just experienced, the young girl may go into shock and may ultimately die (Rushwan). There is also the possibility of infection. Following the mutilation procedure the girl will often develop gross-wound infections (Female Genital Mutilation). This is of course a direct result of the unsanitary conditions that the operation was preformed under. The girls may even acquire tetanus or septicemia (blood poisoning) from the unhygienic conditions. As a result of having chronic infections, many girls will develop pelvic inflammatory disease.
Some of the infections are due to urine and menstrual retention. Directly following the excision, the girl will almost always have urine retention. This is due to the swelling of the tissues, which causes severe pain during urination. When the girl holds her urine in like this, it can cause urinary tract infections. In addition to retaining urine, she might also retain menstrual blood. The opening that is left behind is at times too small for the blood to escape; thus there is a retention of menstrual blood (Rushwan). After experiencing this operation, many girls find that menstruating alone is intensely torturous.
Indeed, some may pass out from the pain (Cheakalos and Heyn). Over a longer period of time, other problems can occur from this ghastly tradition. One such major problem is the formation of keloids and cysts. Keloids can cause problems with intercourse and with delivering babies (Rushwan). Keloids can make it impossible to consummate a marriage; the man can not penetrate the vagina as a result of the keloids. Infact, in many cases, when the man tries to penetrate he will cause lacerations to his penis. The only way to correct this is to have the keloids removed. The formation of cysts is also a problem.
Cysts can result from external skin being sewn into the circumcision wound. These cysts can grow to become huge masses and can form abscesses. In addition, they will almost always require surgery to be removed and they can get infected. Both of these problems can cause damage to the urinary canal, vagina, and to the rectum (Rushwan). Rushwan also says that stones, which are formed from menstrual debris and urinary deposits, can cause similar damage. He says it will cause tears in the tissue that separates the vagina from the urinary tract, and in the tissue that separate the vagina from the rectum.
These tears cause urine and feces to leak out of the girl. In addition to physical problems, this custom can also cause psychological problems. Girls who experience this mutilation can encounter anxiety, depression, neuroses, and psychoses, a total change or disorganization of their personality (Rushwan). To say the least, this tradition causes a great deal of harm to generations of girls. It has begun to be seen as a form of child abuse in many countries. Exactly what is the reason for these parents having their baby girls endure such pain and humiliation. FGM is a tradition practiced mainly in African countries.
It is believed that clitorictomies were used among high social ranking people in Ethiopia and Egypt during the fifth century BC. However, infibulation was usually performed on slave girls to ensure that they remained virgins. This was because virgin slave girls would receive a high price when sold or traded (Female Genital Mutilation) There are numerous reasons why this tradition is still practiced. One such reason that dates back to one hundred years ago says that clictorictectomies were prescribed to help cure aches and pains, I guess you could say it would be our equivalent of Tylenol.
It was also believed that clictorictectomies were even suppose to help remedy emotional disturbances, an approach to helping psychological disturbances that Freud never thought of (One Hundred Years Ago). Other sources say that due to droughts and there not being enough water for everyone, clictorictectomies were used as a way to control the population (Female Genital Mutilation). Women, who have been mutilated in this manner, would find it very difficult and painful not only to have sex, but also to deliver a child.
In addition, it was also believed that an uncircumcised woman was nasty and not suitable for marriage (Cheakalos and Heyn). Even today the same feelings toward women who are not circumcised are present. An uncircumcised woman is often the outcast of the village. She may not be invited to ceremonies and quite often will never get married. Thus the consequences of either having the operation done or not puts a tremendous psychological strain on these young girls. According to Althaus, a woman being circumcised is a necessity to the religious beliefs, society, and culture of the people in these African countries.
He also said that it was a tradition that was used to prepare young girls for womanhood, a rite of passage. Many members of the Muslim faith have considered FGM to be a requirement of their faith; however, Muslim theologians have constantly rebutted this belief. Moreover, this tradition is rarely seen to be practiced in the area where the Muslim faith first begun. Nonetheless, fifty percent of men surveyed in the Sudan said that female genitalia mutilation was a requirement for the Muslim faith (Rushwan). There are other reasons for FGM that have nothing to do with religion but instead are based on aesthetics.
Some view the vagina as ugly and perform FGM to remove the unattractive parts of the females natural structure (Gregory). Some cultures believe that if a womans genitals are not circumcised, they will begin to grow. It is believed that the female clitoris will grow long enough to touch her thighs. Thus, when it is time for her to have sex, the man will not be able to enter because of her own erection (Walker 23). When mothers were asked why they still continued to have this tradition performed on their daughters, they said that they thought what they were doing was helping their daughter (Gregory).
This is believed due to the fact that uncircumcised girls are considered to be social outcasts. Forty-one percent of the women asked in the Sudan said that female genitalia mutilation is a good tradition, it improves a girls chance for marriage, it improves fertility and morality, and it protects virginity. This horrendous mutilation usually occurs on children between the ages of four and twelve (Marble). However, it has also been performed on infants and adults (Rushwan).
Many times, if the midwife delivering a baby notices that the woman has not been circumcised, she will go ahead without the womans consent and perform the operation. Traditionally, the people who perform this procedure are birth attendants, midwives, or elderly woman in the village. All of these women have experience in doing the operation however; hardly any of them have medical training (Rushwan). Despite how unprepared, how unhygienic, or what problems, physical and mental FGM causes these families continue to perform this ritual due to social pressures and there culture.