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Female Genital Mutilation or Genital Cutting - Djembefola - Djembe Forum

Discuss culture and traditions
MHi there,

I would like to bring up a real taboo in Africa: the genitale mutilation of girls.

I am reading Desert Children from Waris Dirie. The book is about how she has investigated the practice of FGM (female genital mutilation) in Europe - up to 500,000 women and girls have undergone or are at risk of FGM. Her story is shocking!

Would any one have any experience re this?


James says: This thread now includes the debate of naming, as well as discussing the practise... Please stay on topic, or you'll be made to play shaker for the rest of the month...
User avatar
By e2c
Dance Connection - I'm a woman, too, and this whole subject makes my stomach turn into one big knot.

I've known - and known of - women from both East and West Africa who have been subjected to this in their home countries. Back in the late 80s-early 90s, there was a woman from Togo who sought sanctuary in the US because she said that if she went home, she would be forced to undergo this as an adult. (she had lived elsewhere and had somehow escaped being cut.) The US government was extremely unsympathetic, and her immigration case dragged on for many years. IIRC, she was finally allowed to stay here, but the way the government treated her was horrible - as if she was a liar, and a criminal, too.

It's not an easy topic to discuss, for sure.
this is definitely a sensitive subject on so many levels, but one that i think merits some discussion based on research of existing beliefs, practices, legislation, prevalence and activism in west africa. in order to do it justice one also needs to take care with the language used to describe the practices. some terminology is inaccurate or culturally insensitive. it is my hope that some west africans will join in some of our discussions here, including this one.

when discussions of the practice of female genital cutting began, it was generally referred
to as female circumcision. however, this term is anatomically incorrect and only applies to a
procedure performed very rarely - that of removing the prepuce covering the clitoris. it also creates an analogy to male circumcision, a practice that, in contrast to female genital cutting, has religious significance and proven public health benefits. the term female genital mutilation was introduced in the late 1970s. it emphasizes the gravity of the procedure and its longlasting negative effects, and was adopted by the united nations in the early 1990s. towards the end of the 1990s, many agencies, health workers and anthropologists working in the field found that using the judgemental term 'mutilation' caused insult and offence to the women and communities concerned, and was a barrier to constructive engagement to promote the abandonment of the practice. if one is to change these practices, one needs to work with the communities involved, not alienate them. it is not enough to simply make the practice illegal as this doesn't really reduce the incidence, as it still occurs behind the scenes (just like abortion did before it was legalised in so many countries). all successful efforts to reduce these practices were carried out in a manner that was culturally sensitive and involved education and discussion where members of the communities felt they were being respected and listened to.

since the late 1990s researchers and technical agencies started to use the more
neutral term of female genital cutting. however, research has found that even this apparently neutral term can cause offence with some audiences. in francophone west africa the term excision is widely used. technically, excision does not describe all procedures in the category of female genital cutting, but it does describe the vast majority of procedures performed in west africa.

the term female genital cutting (fgc) is probably the most precise description that encompasses all the practices in west africa (and nearly all the practices used in the rest of africa and other continents).

the world health organisation lists 4 categories of fgc:

type 1 -- clitoridectomy -- removal of the prepuce covering the clitoris and/or a small part of the clitoris.
type 2 -- excision -- cutting of the labia minora, with or without clitoridectomy.
type 3 -- infibulation -- cutting of the labia majora, along with excision and clitoridectomy. usually involves suturing of the vulva, leaving a tiny opening.
type 4 -- stretching, piercing and/or cauterization

the main types of female genital cutting practiced in west africa are types 1 and 2. type 3 is uncommon in west africa and type 4 is not practiced in the region.
User avatar
By e2c
bubudi, with all due respect, I wish you would restore the thread's original title.

The practice in question *is* referred to as "female genital mutilation" by the World Health Organization (and many other world medical bodies, as well as governments) - and it definitely *is* mutilation.

Excision can be - often is - extremely radical. Infibulation is also very common - and not just in East Africa. (Please see video from Guinea that I posted below; also the one about the Nigerian family titled "No Way home.")

I wish you would rethink this (thread title) and more... * for one thing, it also happens in East Africa, even in Egypt. I know of people from East Africa who have had all external genitals cut away.

On top of all this, many girls die every year due to infections caused by this "surgery."

It is an incredibly brutal thing. I wish you were not trying to soft-pedal it - what you wrote above looks a lot like an apology, and that troubles me deeply.

Edited to add - World Health Organization fact sheet on FGM - http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs241/en/

here's a partial quote - which, BTW, only references the *physical* effects of FGM, *not* the associated emotional and psychological trauma -
FGM has no health benefits, and it harms girls and women in many ways. It involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue, and interferes with the natural functions of girls' and women's bodies.

Immediate complications can include severe pain, shock, haemorrhage (bleeding), tetanus or sepsis (bacterial infection), urine retention, open sores in the genital region and injury to nearby genital tissue.

Long-term consequences can include:

recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections;
the need for later surgeries. For example, the FGM procedure that seals or narrows a vaginal opening (type 3 above) is surgically changed to allow for sexual intercourse and childbirth, and sometimes stitched close again afterwards;
an increased risk of childbirth complications and newborn deaths.

Who is at risk?

Procedures are mostly carried out on young girls sometime between infancy and age 15, and occasionally on adult women. In Africa, about three million girls are at risk for FGM annually.

Between 100 to 140 million girls and women worldwide are living with the consequences of FGM. In Africa, about 92 million girls age 10 years and above are estimated to have undergone FGM.

The practice is most common in the western, eastern, and north-eastern regions of Africa, in some countries in Asia and the Middle East, and among certain immigrant communities in North America and Europe.
Last edited by e2c on Wed Jun 24, 2009 3:53 am, edited 7 times in total.
User avatar
By e2c
Dance Connection (original poster) mentioned Waris Dirie's book Desert Flower. There's also a feature film based on this book (one of several books by her).

Are you guys aware that she's East African - from Somalia? She is working with the WHO and related UN bodies to help educate and stop the practice of female genital mutilation. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waris_Dirie


Lots more on FGM at her site (includes a 29-minute film):
User avatar
By e2c
Here is the Waris Dirie Manifesto (from her site):
My fifteen goals

I want:

- everyone in Europe to recognise genital mutilation as a problem common to all countries and one we can no longer shut our eyes to;

- every religious community to take a clear stand against the practice of genital mutilation;
every FGM victim needing help to get the help she needs;

- all European governments to issue regulations to protect girls from genital mutilation – in Europe and abroad;

-all European governments to pass legislation enabling perpetrators and their accomplices to be brought to justice;

- it to be mandatory for every incident that comes to light of mutilation of a minor to be reported for prosecution;

- all European countries to regard genital mutilation as equal to political persecution and as grounds for asylum;

- everyone to be enlightenend about the status of genital mutilation: not culture, but torture;
all genital mutilation victims at last to be treated with sensitivity and respect;

- all health workers to become well-informed about FGM and to know how to help victims,
all victims, where it is their wish, to have free access to surgery to counteract the damage and to receive psychological counselling;

- genital mutilation to be a subject that people can and will openly discuss;

- all the groups working to combat FGM to come together and agree on their policy and strategies;

- all organizations working to combat FGM to have sufficient funding to be able to function efficiently;

- everyone in Europe to put into action my dream of an end to genital mutilation.
Last edited by e2c on Wed Jun 24, 2009 11:19 pm, edited 1 time in total.
User avatar
By e2c
UNICEF (United Nations Childrens Fund) on fighting FGM in Burkina Faso - FGM is officially illegal in Burkina

Campaign against FGM in Guinea -

English text of narration -
[Voiceover] "The costumes that the excisors wear are scary. When there's an excision ceremony, it's a whole different world. You arrive into a world you've never seen before. it's a feeling of fear and desolation. You're alone and you didn't know you were going to be hurt."

[interview segment]

Fatouma: "My parents never wanted me to be excised. It was my father-in-law who forced me after I married his son. The day I was cut I regretted it so much. I didn't know such pain was possible. It was so painful, I can't describe it."

Tante Mado, midwife: "As a midwife, I saw a lot of women dying at childbirth. I've seen excised women dying. That's when I understood that, with a lot of subtlety, we could speak with parents to demystify childbirth and then excision."

Odette Houedakor: "The training that we [AFAF] provide to non-excised girls lasts four days. Girls learn about excision and its consequences, reproductive health and child rights. At the end of the training, we [AFAF] summon former excisors and mothers who come and tell the girls about their personal experiences of excision. The training ends with a celebration organized for the girls where they dance and get presents from the village and AFAF."

Sarai [teenage girl, not excised]: "Before Tante Mado came here, we always heard about excision but we never knew the big secret that lay behind it. It's thanks to AFAF that we know what is involved in excision; that when you enter the "secret society" you go into the bush and they open your legs and cut off your clitoris. And then, you may bleed to death or get infections like HIV and other things. "

[Narration]: In 2008, Koumonin village publicly declared that it had abandoned excision.

Saa Koumanya Leno, Koumonin village chief: "I really think this act of excision is harmful. Since we've been excising children here, I haven't seen any benefit to it. So we spoke together in the village and decided to stop excision."

Tante Mado, midwife: "I praise this village's courage. At first, I thought it was a dream. The approach we use touches the heart. It's a participatory and community approach based on dialogue."
[I don't have time now to post more from the vid; there's lots of music, dancing - men and women together, also girls; bala and krin playing and more.]
Last edited by e2c on Wed Jun 24, 2009 2:55 am, edited 1 time in total.
User avatar
By e2c
Nigerians in Ireland protest their ambassador's denial of the continued practice of FGM:

FGM case in Ireland - this is a must-see. The situation is heartbreaking (death of 1st child due to FGM, mother and remaining daughters fleeing the country, asylum not granted, family separated for years) -

* Please note that there are a *lot* of highly racist comments about these videos - and the people involved - on YouTube. *
Last edited by e2c on Wed Jun 24, 2009 3:51 am, edited 1 time in total.
User avatar
By e2c
Thanks, Duga! ;)

I'd like to suggest something here, bubudi - that if the Africans in the videos and books that are referenced here have the honesty, guts - and compassion - to call this so-called "cultural practice" mutilation, then who are we to back down?!


The family in the Irish FGM case I posted about above are separated because the mom (Pamela) fled Nigeria with their 2 remaining daughters to keep them from FGM. Their oldest daughter bled to death because of FGM. Pamela also explains how radical "excision" and infibulation are practiced in Nigeria - including the way in which little girls are forced to undergo this so-called "surgery."
e2c, i may be more knowledgeable on this topic than you think. i don't rely on youtube videos to educate me on a subject. i've read a lot on this topic and most of my reading has been of reports based on field research in africa. youtube videos and books such as waris dirie's can be good tools for promoting awareness, but they are one sided and often sensationalize the topic. i don't read most of the stuff that comes from anti-fgm websites because often they are not factual and they promote misinformation. for example, you will come across articles that quote the w.h.o. as saying that fgm accounts for 80% of birth complications. not true at all. the w.h.o. stated that infibulation may increase complications in delivery. infibulation is common in some east african countries, but it is a more extreme procedure which is not commonly practiced elsewhere. so they take things totally out of context. they propagate a lot of myths. they probably think the ends justify the means. they don't. if you want to effect change then educate people with the real facts.

i'm not in any way arguing the rights or wrongs of fgc. i think we're all beyond that here. my stance is a humanitarian one. in other words, working together towards understanding and positive change. respect is the primary principle behind such work. you don't go to someone's house and just criticise what you see. doing so is reminiscent of the attitudes that europeans had in the past when they described africans as primitive, immoral and uncivilised. you first need to have an insider's view on why these practices exist and why they are important to the communities involved. not the reductionist view propagated by feminists, but the multiplicity of views presented to researchers on the field who actually bothered to ask the women themselves, including the elders who perform the procedures in question. the answers given may also differ from one ethnic group to another, just as the practices themselves do.

malinke and other mande people do not like to speak about controversial or taboo subjects. if you use judgemental or sensationalist terms then you will not have any success in engaging in a conversation with them about such things. mande people put high importance on manners as is evident in their notoriously long greeting rituals. one needs to be sensitive if one is to earn the level of respect that leads to educating people and effecting change.

i focus on mande because it is the focus of this website and because customs and attitudes of mande people are unique from those elsewhere in africa.

my intention is to share some of the facts revealed by research on this subject, specifically in the mande region. i hope also to have west african views represented here, but this will only happen if people show proper sensitivity toward cultures other than their own. being truly sensitive includes the understanding that this is an even harder topic for a mande person to talk about than it is for a westerner.

i have heard many opinions about the ngo's that target fgc being disrespectful and therefore unsuccessful. however, that is not always the case and there have been some very important victories won. i will later quote some of these victories, but off the top of my head there was one in which about 30 female 'excisors' in senegal renounced the practice. these victories always result from education with factual information, using a culturally sensitive approach. they didn't use terms such as 'mutilation', at least to begin with. in addition, they sought, with consultation of the communities involved, to replace the excision with another ritual, in order to maintain cultural and spiritual meaning in line with the community's traditions. some of the key statements in the guinean afaf video you posted are:
that's when i realised that, with a lot of subtlety, we could speak with parents to demystify childbirth and then excision.
  • --tante mado, midwife.
it's a participatory and community approach based on dialogue.
note that at no time did anyone in afaf use the term 'mutilation', but instead spoke of excision, which is the accepted term in francophone west africa.

waris dirie makes the claim that fgc is not culture. this may be true in her country where the practice has lost cultural relevance and seems to be all about ensuring a girl is able to be married off. you cannot paint all of africa with one brush. an approach which is culturally appropriate to each community is needed. mind you, i commend waris dirie for taking a public stance against such practices. she has been a great embassador for the cause. one of her main goals was to cause awareness and legislative change in the west and her involvement helped achieve it. in the years that followed, some legislative change occured in many african nations.

guinea is one of the countries that made female genital cutting illegal in the late 90s. before that, guinea was reported to have the highest incidence in west africa, at around 98%. since 1998 it has been around 20%. there are no recent studies to indicate what the trends would be today. the other west african countries that have made female genital cutting illegal are nigeria, ghana, togo, benin, ivory coast, burkina faso and senegal. senegal's incidence was also around 20% in the late 90s. the laws against female genital cutting dish out serious sentences for anyone convicted of an offence. yet, fgc continues to be practiced. burkina faso reportedly has a rate of around 70% despite prohibition. so although prohibition may help, it is not the answer. it's great that some inroads have been made in those countries. more on that later.

e2c, i think i have explained myself abundantly, although i'm not convinced you fully read and digested my statements. my first post was certainly not an apology of any kind. i stand by my statements re: appropriate language.
User avatar
By e2c
Look, bubudi - if you're so knowledgeable, why are you accusing me of "educating" myself via YouTube"? That's not only unfair, it's completely untrue. And even if it was the case... there's a hell of a lot of accurate info. in the videos I posted. (Damningly much, in fact.) No, I don't have my MD with a specialization in Obstetrics and Gynecology, but I have this sneaking feeling that I might know a *bit* more about women's health issues than you. (As a bye the bye, I've known of the various types of FGM for nearly 20 years. FGM became a big issue in the Washington, D.C. metro area due to the influx of refugees from Somalia and other E. African countries; also because many West Africans - men and women - started to talk about it publicly in hopes of stopping the practice here in the US. I've had friends who had to learn about it due to the fact that they're healthcare providers and were treating women who were experiencing health problems due to FGM, as well as friends who worked in various parts of Africa - collaborating with their African colleagues - to help raise healthcare standards for all people - but women and children especially.)

Since you're a man, I wonder if you realize what the equivalent of so-called "excision" would be for you? I really hated to speak directly about that but hey - would you like to have your entire penis chopped off?!! I highly doubt that - odds are you would see it as a violation of your body, and wouldn't hesitate to label it as "torture" (no anesthesia, after all), "mutilation" and worse. And that is exactly what occurs when only the clitoris is removed - it's a 1:1 comparison. I didn't write this for the sake of being sensational - though if it scared you, that's good. Because maybe it will make you a little more sympathetic to the fears - and pain - experienced by women and children who are maimed through all FGM practices. (That even one girl has gone through this is horrific. That so many face it every year is just... I literally have no words to describe how I feel about kids being subjected to this.)

* Edited to add: I'm beginning to think that you really were unaware of some of the things I've just mentioned as far as comparing certain key parts of men's and women's anatomy. If that *is* the case, it would be wise to seek some more knowledge from reliable sources.
youtube videos and books such as waris dirie's can be good tools for promoting awareness, but they are one sided and often sensationalize the topic
This is absolute bullshit, plain and simple. I'm shocked that you would even go there.
my first post was certainly not an apology of any kind. i stand by my statements re: appropriate language.
Again, I think this is complete and unadulterated b.s. And yes, I *did* read your post.

Please get off your d*mned high horse, man. You *don't* have the plumbing, so how on earth could you really understand what it would feel like - physically, emotionally and psychologically - to go through this? How would you feel if you had a daughter and she was slated to go through *any* kind of "cutting"? That really is the bottom line, IMO.

The truth is that girls and women suffer in all kinds of ways - including death - due to these so-called "cultural practices." They're dangerous on many levels. And I would be the last person to "paint all of Africa with one brush." Do you think I can easily detach myself from this subject? With all due respect, you are doing just that, with your thread title edit and more.

If I were able to personally help some of the women and girls who end up fleeing to the US and to European countries to avoid this "surgery," God knows, i would do so. And if I were African myself, and had some hope of bringing about change from within my culture, I would try to do so. The plight of the Nigerian family portrayed above is truly heartbreaking - and I am all too aware of similar things that have taken place here in the US - very much including the way that the government of my country (the US) has treated women seeking asylum as liars at best, often as criminals!!! (Like the Togolese woman I mentioned in my 1st post in this thread, who applied for asylum in Washington, D.C., where I used to live - her case dragged on for years, just like the Nigerians' in "Far from Home.") So I cannot be as detached as you - I encountered people like them as an ESL tutor and as an area resident, on a very regular basis.
Last edited by e2c on Fri Jun 26, 2009 9:04 pm, edited 13 times in total.
User avatar
By e2c
not the reductionist view propagated by feminists, but the multiplicity of views presented to researchers on the field who actually bothered to ask the women themselves, including the elders who perform the procedures in question. the answers given may also differ from one ethnic group to another, just as the practices themselves do.
Again... nobody here (least of all me) is saying that everyone does FGM in the same way, or to the same degree. But did you see all the men and women gathered to protest their ambassador's denial? Or the women in all the videos I posted speaking out against *any* of these "surgeries"? Or the Nigerian dad? Or the Guinean village chief?

You're trying to parse not only my words, but those of every single African who's been referenced in this thread. On top of that, you've been putting words in my mouth - but most important, in theirs.

I think your claim of "humanitarianism" is extremely misguided, if by that you mean altering language so that it doesn't reflect the day-to-day realities of those who suffer due to the mutilation of their genitals Isn't it enough to simply know that a girl can bleed to death by having her clitoris and labia minora cut off??! (Without her consent or any prior knowledge of what she is about to experience at that?!)

I guess I'm some sort of radical, "reductive feminist" in your view. So be it. I stand by what Africans themselves have to say about loss of sexual function, unecessary death, infections, the manifold ob/gyn problems/complications that result from even the most "simple" of these forms of mutilation (not to mention the emotional and psychological damage!), the fact that the girls and women who go through these "rites" are often forcibly restrained, given no anesthesia, and much more. Where is the room for distinctions here?

it's *all* bad. All. bad.
Last edited by e2c on Thu Jun 25, 2009 1:20 am, edited 2 times in total.
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