Female Genital Mutilation: The wound that is hard to reveal and even harder to be kept hidden…

Omoy Lungange January 17, 2012

Female Genital Mutilation: The wound that is hard to reveal and even harder to be kept hidden...Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) also known as female circumcision or female genital cutting is the partial or complete removal of external female genital organs such as the vulva and/or the clitoris.  Basically what occurs in this procedure is that part or the entire clitoris is sliced through the use of razors, blades, knives and even scissors. FGM is such a highly controversial practice that although not as widespread as it once was, it is still practiced on over 80 million women a year.

It has naturally maintained its attraction, mainly from the family decision-makers in areas of the world-parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia where it remains an important custom. With this in mind, it is important to question if the eradication of female genital mutilation is a realistic goal, and if so, what indicators, mechanisms and processes can be used for monitoring progress and to ensure success? 

Commom Settings of FGM

FGM is mostly done in unsanitary conditions in which a midwife uses unclean sharp instruments such as razor blades, scissors, kitchen knives, and pieces of glass. 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. Antiseptic techniques and anesthesia are generally not used, or for that matter, heard of.

This is akin to a doctor who uses the same surgical instrument on a number of women at the same time without cleaning any of them. Basically what occurs in this procedure is that part or the entire clitoris is sliced through the use of razors, pieces of glass, blades, knives and even scissors. The instruments used to pluck out the clitoris are sharp stones, burning, and finger nails. Thorns may also be used for piercing the prepuce and for holding the labia together. The operation is usually performed by a traditional excisor, usually an elderly woman of the village specially chosen to do this task, who may also be a traditional midwife.

Anesthesia is rarely used and the girl is held down by a number of women, often by her own relatives. The procedure may take 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the skill of the traditional excisor, the level of the excision, and the amount of struggle put up by the girl. The cut is usually cleaned with anything from alcohol or lemon juice to ash, herb mixtures, or coconut oil, and the girl’s legs may be bound together until the wound has healed. 

Impact of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting

Female Genital Mutilation: The wound that is hard to reveal and even harder to be kept hidden...Medical reports document many long term physical consequences of FGM/C. Damage can result in the organs or the cutting of an arter. Hemorrhaging or excessive bleeding may occur as a result of removing the clitoris or the prepuce, which may also necessitate emergency medical care that is not always available. There may be infections such as Tetanus, septicemia and HIV which may be caused by the use of unclean instruments and unsanitary conditions.

Infections can also lead to septicemia or a severe life-threatening illness in which the presence of bacteria overwhelms the bloodstream, this may occur, when unsterile instruments are used for even minor cutting. After healing, excessive growth of scar tissue may form which can be disfiguring, and cysts may also occur. The scar tissue may also narrow the genital opening making it difficult to pass urine and menstrual blood; and due to the decrease in size of the vaginal opening, menstrual blood may be retained in the body, resulting in bloating and swelling of the abdomen. There may be repeated urinary tract infections and chronic pelvic infections, which may cause severe reproductive organ damage and infertility. Babies born to women who have undergone female genital mutilation suffer a higher rate of neonatal death and obstetric fistulae, compared with babies born to women who have not undergone the procedure. 

This study was really intriguing for it gives an insight of how powerful yet destructive customs can be in societies. For instance, African societies have always had traditions in order to preserve structure, prevent conflict and manage solutions. However, the existence of a deeply rooted tradition such as female genital mutilation has been harmful to the existence of girls and women living within those societies.

There is definitely hope for the future. On the other hand,  it is important to note that bringing an end to a custom such as the practice of FGM in African societies will be a long, arduous, and slow process, requiring long-term commitment, and thriving establishment of foundations that will support successful and sustainable behavior change over time.

To conclude, achieving the eradication of female genital mutilation is a realistic goal despite its long-term commitment. The increased number of organizations over the past few years who are devoted to eradicating the practice definetely provide hope for the future.  Hopefully, this report will provide the non-governmental organizations with new insights and a better understanding of how best to eliminate this traditional harmful practice. You can also get involved by locating an organization in your community who is committed to this cause, and provide any type of help and support.

Last Edited by: Updated: February 25, 2014


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