We are probably all aware of the term female genital mutilation (FGM), the violent excision of the clitoris which remains one of the worst forms of violence against women.
There have been increased campaigns against this vice largely practiced in some African countries, as well as, the UK and America.
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Many girls have so far been rescued from the dangers of FGM, but many more are believed to be suffering in silence due to what has been described as another form of FGM – labia stretching.
Labia stretching or pulling is a practice whereby one manually stretches their labia minora – the inner lips of their vagina. Practiced in some parts of Eastern and Southern Africa, and now in the UK, girls and women use their hands to pull their labia minora until they stretch, sometimes up to 5 inches in length.
Those who can’t use their hands resort to strings. The process is extremely painful, but these young women are being forced to do so by their parents and elderly folks with the belief that longer labia make men enjoy sex and prevent them from cheating.
In places like Zambia, Uganda, and Zimbabwe, as well as, the UK, elongating the labia happens to children who haven’t reached puberty.
Others will be encouraged to start pulling their labia before they start menstruating or after they have begun menstruating. The belief is that altering the labia around this period was easier as the folds would be softer.
Labia stretching is classified under Type Four of the different types of FGM listed by the World Health Organization (WHO). Generally, the practice is illegal when it involves youngsters.
But Iris Phiri, a traditional marriage counselor from Zambia said the practice is an important custom in her country.
“It is our culture. That is what we know. It is a lesson that we were taught when growing up, and it is beneficial to women. It is good. It is where we get our dignity and pride as African women.”
“Some women who do not believe in this thing of pulling, they see their husbands going for another girl,” Phiri told Global Press Journal. “When a woman has pulled, it really motivates a man.”
Other cultures in various countries believe labia pulling makes childbirth easier but Wala Nalungwe, a feminist and activist in Zambia said these are all myths.
“This practice is another form of male domination, which is actually being reinforced by women who have bought into patriarchal cultures that deny women autonomy over their bodies,” she said.
“It is unfair that girls and young women are taught to pull their labia minora for the sexual gratification of their male partners, not for their own sexual fulfillment.”
In the UK where some mothers are encouraging their daughters to stretch their labia, a BBC report said there are some women who are paid to show girls how to pull.
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