Female Circumcision in Africa
June 23, 2015
Diversity: Dr. Saleem
There are an estimated 130 million girls and women alive today whose human rights have been violated by female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). This harmful practice not only affects girls and women in Africa and the Middle East, where it is traditionally carried out, but also touches the lives of girls and women living in migrant communities in industrialized countries. Although collaborative advocacy has worked over recent decades has generated widespread commitment to end this practice, success in eliminating FGM/C has been limited, with some significant expectations. This harmful ...view middle of the document...
The use of the word mutilation reinforces the idea that this practice is a violation of girls and women’s human rights, and thereby helps promote national and international advocacy towards its abandonment. However, at the community level the term can be problematic. Local languages generally use the less judgmental term cutting to describe the practice; parents resent the suggestion that they are mutilating their daughters.
Where is FGM/C practiced?
The majority of girls and women at risk of undergoing FGM/C live in some 28 countries in Africa and the Middle East. In Africa, these countries form a broad band from Senegal in the west to Somalia in the east. The practice of FGM/C is no longer restricted to countries in which it has been traditionally practiced. Education, especially of women, can play an important role in safe guarding the human rights of both women themselves, and those of their children. Overall, daughters of mothers who are more highly educated are less likely to have undergone FGM/C than daughters of mothers with little or no education. Women’s education may contribute to the reduction of the practice, but alone it is not sufficient enough to lead to its abandonment.
Social Dynamics of FGM/C
In every society in which it is practiced, FGM/C is a manifestation of gender inequality that is deeply entrenched in social, economic and political structure. Researchers seeking to understand how and why the practice of FGM/C persists are confronted with a contradiction: in many cases, parents and other family members are preserving a tradition that they know can bring harm, both physical and psychological, to their daughters. Mothers organize the cutting of their daughters because they consider that is what they must do to raise a girl properly and to prepare her for adulthood and marriage. In discussions about FGM/C, Mannika women in central Guinea explained that parents have a threefold obligation to their daughters: to educate them properly, cut them, and find them a husband (Gruenbaum, 2001). This obligation can be understood as a social convention to which parents confirm, even if the practice inflicts harm. From his perspective, not conforming would bring greater harm, since it would lead to shame an social exclusion. Social convention is so powerful that girls themselves may desire to cut, as a result of the social pressure from peers from peers and because of fear of stigmatization and rejection by their own communities if they do not follow the tradition (Shell-Duncan, 2000). FGM/C is an important part of girls and women’s cultural gender identity and the procedure may also impart a sense of pride, of coming of age and a feeling of community membership. Girls who undergo the procedure are provided with rewards, including celebrations, public recognition and gifts. In communities where FGM/C is almost university practiced, not conforming to the practice can result in stigmatization, social isolation and...