Monday, December 26, 2011
This is a topic that I have yet to discuss with my fellow community members until recently. It is a controversial issue worldwide and one that often leads to an emotional debate. Female genital mutilation (FGM) is where women have their clitoris and/or their inner and outer labia removed. It is currently illegal in Senegal but after a recent incident I have come to understand that it is something that happens quite frequently.
Last year, I wrote about male circumcision and the ritual that the boys partake in. It is one of the most interesting cultural practices that sill exists today, especially as Pulaar culture is slowly being replaced by globalization. At the time I was learning about this practice I also asked if girls had a similar ceremony. Their response was NO, absolutely not. It is illegal to cut girls. Being naive and new to the culture I felt content with the answer and did not dive deeper into it.
It was not until this past week that I learned this practice does in fact take place. The shock of discovering this brought up many different emotions. The consequences to this illegal cutting are one of the most depressing realizations I have faced throughout my service. The story goes as follows:
One morning all the uncut girls in a small village (ages 6 months to 5 years old) are gathered in a grandmother's rooms located in a small hut. Only a few mothers are allowed in and it's secrecy is only discovered after deathly screams are heard around the compound. These girls have no idea what is going on or why they are being deprived of their female organs. All they know is that is hurts! And it hurts a lot! There is no doctor present because if discovered they would go to jail. So it is no shock when a four year old girl has an infection and they do nothing except tell the poor child that "god is good and to pray for him to heal you". Nor is it a shock when the girls don't pee for 3 days because it hurts so badly. And when a girl finally dies because "it was god's will" there is no one held accountable.
I have heard it argued that FGM is a traditional practice and we "westerners" have no place to fight against it. And I have several responses to this:
1. Women here claim that they must cut their daughters because if they don't they will not be a good Muslim woman. (Please correct me if I am wrong but I believe many Muslim scholars argue against this practice and there is in fact no verse in the Koran that supports the cutting of women)
2. Today there is no traditional practice being carried out when the girls are cut. They are too young to understand, it's done in secrecy and they don't seek proper medical care.
There used to be more tradition involved because girls where cut when they came of age (12 or 13) and it was a ceremony with the grandmothers who would talk about the important qualities of being a Pulaar/ Muslim woman. However his no longer takes place, the cultural component has been lost.
3. I personally do not agree with any type of circumcision or altering of the body but at least for boys there is a major health benefit that results. For girls it is removing the part of their body that gives them pleasure during sex. It has nothing to do with making them healthier but further supports the notion that women are created only for the pleasure of men.
To me this is a human rights issue. No human being is better than another, no matter what sex you are. It infuriates me that girls are taught to have no self-confidence and from a young age are told they are worthless. What is more frustrating is the ignorance among mothers. They have no opinions of their own but have literally been feed lies their entire lives.
You may criticize me and say it's not my place to fight against this injustice. One also might argue that I am trying to force Western ideas on a country that have their own. And you know what, I probably might have said the same before this experience but I have come to understand that our" western ideas" work. Though it's important to say that I don't agree with all of them, there are many that should be shared. The fact that we women, in America, can get a free education, can easily attend college and pursue a career in whatever we want has, no doubt, significantly increased the success of our country. It has not always been like this and many strong women before us have had a hard fight, but it is an intricate part of development. Now that we have achieved it is our job to share and educate our sisters around the world. The fight against FGM is just a start. We are women who deserve to have all of our organs. We deserve to enjoy sex the way it was either created or has evolved to be practiced. We deserve to be confident, we deserve the chance to pursue an education and be successful. We deserve the opportunity to contribute to the world and make it a better place!
Fight against FGM!
http://www.tostan.org/ - organization the works in Senegal against FGM.