Monday, December 26, 2011

Female Circumcision

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! - organization the works in Senegal against FGM. 


  1. Very well written. I don't think you are "forcing" your western ideals upon the Senegalese. The cultural relativism approach isn't the core of the issue here. The central issue here is that girls are being HURT and they are being put in SERIOUS danger. This is a health issue at its core and an issue of safety.

    When someone brings up the cultural relativism argument, I like to bring up the example of cannibalism and eating human brains. There are native tribes that practice this and there are SERIOUS health consequences as a result. Should we step back from such situations and let it be because we are bringing our "western" values upon these cannibals?

    The same can be said here. You are fighting to decrease the amount of suffering, not to "westernize" foreign people. If you were instead trying to ban a certain type of music or food or dance that had no negative consequences then I would safely say that you were being the Westerner trying to force yourself upon others' cultures. But, stopping FGM has nothing to do with destroying Senegalese culture or tradition. Stopping FGM has EVERYTHING to do with saving lives and decreasing suffering.

  2. Jenae, this is heartbreaking. Thank you for sharing...I am so proud of you for what you are doing, your making your voice heard. I hope that all you do helps to stop this horrible "tradition". I also hope that you are able to teach them the truth about God, and His love and grace and true will for their lives. He does not want us to suffer... Ecclasiasties 3:11-13.

    I know that i am no help over here, but i send All my love and prayers for this issue. Pleas let me know if there is something else I can do.

    Lotns of love beautiful lady!


  3. Well written, heartbreaking to think of. Essentially a girl is made less whole. The safety issue - health issue is paramount. I would also argue it is a human rights issue. I would like to know more about the history of this practice, who, what, where, when and how this all started.
    There has been discussion of GFM now occurring in the US in certain populations.
    I would like to hear from mothers who have refused this for their daughter. Maybe knowing it is an option to refuse. I don't think it is wrong to share your opinion on the subject. It is cutting the sexual organs of little girls; it will impact them throughout their lives. Thanks for informing us. See you soon!

  4. Thanks for all your insight, prayers, and encouragement! Beth, I have started researching more about it. If i find stuff i will send it your way!

  5. "at least for boys there is a major health benefit that results."

    Not to derail this, the health claims for male genital cutting are bogus or exaggerated, debatable claims of slight reductions in rare ailments of late onset that can be better prevented or treated by other means. 2/3 of the world's men, including most of the developed world are intact and enjoy excellent health. The reasons for cutting males are as flawed as for cutting females.

    I don't deny that FGC at its worst can be much worse than most MGC, but everything you say about human rights applies equally to both sexes (of course). In Kenya, they have started to circumcise girls because they think their circumcised boys will have nobody else to marry. The two are intertwined. Both are evil, both need to end - not by colonialist imposition, that just doesn't work, but by encouraging grassroots movements against them.

    1. I agree with you. I think it is legal here because there is not pressure from an international source. Current Medical influence suggests that cutting for boys is good in areas where there is a high concentration of sexual disease. I personally, have not researched enough to know if that is true but it does explain why it's allowed to be practiced.

  6. I agree with almost all of what you say, except for your distinctions between female and male circumcision.

    The supposed health benefits of male circumcision only seem to be apparent to circumcised men, and just as for girls, male circumcision removes or exposes the parts of the body that gives them pleasure during sex. (The foreskin isn't just there to protect the glans).

    It's usually circumcised women who are the strongest promoters of cutting girls btw, and they claim the exact same benefits as are claimed for male circumcision.

    Don't get me wrong. I'm totally against female circumcision, and I probably spend a lot more time and money trying to stop it than most people. If people are serious about stopping female circumcision though, they also have to be against male circumcision. Even if you see a fundamental difference, the people that cut girls don't (and they get furious if you call it "mutilation"). There are intelligent, educated, articulate women who will passionately defend it, and as well as using the exact same reasons that are used to defend male circumcision in the US, they will also point to male circumcision itself, as well as labiaplasty and breast operations, as evidence of western hypocrisy regarding female circumcision.

    Are you aware that the USA also used to practise female circumcision? Fortunately, it never caught on the same way as male circumcision, but there are middle-aged white US American women walking round today with no clitoris because it was removed. Some of them don't even realise what has been done to them. There are frequent references to the practice in medical literature up until the late 1950's. Most of them point out the similarity with male circumcision, and suggest that it should be performed for the same reasons. Blue Cross/Blue Shield had a code for clitoridectomy till 1977.

    One victim wrote a book about it:
    Robinett, Patricia (2006). "The rape of innocence: One woman's story of female genital mutilation in the USA."

    1. That is so interesting, thank you for sharing! Also thanks for reading and commenting!

  7. A culture that forces or coerces children into genital cutting has no moral ground from which to end the practice. NOT ONE national medical assoctiation on earth endorses routine male infant circumcision.

    Protect boys too.

  8. Hi,

    I agree about banning the female circumcision. What about the male one? What is this "major" health benefit you are talking about?

    1. Male circumcision significantly decreases the spread of STD's. I absolutely agree with you that we should protect little boys from getting cut as well. There is a lot more tradition with the boys, they have a huge ceremony and celebration. I wrote about it in 2010

      Thanks for reading

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  10. Hi, my name's Amanda and I found this blog while googling images on the topic female genital cutting in hope to find one to serve as preview of a story I've written on the topic. However, I found this entire entry to be incredibly wise. FGM is a horrible tradition that needs to stop NOW, *everywhere*! If you approve, I'd love to use the picture you have at the top, the women's symbol with the knife and stop sign. I want to use it for a story I wrote called The Woman That I Am at deviantART. I'd give you the link, but I have a warning filter that only enables you to view it if you have an account. Send me an email if you want to read the story and/or if you're willing to share the picture mentioned above. My email is Thanks. Stay safe-

  11. i hate FGM ...please try stop this world FGM.... thank sister Public this Blogger letters