Female Genital Mutilation: Religious or Cultural?

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Several people around the world are uninformed about female genital mutilation and how often it occurs around the world. Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) includes procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. It comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia and cause extreme harms to those who experience it. There are four major types of procedure that fall into the mutilation classification. There is clitoridectomy, excision, infibulation and type four which includes all procedures together. The clitoridectomy procedure consist of partial or total removal of the clitoris. Excision is partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora. Lastly, infibulation is the narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by covering and repositioning the labia minora, or the labia majora, sometimes through stitching, with or without removal of the clitoris. These procedures are proven to have no health benefits for girls and women. In fact, it can cause severe bleeding, problems urinating, cyst, infections, as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths. Those who continue to practice FGM today, argue that they should be allowed to continue the practice because of their religion. However, through the research I have conducted, I have concluded that FGM is not an act based on religious beliefs but those engrained through older generations and the culture they were born and raised in.

For those who argue that they should be allowed to continue female genital mutilation because of their beliefs, are not aware of the many facts that contradict this theory. An estimated 200 million girls and women alive today are believed to have been subjected to FGM, but rates are increasing. Most girls who have undergone FGM live predominately in Africa and the Arab states. However, it is practiced in select countries in Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America. It is also practiced among migrant populations throughout Europe, North America, Australia, and New Zealand. Every country and, or continent have their own religions that are distinct from each other. Both Christians and Muslims are complicit to female genital mutilation. Thus, it can be concluded to be a cultural practice, not connected to religion. There are also individuals who identify as part of the same religion but don’t believe or practice FGM. In addition, there is no religious script that prescribes the practices.

Dr. Ann-Marie Wilson established a charity in England and Wales. She undertakes research and provides knowledge and tools to those working to end FGM in the countries in Africa and across the diaspora worldwide. Her research indicates that female genital mutilation pre-dates Islam and Christianity. Some researchers have traced the practice to Egypt in the fifth-century BC and argue that the geographical distribution of FGM suggests that it originated on the west coast of the Red Sea. There are Egyptian mummies that show women infibulated and this is supported by a Greek papyrus in the British museum dated in 163 BC. A historian and geographer in the second century BC reported that a group along the eastern coast of the Red Sea cut their women in “Egyptian style”. Today, FGM is sometimes referred to as “Pharaonic circumcisions” in Sudan and “Sudanese circumcision” in Egypt.

Besides FGM being practiced due to religious requirements, there appears to be a link between FGM and slavery. For example, groups in Somalia were accustomed to sewing up their female, young slaves to make them unable for conception. It also prevented female slaves from unwanted pregnancies, rape, sacrificial practices, and an early attempt at population control.

On the other hand, FGM is typically found in traditional groups or community cultures with patriarchal social structures. It is clear through history that FGM is a manifestation of deeply entrenched gender inequalities that are engrained in the culture. The practice is often considered to be a necessary part of raising a girl properly and preparing her for marriage and adulthood. If she has gone through the procedures, she is seen to be “clean”, “pure”, and “worthy” to be a wife. In comparison, if she has not gone through the procedure, she is “dirty” and a “disgrace” to herself and her family in the town she lives in. Individuals believe that putting female through circumcision prevents them from being vice and makes them appear more attractive to future husbands… without knowing the consequences in which this can lead too. According to the journal article, “Female Genital Mutilation” written by Kowser Omer-Hashi and Marilyn R. Entwistle, it is stated that men pay high dowry prices for women with FGM. For others, it is a nuptial necessity. It is also a way to reduce female sexual demands on her husband, as well as it safeguards the women against pre and extra marital sexual activities.

Some people like to think that although there are no religious scripts that talk about mutilation to the female organs, practitioners believe that it has religious support. Religious leaders have been known to take varying positions with regards to FGM.

Female genital mutilation has become more talked about as of lately, yet those who practice it around the world continue to be unaware of the consequences it can bring at any stage of a female’s life. They use common excuses, such as religious beliefs to continue to validate males need to feel more powerful than a woman and justify the mistreatment of a girls physical, mental, and emotional health. Female genital mutilation is not a religious practice. It is a practice that started before religion was created and continued to be used throughout slavery and so on. It has been engrained in women around the world that they should not be sexual and if so, they are shamed. They are taught that without FGM they are not worthy of marriage or social approval. And that is not okay. We must be informed to inform others.