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It is not circumcision, it is mutilation – Female Genital Mutilation

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The United Nations Population Fund said that almost 2,000 communities across Africa have abandoned female genital mutilation (FGM) in 2011. However, Wednesday’s Newsnight revealed that the practise is still prevalent in Egypt, despite being against the law.

The aim of the process is to ensure the woman is faithful to her future husband. Some communities consider girls ineligible for marriage if they have not been circumcised.

FGM is recognised internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women.


Female genital mutilation is classified into four major types.

Clitoridectomy: partial or total removal of the clitoris (a small, sensitive and erectile part of the female genitals) and, in very rare cases, only the prepuce (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris).

Excision: partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (the labia are “the lips” that surround the vagina).

Infibulation: narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the inner, or outer, labia, with or without removal of the clitoris.

Other: all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area.(For more information go onto the WHO website)

Where male circumcision has shown to have some medical benefits, there are no medical benefits for FGM, none whatsoever. Females who are forced to undergo this barbaric practice suffer from haemorrhage, shock, pain, and complications during childbirth. They also do not experience any sexual pleasure.

Special honeymoon centers are built outside communities so that the “screams of the brides will not be heard”. There is a also bloodthirsty rite associated with infibulation in which the husband runs through the streets holding the bloodstained dagger to declare he has ‘opened’ his wife for conception. What is honourable about this?

The reason cited for ‘circumcision’ is supposedly to preserve a woman’s chastity. The Egyptian mother on Newsnight insisted she would circumcise her daughter despite the ban. Girls who have not been mutilated do not receive many marriage proposals.

It is important that she loses that part of her body that awakes sexual desire,” said the mother. “If not, she may play with herself or ask a boy to touch this part for her, not specifically a stranger, but one of her cousins for instance, and she might enjoy it. When she feels the pain of it she will be more careful about this part”.

It ensures pre-marital virginity and inhibits extra-marital sex, because it reduces women’s libido. Women fear the pain of re-opening the vagina, and are afraid of being discovered if it is opened illicitly.

The belief is that is is the woman who is sexually loose and that her sexual desire must be curbed at a young age, before she can disgrace the family. This has been the case throughout history.

There have been various methods used in the world to ensure that women remain ‘chaste’ and sexually pure. There has been no equivalent for men. It is how men have exerted power over women and dealt with their fear of a woman’s sexuality by destroying it.

Some self proclaimed ‘experts’ suggest that only some women should be circumcised, for instance those who are aroused on the metro while wearing tight jeans (skip to 2:30). It is not surprising that the women sat behind him are giggling due to the sheer absurdity of the man’s claims.

Hilarious though it may be, it is actually deeply disturbing that there are men who think this way, using religion and even blackmailing women by mentioning ‘honour’ to promote these views.

But what about men who are easily aroused and may started behaving promiscuously? By that logic, should one then suggest severing men’s genitals? No, we simply reply, “boys will be boys”. It is absurd and appalling that in the 21st century, some men, and even women unfortunately, believe that sex is still a man’s domain.
Religious mandate?


FGM is practiced by both Muslims and Christians, especially those living in Africa (there are other Muslim countries around the world that practise it). Although it has no religious mandate, there are a number of Muslim scholars who come out defending the practice. It is not mentioned in the Qur’an and only mentioned briefly in one or two hadiths, which are not even authentic anyway.

This issue brings about a more important debate about the role of Muslim scholars, which is addressed in Reza Aslan’s ‘No God But God’. It was only in the 11th century that scholars (ulema), in particular the ‘traditionalists’, were free to “ascend to a position of unquestioned religious authority, and were able not only to legalise and institutionalise their ideological and theological opinions into distinct schools of thought, but also to formulate a comprehensive code of conduct, i.e. the Shariah, which forever transformed Islam into an all-embracing way of life”.

Furthermore, Qur’anic interpretation has largely been the exclusive domain of Muslim men. They have of course brought to the Qur’an their own ideology and their own pre-conceived notions, so it is not surprising that certain verses will be read in the most misogynistic interpretation.

Thus, how will a man understand just how painful the process of mutilation is? It is easy for those scholars and men from the villages where it is practised to say that it is necessary and desirable, when they will never understand that pain.

We must not be blackmailed or lectured to by scholars or sheikhs – who decided that their word was law anyway? – or elders from the villages who believe that a woman has no right to sexual pleasure.

The practice will never be completely eradicated, but social workers in Egypt are trying to educate men and women on its consequences, and numbers are falling.

The world must continue to educate and assist these parts of the world. As Alice Walker said, “Female genital mutilation is torture, not a culture”.


Written by Iram Ramzan

February 27, 2012 at 6:35 pm

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