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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

Arab Spring turns into Arab Winter: Syrian and Yemeni opposition call for intervention

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Written by Iram Ramzan

November 5, 2011 at 9:20 pm

Selective narratives and short-term memories

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Smoothing things over: Israeli President Shimon Peres hosts a Ramadan dinner Copyright @GPO

Last week, the entire world was engrossed in what was happening in Libya. Eyes were glued to the television screen as we watched the rebels march into Tripoli, cheered on by the international community in the ‘fight for democracy’.

While everyone was applauding Sky’s Alex Crawford for her ‘bravery and tenacity’ in reporting live from the back of a rebel pickup truck, 1200 miles away, however, there was no pause in the rockets in Gaza despite a cease-fire. Fighting resumed between Israeli forces and Palestinians in Gaza. This was barely mentioned in the mainstream media.

The conflict came about after two terror attacks on buses in southern Israel last Thursday killed fourteen people and wounded 31. The driver of the first bus claimed that the shooters were dressed in Egyptian military uniform. In addition Israeli forces shot five gunmen while Egyptian border police killed two more.  It appears that an Israeli military helicopter attempted to give chase and crossed into Egypt territory where it mistakenly attacked an Egyptian army unit, killing five and wounding several others.

Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak issued a statement expressing his ‘regret’ at the deaths, but the Egyptians were having none of it, stating that the apology was not good enough. And so begins another diplomatic crisis calling in the ‘big guns’, i.e. the Unites States. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman landed in Cairo late Sunday in an attempt to defuse the tensions.

Israeli President Shimon Peres further tried to bring about peace between the two countries by hosting a Ramadan dinner in Jerusalem. Perhaps Peres served truly astounding latkes and falafels that evening, for soon afterwards the countries decided to work together to investigate just what actually happened last week.

Israel blamed Gaza’s Popular Resistance Committees for the attack and retaliated with Israeli missiles on 20th August, killing15 Palestinians, with 55 injured, including 12 women, 15 children, three elderly and one ambulance worker.

Egyptian security forces are reportedly searching the border region for the people connected to last Thursday’s terrorist attacks. According to a report in Egypt’s al-Shorouk newspaper, Egyptian forces are also mapping the tunnels underneath the Gaza border and intend to destroy them.

Does the blame actually lie with Gaza? Richard Lightbown, of the Palestine Chronicle, said that the Israeli government (unpopular at home) is trying to show that it can act with determination to protect her security, and ‘who better to blame than the residents of Gaza?’ While Hamas supposedly expressed delight over the news of the dead Israelis, they have yet to claim responsibility for the attacks. Both sides repeatedly attacked the other (ceasefire schmeasefire!) but unfortunately for Gaza, they do not have an Iron Dome to repel rockets.

An Arab diplomat told the AFP that Washington is pressing the Palestinians to abandon their plans to bid from UN membership next month. The general feeling among Palestinians is that this is the first ‘Israeli nail in the coffin’ for a state recognition, as they have ‘shot themselves in the foot’ and scuppered their chances once again.

When the media can be bothered to pay attention, themiddle-eastern narrative is quite interesting and ever changing. We want them to have democracy and freedom but we don’t think they can handle it. And what about those Islamists, it’s just a matter of time before they take over and fill the power vacuum, right? When Egyptians gathered on the streets in their thousands, we cheered them on but now Mubarak has been ousted the media is once again obsessed with potential Islamic extremists vying for power. The same is happening with Libya and now Palestine. Our memories have become shorter and our focus is more selective

Written by Iram Ramzan

August 26, 2011 at 2:15 pm

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