International Woman’s day is a space in the calendar to celebrate women’s achievements in a world where gender has a huge impact on the life of an individual in society and unfortunately often places woman as the inferior member of society to man. The day marks the need for gender equality across the globe and gives homage to successes of the past such as the suffragette movement. Activism and collaboration is needed in a world where rituals such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) still exist and are used to discriminate against women as part of “tradition” throughout the globe.
FGM is the procedure where woman’s genitals are harmed or altered without medical reason. Often the equipment used is not sterile and the girls undergoing the procedure are not anaesthetised. The World Health Organization says “Procedures can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later cysts, infections, infertility as well as complications in childbirth, increased risk of newborn deaths.” The procedure is an attack of human rights and WHO gives the shocking statistics of “About 140 million girls and women worldwide are currently living with the consequences of FGM” and “In Africa an estimated 101 million girls 10 years old and above have undergone FGM.”
As a part of Culture, the issue is complex and needs to be understood within its cultural setting before rushing in and condemning anyone who has advocated FGM. Such a horrifying abuse of human rights is usually part of a deep rooted and long standing ideology. Although it is a practice beneficial to the inequality of patriarchy, the ideologies of the practice run so deep that it is women who consent to the procedure being carried out on their daughters. In Elizabeth Heger Boyle’s book “Female Genital Cutting: Cultural Conflict in the Global Community”, she explores how ‘Virtually every ethnography and report states that FGM is defended and transmitted by the women. The mothers who have this done to their daughters love their children and want the best for them.’ Some may argue that a person living in one culture has no right to judge how other cultures live. However, women and men from cultures where FGM is practiced have suffered the consequences and want change, this is where the global community needs to step in and call for an end to FGM. In a demographic and health survey, out of the 38% of circumcised woman participants from Kenya, 73% said they opposed FGM.
With FGM, female’s sexual pleasure is controlled and often destroyed. Essentially, the act of destroying a woman’s ability to have free sexual desire and enjoy her sexuality is a way to control women and renders them as always inferior to man. Boyle writes that in cultures where the procedure is performed, ‘There was an assumption that, without intervention, women could enjoy sex too much and be unable to control their desires… In these communities, female genital cutting might be viewed as useful or necessary’. It is seen as the man’s job to “protect” women from themselves, as if women are inherently unable to function within society if they have sexual desire. This is a damaging ideology which has been behind some of the most brutal attacks on woman throughout time, in different parts of the world.
In Alice Walker’s novel “Possessing the Secret of Joy”, the complexities of FGM are explored and the effects it has on both men and women in societies where it is part of culture. She delves into the psyche of protagonist, Tashi, looking into how her childhood affected her choice to have FGM performed on her as an adult in order for her to obtain some kind of cultural identity. This is a choice she has to live with and the unforeseen consequences of, for the rest of her life. Walker writes a letter to the reader at the end of her novel, and in it she makes them aware that ‘A portion of the royalties of this book will be used to educate woman and girls, men and boys, about the hazardous effect of genital mutilation…on the whole society in which it is practiced, and the world.’ Not only is the text itself a vehicle for change, in raising awareness and creating understanding, but the conditions in which it is bought shows how writing itself can be used as a form of activism.
There are many campaigns running at the moment, worldwide, to stop FGM, this attack on human rights happens here in the UK too, here is a petition which you can sign:
Many people may not have heard of FGM, so, this International Woman’s day, raise awareness and think about what you can do to help stop such an inhumane treatment of girls and women. Visit this campaign’s page to get you started: