Female genital mutilation is a reality experienced by many around the world. Should we care more about trying to stop it? Of course we should!
Imagine your three-year-old daughter, legs apart, and a circumciser with a razor, slashing at her clitoris and inner labia. Your daughter is writhing in pain – no anaesthetic was used – and you hear her crying, calling for her “mummy” – and yet, it doesn’t stop, it doesn’t cease, and the scarring will never go away.
You might think this is a bit too much to stomach on a weekday, that the image of a three-year-old with her legs open is paedophiliac; but consider for a second the fact that this is a reality experienced by thousands every year. There is no space for padding in this situation – the reality is harsh and the trauma is soul-destroying.
Female genital mutilation varies from ethnic group to ethnic group but essentially it is the act of removing part or all of the clitoris and inner labia. There are various degrees, however, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) has had female circumcision categorised into four types:
Types I and II are when part or all of the clitoris and clitoral hood are removed. This process involves the clitoris being held between the thumb and index finger and amputated with one stroke of a sharp object. Traditionally, bleeding is stopped by packing the wound with gauzes and applying a pressure bandage but modern-day, trained practitioners may insert a stitch or two around the clitoral artery – how avant-garde!
Type III, and the most brutal and misogynistic of them all, is usually the complete removal of the clitoris and labia minora along with the inner surface of the labia majora. The wound is then fused together and the girl’s or woman’s legs are tied together for two to six weeks to allow complete healing – only a hole big enough for urine and menstrual blood to pass through is left. Sometimes after weeks, months or even years of dilatation, the hole might be wide enough to allow sexual intercourse but if not, her husband or a female family member will use a sharp instrument to cut her open. This kind of practice also leaves women in chronic pain and suffering from recurring infections, and the gash is further torn by childbirth.
Type IV, is any other ritualistic alteration to the woman’s genitals, including piercing, pricking, scraping and incising. It also extends to substances which are inserted into the vagina to tighten it.
In Europe there are an estimated 500,000 girls and women who are living with the consequences of having undergone female genital mutilation; while in the UK it is estimated that around 20,000 girls under the age of 15 are at risk of female genital mutilation every single year.
We are lucky to be living in a society that does not practise such vile things, and we are even luckier to be part of a group of nations that automatically offers refugee status to anyone who has suffered from female genital mutilation or is at risk of it.
The reality is harsh, but closing your eyes to it will not change it, which is why I thought you should know.
What do you think should be done about female genital mutilation?