Female Genital Mutilation – A man’s perspective
Female Genital Mutilation – A man’s perspective
Female Genital Mutilation is partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injuries to the female genital organs administered for non-medical reasons. It can involve an excision, cauterising, pricking, cutting, stitching or scraping of the tissue of the female genitalia (vagina, clitoris and or labia).
It is most common in Central Africa with the practice being widespread in Sudan, Djibouti, Mali, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Guinea where between 90-100% of women are affected, but over 20 other African countries practise this in their culture to lesser and greater extents. It is also found in certain Middle-Eastern and Asian countries, though often the data is not as available to understand the human cost of the abuse in these places. While the aforementioned countries have it embedded in their culture, the migration of people across the world means we can say that few countries are not affected by populations who have suffered female genital mutilation.
The subject is considered fairly taboo and has been accepted for a long time as just a part of certain traditions, cultures and religious beliefs. But we could say on a wider scale that the practice is part of a long held dominance and undermining of women by men, and a culture where the rights of women are not respected, valued and considered to be equal to those of men.
It is believed in many cultures that women are only there to serve and pleasure men. Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is an abusive practice where the human rights of individuals are being violated on a mass scale with a disproportionately small amount of coverage of such practices found in mainstream media.
To put it in context:
“At least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation” That’s 200 million incidents of suffering that affects the woman’s whole life – re-framing how she feels and diminishing her own confidence and sense of womanhood.
As crazy as it may sound, there are incidents where cultural norms can have a girl begging her family to allow her to be circumcised to fit in! Girls can be ostracised and bullied in some cultures for not having it done; for example, girls may not allow others to play with them if they have not been circumcised. The cultural conditioning in these cases runs deep as to what is viewed as normal.
There is a belief that not having it done is dirty and can cause infections, but the opposite is actually the case, with a greater risk of infections resulting from the cutting and the extensive irreversible damage done to the female genitalia, with tissue structures that support good health removed from that area of the body. Effects include urinary infections, nerve damage, painful periods, cysts, abscesses, heavy scarring, lack of sensation and difficulty passing urine.
The difficulties of pregnancy and childbirth
This in turn makes reproduction more difficult, sometimes impossible, with the loss of certain parts of the anatomy of the genital area affecting many women. Childbirth can also be extremely difficult for those who suffer the psychological and physiological effects of having this incredibly painful and traumatic experience. The scar tissue that remains after FGM does not have the same natural elasticity as the vagina and during birth this can cause the child to be trapped in the birth canal, resulting in loss of oxygen to the baby and brain damage.
Can cause death
FGM can cause death due to post-operative shock and the haemorrhaging of blood in what is often a very blunt and unsophisticated procedure. It is fairly common for the procedure to be carried out by a non-medical person with an unsterilized instrument. This often results in infections such as HIV, Hep B, septicaemia and tetanus.
In some cultures where women are sold to men for marriage, the woman can be worth more circumcised as this is seen as an attractive quality.
Many women struggle to have even routine examinations of the female genitalia post abuse due to the lifelong trauma that results from the operation and the horrific association with being examined.
Lack of knowledge and education
Often associations are made with male circumcision as a justification for female genital mutilation but the two are not comparable, with male circumcision a procedure which, provided it is carried out professionally, does not interfere with the sexual reproduction, sexual health or the normal bodily functions of the subject. Neither does it endanger the person’s unborn children.
A more equivalent comparison would be to consider a widespread cultural practice in which as a matter of course men cut their sons’ penises off altogether. When put this way it has been seen differently by some men who are willing to consider that this practice has no place in our world.
Education about women’s physicality is essential to gaining a greater understanding of not just the female genitalia, but this whole region of the body and how many vital organs are found in the pelvic area – and how vital and sacred this area of the body is for women.
Global problem, global responsibility!
Female Genital Mutilation originates in the countries aforementioned, but like all our ills, it is a global problem that requires global answers. It is a difficult topic to hear and consider, and it will make many of us wince and cause shudders in the body, but like all our problems, we can’t ignore that it exists. FGM is here to stay until we address it otherwise.
A man’s perspective
- How should a man react to hearing about FGM; what is our responsibility when we understand the abuse that is taking place?
- Is this just something occurring far away and/or in cultures we neither understand nor have influence over?
- Do we have a duty as men in speaking out; can we brush anything such as this aside saying, “I didn’t do it, its not part of my culture, I’m innocent?”
I sat in a meeting hearing a presentation on FGM that covered much about the practice. It was interesting to note that there were about 20 people in the meeting and they were all female apart from me; this in itself made me feel a little isolated and ashamed as a man – that people of my gender could be so cruel and pathetically insecure that we would dominate women rather than love and care for them, and not treat them with the gentleness that every woman deserves. It struck me how utterly senseless the whole procedure is: how unimaginably cruel and how shockingly misinterpreted any loving teaching would have to be to come to the conclusion that this is what is called for.
It also brings to light the privilege I have as a man, that I am not under this type of oppression, and that with this privilege is a responsibility to act with deep regard for women and represent a different way for men to feel and behave.
I feel a level of personal responsibility, as a representative of my gender. Prior to hearing about FGM I had a vague understanding about it, but I didn’t really understand how entrenched it is in some cultures and how much it is a violent abuse of women subjugated by men. It made me wince to hear of the pain inflicted, how much fear and dread there must be, and how unnecessary and destructive it is. Many women never really fully recover from this procedure it seems, and it hurt deeply to think of the young girls destined for this to occur. How could a father subject his daughter to this??
I felt upset that this practice exists – it left feelings of frustration in me about how men treat women and girls in such hurtful ways and how I wished I could make it stop. It made me want to express that this is not representative of all men, but of men who are acting out cultural behaviours that are far removed from their natural state. After all, no young boy treats a girl differently or lesser until they are taught to. Learned behaviour perpetuates the abuse. Our lack of nurturing and connection to ourselves is to blame for the abuse that follows. In the void left by this lack of connection and nurturing, ingrained cultural and social scripts dictate our behaviour.
What I get a sense of is men acting out a role they know no different than – playing ball with a culture that has become their default way of being. Which makes it all the more important that we raise the issue, work to educate and represent a different more loving way for men to treat women. All men who are capable need to role-model tenderness, gentleness and display their sweet and caring side for the world to see.
The practice is part of a long history of men dominating and controlling women that plays out in subtle and more obvious ways in what we consider more enlightened societies. We actually have subtle undermining of women in all corners of the globe; no culture is free of it.
It is there in the “glass ceilings” that women meet in corporate life, the difficulties men make for women in everyday work environments, the ‘feeling up’ of women in bars and clubs and on crowded public transport, how we blame women who get raped for what they wear, and the subtle jokes about blonde moments.
The list is endless and I don’t fully understand it, and I have obviously never had to experience it. Men treat women as lesser . . . not every man, but as a whole gender one to another, this is certainly so. FGM is the sharp end of the stick; a barbaric outplay of an energy of control and subservience.
So this has made me question my own role in allowing such a thing as FGM to exist. Do I have patterns of behaviour that allow abuse from me in my own life – what of the times I have objectified women – and does my staying silent and not being interested or aware make me complicit in what is going on? I feel to some extent it did and it does. As a man I actually see that I must appreciate women, and when they don’t appreciate themselves, bring that even more so.
It is the responsibility of all of us to address this, to speak out against discrimination and abuse in all forms, and as men to deepen our values in respect of how we view women. We must see women for the feminine qualities they hold, qualities that are strong, and the leadership they can offer – not the replication of male/masculine leadership but their own uniquely powerful way of being, with a nurturing quality that is innately in all women.
This can be deeply inspirational should we be open to seeing it, respecting and learning from it. It is a learning that can help us eradicate practices that come right out of the dark ages.
Accepting that these practices are ‘just part of other cultures’ and in other parts of the world is not acceptable. But to address this we must address our own pockets of discrimination and ask ourselves; do we hold all women as equal in the boardrooms, workplaces, streets and homes we all live in?
It is our collective will to bring true equality in our own lives that will support global change. When the majority change the subtle abuses, the extreme abuses are reined in. After all there is no power in hypocrisy – however ‘subtle’ Western-based abuses of women might seem in comparison.
That is where we need to go as a society: address every pocket of abuse to bring power to the call for an end to Female Genital Mutilation and bring true and lasting equality to the relationship of genders – genders that are far closer in nature than most of us realise.