Just when you thought the War on Women couldn’t get any worse, and that you have heard of everything, in April of this year, there were Federal charges brought against a doctor in Detroit, Michigan, USA, who works in an emergency room. She had been arrested and charged with performing Female Genital Mutilation on two 7-year-old little girls.
Women in the United States have been fighting to eradicate Female Genital Mutilation from the world since the early 1990’s. It is a terrible practice, done to control women and girls. It is what makes women marriageable in many cultures in Africa, some parts of Asia, and parts of the Middle East.
As people immigrate to America, they bring a lot of pieces of their culture with them. America has always been enriched by the cultures of other nations, but this is not a piece of culture that is enriching. It is a method of subjugating girls and women. It is against Federal and State laws.
The countries of the world have begun to respond to the outcries against this horrible practice.
Former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan fell from power in 2015. This was due largely to the fact that he seemed to be unable to search for or find the almost 300 Chibok schoolgirls abducted and enslaved by the Boko Haram. Jonathan did, however, sign a law banning Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). This law also makes it illegal for men to abandon their wives and children without financial support.
This is a huge advance for women’s rights in Nigeria.
The United Nations, in 2014, confirmed what has long been known — FGM causes psychological and physical damage, including: infertility, loss of sexual pleasure, severe infections, fistulas, endangered childbirth labor and death. In 2017, it is estimated that nearly 25% of Nigerian women are enduring the effects of the procedure.
The British newspaper, The Guardian, joined the United Nations in an effort to fight FGM. With the support of the UN Population Fund, the paper helped local journalists cover the after effects of the procedure. The new law in Nigeria can partly be credited for playing a part in this fight.
There have been at least five decades of humanitarian work on this issue in regional African and Middle Eastern women’s movements. Feminists and the global women’s movement have also worked to end the horror of FGM.
This practice has also been confronted by women’s rights activists in the global North, where it occurs in some immigrant communities. Even in the United States, where the procedure is called clitoridectomy, it is practiced as a “cure” for masturbation, lesbianism and to make a young girl marriageable.
Activists in Nigeria warn FGM in Nigeria and other African countries is a systemic culturally ingrained practice, and that eradicating it will take time.
With such a large population, Nigerian’s voice in favor of women and girls is very important. Mary Wandia, FGM program manager of the International NGO Equality Now, states “We hope that other African countries, that have yet to ban FGM – Liberia, Sudan, Mali, among others – do so immediately to give all girls a basic level of protection.”
Stella Mukasa, Director of Gender, Violence and Rights at the International Center for Research on Women, adds, in Christian Today, “It is crucial that we scale up efforts to change traditional cultural views that underpin violence against women. Doing so involves laws and policies, as well as community-level engagement and programs that work to empower girls directly.”
There is still much work yet to be done, but the new law is encouraging. It gives young Nigerian women opportunities to express themselves free from fear of this traditional practice which has been so oppressive to their health and spirit. This practice has been handed down from one generation to the next by mothers and is usually performed by a wise woman, or a wise man, in the tribes. It is done without sterile conditions, anesthesia, or proper equipment. Usually, a straight razor is used. The child is unprepared emotionally for the procedure.
The actual procedure varies from place to place. Some tribes cut out the clitoris only; others remove both clitoris and labia. Still others would have nothing left but the meatus so that the child can urinate. This it the reason these girls were considered marriageable, because this has been performed on them, so that they didn’t enjoy sex too much. It gave the husband a sense of security when he traveled, that he could leave the wife at home and she would not turn to another man for satisfaction. He could therefore be sure that any children would be of his bloodline and no one else’s.
The mentality of the mothers who brought their daughters for the procedure is that it was done to them, so it should be done to their daughters. Therefore, education is a vital part of the process of eradicating FGM, as is more sex education for both genders. This can help lead to a freedom from the pain, humiliation, pain and degradation of FGM.
The decades of work done to stop FGM, and the work that is presently being done, which must continue into the future to save girls from this violence against them, is one of the most important humanitarian efforts being done on behalf of women and girls.
With its new law, Nigeria joined 23 African countries in banning Female Genital Mutilation. At least 200 million women and girls, worldwide, have already suffered genital mutilation and its long term consequences. Nigeria’s law is good next step, but we still have far to g0.