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Waiting for the worst (ABC).
Today, an estimated 130 million women, averaging 6000 a day have undergone sexual mutilation. It is performed in many African countries, including Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Chad. It is also a tradition among Muslims in Malaysia and Indonesia, and in a number of countries in the Middle East, including Egypt, the UAE, and parts of rural Saudi Arabia. Coptic Christians in Egypt and animist tribes in Africa as well as Muslims, undergo the ritual (p 278). Subincision is also practiced by some Amazonian tribes (p 170).
It appears to be driven originally by men's desire to have power over womens' sexuality to remove fear of paternity uncertainty by keeping women chaste and uninterested in love affairs, but the practice has become so old and rooted that it is now perpetuated by women upon women in many places.
Female circumcision is frequently described as an "age-old Muslim ritual", when in fact it predates Islam and is even believed to be pre-Judaic. Strabo claimed that "the Egyptians circumcised their boys and girls as do the Jews". The Virgin Mary was likewise said to have been circumcised (Briffault R76v3 324). Islamic tradition also says it was practised by Sarah on Hagar and that afterwards both Sarah and Abraham circumcised themselves by order of Allah. There is no evidence any of Muhammad's wives or daughters were circumcised. There is no mention of it in the Koran, and only a brief mention in the authentic hadiths, which states: "A woman used to perform circumcision in Medina. The Prophet said to her: 'Do not cut severely, as that is better for a woman and more desirable for a husband'." But because of this still debated hadith, some scholars of the Shari school of Islam, found mostly in East Africa, consider female circumcision obligatory. The Hanafi and most other schools maintain it is merely recommended, not essential (Goodwin R249).
Current Research Updates
The small girl’s torn genitalia are stitched with thorns and her legs tied together to reduce blood loss. Many die (ABC)
The majority of rural Egyptian women are still circumcised. Here they remove only the clitoris; they do not do the much more extensive procedure, but even so, there are many problems. Infection, bleeding, urinary tract damage, sepsis, even death.
More than 90 percent of Sudanese women undergo the most severe form of circumcision, known as “pharaonic,” or infibulation, at the age of seven or eight, which removes all of the clitoris, the labia minora, and the labia majora. The sides are then sutured together, often with thorns, and only a small matchstick-diameter opening is left for urine and menstrual flow. The girl's legs are tied together and liquids are heavily rationed until the incision is healed. During this primitive yet major surgery, it is not uncommon for girls, who are held down by female relatives, to die from shock or hemorrhage of the vagina, urethra, bladder, and rectal area may also be damaged, and massive keloid scarring can obstruct walking for life.
After marriage, women who have been infibulated must be forcibly penetrated. This may take up to forty days, and when men are impatient, a knife is used. Special honeymoon centers are built outside communities so that the screams of the brides will not be heard. Sometimes the husband traditionally runs through the streets with a blood-stained dagger.
Waris Dirie had to be operated on as an adult before she could have sexual relations. Dirie's mother believing she was doing the best thing for her daughter, walked her into the brush, held her down and told her to bite on a root. A gypsy woman cut at the lithe girl's genitalia, using a dirty, broken razor blade. “I heard the sound of the dug blade sawing back and forth through my skin,” The woman used thorns from an acacia tree to puncture holes in her skin and sew her up, leaving a tiny hole the diameter of a matchstick, through which urine and menstrual blood could dribble. “My legs were completely numb, but the pain between them was so intense that I wished I would die.” Five-year-old Waris was left in a hut to recuperate her infibulation. Two cousins died from infection. Uncircumcised girls are seen as unclean and treated as outcasts. For more than 20 years Dirie suffered health problems from her radical circumcision. Menstruation was a long, agonizing process each month, as the menstrual blood backed up in her body:
It's when we touch on the subject of sex that Dirie becomes agitated. “Please,” she implores, “lets not talk about that. Just use your imagination. I will never know the pleasures of sex that have been denied me. I feel incomplete, crippled and knowing that there's nothing I can do to change that is the most hopeless feeling of all. When I met Dana, I finally fell in love and wanted to experience the joys of sex with a man. But if you ask me today, “Do you enjoy sex?” I would say not in the traditional way. I simply enjoy being physically close to Dana because I love him. It never gets easier. It is emotionally draining to talk about something which has been locked deep for so long. The hardest part is to start somewhere. Everybody is waiting, they don't know what to do. The West are aware of the problem. But they're told to back off, it's none of your business.
The face of pain and the implements of destruction (ABC)
Hawa Adan Mohamed was born and raised in Somalia. At the age of 8 she underwent the most radical form of mutilation practised infibulation. Performed by her aunt in a small village, the procedure was carried out without anesthetic, using basic cutting tools and thorns. She lost an older sister who died after the operation. “In Somalia, circumcision is such a deep deep part of a girl's life. From the moment we are crawling we know about circumcision, we know that our grandmother and mother and sisters are circumcised and we look forward to it being done. Back then, no one would even dream of not being circumcised. If a mother doesn't get her daughter circumcised, her daughter will be an outcast, no one will marry her and everyone would think she is a prostitute so it is a very difficult situation we can't be angry at anyone, because the mothers' intentions are good.” In 1995 she returned home, despite civil turmoil, to help her country women deal with circumcision. “I was devastated by what I saw. It seems that we have gone back 40 years. Girls were being infibulated every day with razors and thorns. Two young girls recently died following the procedure and yet still many don't question it. My dream is that in my lifetime there will be young girls living in the heart of Somalia who can run free and play without pain, without the cruel and devastating effects of circumcision. Even just a few. Even 10." (NZ Herald 25 Nov 98)
At the age of 18 Zebebu Tulu was kidnapped by her future husband, Getachew (Getu) Moneta, and taken to his brother's home. Such forced unions are not uncommon in Ethiopia, where men often have near-total control over women's lives. Tradition forbade the tearful Zenebu from returning to her parents and the pair was married after negotiations between the two families (NZ Herald).
Nawal el Sadaawi (R189) has been a prominent campaigner against female circumcision which has brought her the ire of the mullahs. The Naked Face of Eve contains several commentaries on female circumcision:
“My blood was frozen in my veins. It looked to me as though some thieves had broken into my room and kidnapped me from my bed. They were getting ready to cut my throat which was always what happened with disobedient girls like myself in the stories that my old rural grandmother was so fond of telling me. I strained my ears trying to catch the rasp of the metallic sound. The moment it ceased, it was as though my heart stopped beating with it. I was unable to see, and somehow my breathing seemed also to have stopped. Yet I imagined the thing that was making the rasping sound coming closer and closer to me. ... At that very moment I realized that my thighs had been pulled wide apart, and that each of my lower limbs was being held as far away from the other as possible, gripped by-steel fingers that never relinquished their pressure. I felt that the rasping knife or blade was heading straight down towards my throat. Then suddenly the sharp metallic edge seemed to drop between my thighs and there cut off a piece of flesh from my body. I screamed with pain despite the tight hand held over my mouth, for the pain was not just a pain, it was like a searing flame that went through my whole body. After a few moments, I saw a red pool of blood around my hips. I did not know what they had cut off from my body, and I did not try to find out. I just wept, and called out to my mother for help. But the worst shock of all was when I looked around and found her standing by my side. Yes, it was her, I could not be mistaken, in flesh and blood, right in the midst of these strangers, talking to them and smiling at them, as though they had not participated in slaughtering her daughter just a few moments ago.”
Elizabeth Lloyd (R421 36) in making a case that female orgasm is just for women to have fun with no reproductive value (p 86) has claimed that FGM has little effect on fertility:
Women who have had FGM do suffer a significantly increased fertility risk (Almroth R10).Women who have had the procedure are more likely to need Caesareans and the death rate among their babies is up to 50% higher, WHO said in a new report. The study, reported in the Lancet, involved 30,000 African women (BBC “Female circumcision 'birth risk' 2 June 2006).A study by Jones et al. in Burkina Faso also found that women who have been cut are more likely to experience obstetric complications, a 1998-1999 NHRC study found that women who were circumcised married earlier than uncircumcised women, and that circumcised women had greater total fertility than uncircumcised women (Reason 2004). Another study based on DHS surveys in the Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, and Tanzania found that, when controlling for confounding socioeconomic, demographic and cultural variables, circumcised women, grouped by age at circumcision, did not have significantly different odds of infertility nor of childbearing than uncut women (emphasis added, Larsen and Yan, 2000). (Elizabeth F. Jackson, Philip B. Adongo, Ayaga A. Bawah, Ellie Feinglass, and James F. Phillips, "The Relationship between Female Genital Cutting and Fertility in Kassena-Nankana District of Northern Ghana," Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Population Association of America, Philadelphia, PA, March 31-April 2, 2005, p. 4)
It is clear that, patriarchal societies that diminish or eliminate women’s capacity for orgasm, by genital cutting or any other means, also have an agenda to make women bear more children - i.e. more ‘reproductively successful’. FGM occurs because men fear, not without good reason, that female arousal does influence reproductive choice. See also the Dogons (p 138), the Shipibo (p 170) and the Sunna (p 278).
2004 An international conference on female genital mutilation has ended in Kenya with a fresh call to ban the practice. Campaigners urged more countries to ratify the Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa adopted in July 2003. It has so far been ratified by just three states, Rwanda, Libya and Comoros. Although female circumcision is banned in 14 African countries, including Ethiopia, Uganda, Ghana and Togo, the practice is still widespread.
Circumcision and other forms of ritual male genital mutilation can leave a man vulnerable to infection and even death. There may be an evolutionary explanation, according to Christopher Wilson, of Cornell University. It could function to reduce a young man's potential to father a child with an older man's wife. Sperm competition theory predicts that males will evolve ways to ensure that their sperm, and not another male's, fertilises a female's eggs. Genital mutilation, in this view, is just another way to win the sperm war.
Male genital mutilation makes it less likely that a male will manage to father a child with another man's wife. In some forms of mutilation, such as subincision, cuts are made to the base of the penis, which causes sperm to be ejaculated from the base rather than the end, and is performed in several Aboriginal Australian societies. In some African and Micronesian cultures, young men have one of their testicles crushed. Circumcision is one of the less painful forms of mutilation, but it is also less effective at reducing sperm competition, however, that the lack of a foreskin could make ejaculation slower, meaning brief, illicit sex is less likely to come to fruition and lead to a pregnancy.
Younger men, Wilson says, submit to having their reproductive ability reduced because they benefit socially from the older men, by forming alliances, and by gaining access to weapons, or tribal status. The older men have also gone through the ritual, and seen their own reproductive effectiveness reduced. But if a man with, several wives wants to ensure that any children his wives produce are his, there is pressure to make sure other men can't successfully impregnate them. The husband's own reproductive ability is impaired, but continuous and repeated access to his wives makes up for it, while any genital mutilation is a greater handicap to an interloper trying to sneak brief occasional sex with his wives.
"An older married man must form alliances, or associate with younger or unmarried men at some point, and it would be better to associate with and invest preferentially in those who are least likely to threaten his paternity, especially in societies where cuckoldry is rife," says Wilson. "Men who demand genital mutilations as part of the price for alliance and investment would be less vulnerable to exploitation of such relationships and loss of paternity to peers."
If the sperm competition theory is correct, Wilson reasoned, then male genital mutilation should be more common in societies where men tend to have multiple wives, especially those in which the wives live apart from the husband. The mutilation would also probably be carried out in a public setting, witnessed mostly by other men, and performed by a non-relative. Men who refused would face social sanctions. Societies that enforce mutilation may be more stable because of less conflict over paternity. Wilson then searched anthropological databases and found that his predictions were borne out: 48% of highly polygynous societies practice some form of male genital mutilation, and in societies in which wives live in separate households that increases to 63%. Only 14% of the monogamous societies in the database practice male genital mutilation. (Evolution and Human Behavior 29 149).