International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation

{Photo credit: Rui Pires.}Photo credit: Rui Pires.

We do a lot of things in the name of culture. From our hair to our food to our ceremonies, culture informs our identity, our very understanding of who we are, and how we fit into this world.

In countries where female genital cutting is widely practiced, “culture/tradition/religion” feature prominently among the reasons why the practice began, and why it is perpetuated. In fact, there is no religious reason for this practice, also known as female genital mutilation, FGM, or FGM/C. Yet, those who support the continuation of FGM/C often invoke the name of their culture, or tradition, or religion as dictating their actions.

Culture viewed from this perspective is oppressive—denigrated into a static phenomenon, unchanging, and uninformed by new knowledge. It is only when we accept culture as a dynamic force–one which is ever changing and evolving–that we proudly can identify with, and derive our identities from it.

Culture can be a powerful positive force in our lives if we dare to challenge it.

I was circumcised when I was eighty days old, as is the tradition in Ethiopia. My sister was three. My mother had tried to spare us, but her aunt discovered that we were not circumcised and took it upon herself to have us circumcised.

Years later, I asked my aunt why she did it. Her response was not defensive. On the contrary, she responded very matter-of-fact: My sister and I were circumcised so that we could find a husband, have children, and become women. This is the cultural ideology that most Ethiopian women believed at that time, and unfortunately, that many still adhere to in the 21st century---an ideology and practice that is detrimental to a woman’s health.

Female genital circumcision alters or causes injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. There are no health benefits for girls. On the contrary, the procedure can lead to severe bleeding, infections, and problems urinating, during sexual intercourse, and complications in childbirth, as well as later cysts and increased risk of newborn deaths---not to mention the severe pain and shock of the procedure.

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