November 20, 2018, can be seen as a sad day in the US and for women around the world in the fight against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). A US federal judge Bernard Friedman ruled against banning a practice that harms millions of young women globally.
His ruling found a 1996 US federal law banning FGM unconstitutional, allowing the two doctors charged under it to go free. This can only be seen as a great defeat for the millions of young girls and women who have suffered due to this harmful act.
Female Genital Mutilation is the act of changing or altering the female genitals for non-medical reasons but rather cultural ones. However, it is seen across the globe as a violation of human rights against girls and young women alike .
FGM, or Female Circumcision as it is also called, is a practice that goes back thousands of years in many countries, communities and in many cultures around the world. When it started is unknown, but the root of it is to control female sexuality, conception and to continue to build a strong inequality between both sexes.
FGM/C may differ depending on the countries and regions but the results are still the same. Women are subjected to a lifetime of problems regarding their physical and mental health. Many lose their desire for sexual pleasure, have complex deliveries often resulting in Cesarean section; along with a number of different medical problems, that may arise from the use of unsterilized equipment. This practice can have serious complications leading to the death of some young girls and women as a result.
There are many types of FGM/C; but there are three forms most often practiced:
The first consist of the partial or total removal of the clitoris and the prepuce. The circumciser pulls the clitoral glans with her thumb to remove it.
The second form is complete or partial removal of the inner labia and clitoris. The clitoris is the organ that allows the female to enjoy pleasure during sexual activities.
The final form, which is considered to be the most severe of the three, is the removal of the total female genitalia. Once done, the vagina is then sewed closed with the exception of a hole often the size of a pencil tip for the passage of menstruation and urination.
Not only is the act rather harsh, but girls and young women are more likely to get infections and countless other problems because of unsterilized equipment. They are often faced with diseases such as fistula and numerous other disorders and infections.
It is estimated that between 125-150 million young women have been subjected to this practice. It happens all over the world, though predominately in African countries.
Although, FGM/C can be harmful to a women’s health not all women would like for this practice to end. Some people in many countries and regions where this act is practiced consider it a rite of passage or a celebration of coming of age for young women.
FGM/C is sometimes compared to male circumcision. Male Circumcision is the act in which the male foreskin that is covering the head of the penis is removed from the male penis.
Both of these customs can cause physical and mental pain and a lifetime of complications. However the female version of this custom is deemed, by many, to be much more severe because, unlike their male counterparts, many females who have this procedure done never experience sexual pleasure or any sensation other than pain in their vaginal area.
The males that are circumcised can experience sexual sensation and any pain they feel usually dissolves after a while. Whereas many females who have experienced the procedure have a lifetime of pain and complications. Some women who experience this procedure feel as though they are missing part of their body.
In many countries and regions where the act of FGM/C has become illegal, there are classes and lectures on the consequence of FGM/C. When young women attend these classes, they are becoming educated on the severity of this practice.
Unfortunately, not all young women have a choice in this matter. This is why the recent US ruling on FGM/C can be seen as a sad one and as a step backwards especially since organizations such as UNICEF, Plan Canada and numerous others are working tirelessly to educate communities where FGM/C is still practiced about the effects on young girls and women around the world.
* Featured image by World Bank Photo Collection via Flickr Creative Commons