Female Genital Mutilation has been inflicted on 200 Million women worldwide while they were little girls1. Those who suffered FGM decades ago are still carrying permanent wounds that are physical, psychological and cultural. The word ‘mutilation’ tells the story of what is happening to little girls’ genitalia, an effect that permanently and tragically affects daily function such as urinating and sitting, intimate relationships and childbirth. The mutilating event itself has high risk of infection and other medical complications, but there is ongoing medical trauma associated with the wound. It may seem difficult to understand the desire to mutilate half of society:
The reasons behind FGM vary from culture to culture but always revolve around either initiation into womanhood, as part of a religious belief, as a form of aesthetic appeal and even as a means of suppressing sexual desires.1
This is not an overseas problem only, with estimates of 100,000 girls and women surviving FGM resident in Australia and the Royal Women’s Hospital, Melbourne reports seeing between 600 and 700 cases of FGM annually.1
FGM is a cultural practice that involves men and women. Mothers who endured FGM and fathers frequently desire the mutilation of genitals for their daughters, not out of cruelty, but because of belief in the practice. In a study1 of 67 sub-Saharan men, aged between 16 and 30 years old and living in Australia, 40% wanted a partner to undergo FGM before marriage. Tellingly, 20 men (30%) were not aware of any medical complications of FGM, even though the frequency and longevity of medical complications is pronounced, especially during sexual intercourse and childbirth.
FGM is a violation of human rights because it is inflicted on the bodies of little girls against their will. FGM is a violation of human rights because it leaves women with wounds and trauma for their lifetime.
It is not that the concept of human rights is a modern concept and that FGM predates it. Cyrus, the ruler of the Persian empire is well known for treating different cultures with respect and for recording 2500 years ago the first known statement on human rights on the Cyrus Cylinder. The practice of mutilation is a violation against all of humanity and has been so for a long time.
Fortunately, the study mentioned above found that educational interventions with men are effective for increasing the awareness of the negative health impacts of FGM and reducing the stated desire to marry women who are mutilated.1
Moreover, education in general may affect attitudes to FGM . The study found that while 52% of high school and TAFE students wanted their partner to undergo FGM before marriage, only 14% of university students wanted the same. Similarly, while 30 % of high school and TAFE students agreed that FGM should be allowed in Australia, only 10% of university students thought the same.1
Desert Flower South Australia seeks to provide medical and psychological support for women who had to endure a lifetime of living with mutilation. https://psychmed.com.au/
Together, we all have a role at stopping the practice through education, expectations and conversations that do not tolerate the mutilation of humanity.
1Shahid, U., & Rane, A. (2017). African, male attitudes on female genital mutilation: an Australian survey. Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 37(8), 1053-1058.