It reflects poorly on me, that until very recently I was completely unaware of the international day of zero tolerance to FGM/C. That day is today, the 6th of February and has been marked counting today, 10 years!
That I am unaware is really bad, not just because I am an African female, but because I am Ugandan. 26 of 43 countries in Africa practice Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting and to date the practice continues in certain communities in Uganda and across the continent.
These communities continue to cling to a practice that really is a societal injustice, worse now that we live in the twenty-first century and consider ourselves rather civilised.
My ignorance aside, I must say that not unlike many Ugandan and African women brought up in the cities, the issue of FGM always seemed like someone else’s problem, since I didn’t have to deal with it, it didn’t matter as much.
That was my attitude until my next door neighbours sent their 11 year old daughter – a girl my sister and I spent a lot of time with – to have the procedure done. I couldn’t describe what it must have been for her – only she knows – but she spent the entire Christmas holiday in doors, barely able to walk. Next thing we knew, as my mum was being nosy and asking questions, they had moved. That’s the closest I have come to this vile practice and from that I am a strong- if silent advocate for the end of FGM/C.
Unlike with male circumcision, the degree of cutting in female circumcision is much more extensive, often impairing a woman’s sexual and reproductive functions and sometimes, quite often actually, complications arise that could lead to death.
It is not news that many African cultural values make women’s sexuality very complex, but even with the few studies carried out, what is clear is that FGM impedes sexual enjoyment since the procedure destroys much or all the vulval nerve endings, delaying arousal or impairing orgasm.
Not many people will comprehend why FGM continues, but for practicing communities, there is the strong belief that it is a good tradition, a religious requirement or a necessary rite of passage to womanhood. They believe it ensures cleanliness or better marriage prospects and prevents promiscuity – many circumcised women asked said they only have sex as a duty they don’t enjoy it. Other beliefs are that FGM prevents excessive clitoral growth, preserves virginity, enhances male sexuality and facilitates childbirth by widening the birth canal. But does science not tell us all this is possible without FGM?
Some 140 million women around the world have undergone this brutal procedure, and with 3 million girls at risk each year, fact is, the FGM battle is a long way from over.
It is easy to sit and criticize the women who do these procedures, but it is going to take a mindset change to end the culture. And as more and more girls get an education, there is hope that will be achieved someday soon.