Women of Substance

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MEMORIES OF THE BLADE
By Oumie Sissokho
It is indeed with utmost displeasure for almost every victim of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) to remember the feelings of pain, anxiety, sadness, anger and distrust associated with a brutal act perpetrated against one in the name of a custom. Also, the non-existent promises the practice usually
comes with or justified with could be heartbreaking. One thing I am certain and do not compromise with is the fact that the blade has lifelong consequences on its victims. Despite this, some of our grandmothers, mothers, aunties, guardians and custodians of culture want us to remain silent. We are
taught that silence about a pain endured reflects the chastity and cultured-ness of a woman. I disagree.
Yes I do; and with all my strength. The silence only keeps this degrading and abusive practice ongoing,
victimizing and undermining the bodily integrity of millions of girls and women.

FGM is said to be increasingly becoming a global phenomenon although it is more widespread in Africa. It is also prevalent in South Asia and parts of the Arab world. According to some historians and increasingly feminist theologians and organizations, FGM has spanned centuries prior to the coming of Islam (and perhaps has predated Christianity too) yet, the practice is widely associated to the religion. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that more than 125 million women and girls are living with the consequences of FGM today. Three million girls are at risk of undergoing FGM annually (8000 daily) and majority of the practice happens in the 29 countries of Africa where it is most widespread.This statistics is both terrifying and insulting. Terrifying, in the sense that societies put the lives of millions of women and girls at risk of a lifelong pain and exploitation without any reasonable purpose. In simpler terms, it means that millions of women have undergone the horrendous act without any tangible benefit but for the mere satisfaction of expected social norms. It is insulting in the sense that
the commoditization of women’s body for the satisfaction of a patriarchal establishment is nothing but a slur to womanhood!

Increasingly, there are emerging conflicting reasons why people practice FGM. The most cited controversy is around the religious justification of the practice. While most religious interpreters, scholars and custodians are predominantly men, it is not coincidental that some of them use Islam to justify the perpetuation of FGM. However, this stance is controversial in current literature on FGM as it is increasingly being revealed that Islam does not declare FGM as an obligation, neither does it treat its absence sinful. However, there are oppositions to this belief. According to one school, the prophet did not condemn the practice in one of his encounters with a circumciser but he only admonishes for a moderate conduct. This claim, however, says the Muslim Women’s league, does not qualify as a strong hadith, neither should it be treated as a consent.

On the other hand, there have been other claims about the indirect mention of FGM in the Quran. Despite this claim, I remain unconvinced of the interpretation that God is supportive of the issue. From Al-Baqarah to An-Nas, my understanding of the Quran, no matter how little, fails to convince me that
FGM has been declared as a strategy that purifies women, increase their faith, cleans and purify them.Moving to other factors, the satisfaction of societal and traditional norms, values and expectations rank high on the factor list that supports FGM. The WHO reports that social conformity is a strong force that supports the continuity of FGM. In societies where FGM exist, girls are increasingly vulnerable to undergo it to satisfy the established values that define how ‘appropriate’ they must be raised. These ‘appropriate’ expectations are believed to be decreased sexual urge and abstinence of younger or unmarried girls from intercourse. It is also believed to increase faithfulness as virtuous women for proper commitment into marital relations.Furthermore, ‘modesty; and ‘feminity’ are part of the culturally established reasons that still exist. This grave misconception that the clitoris is ‘unclean’ and ‘manly’ encourage the perpetration of this violence against girls and women. While the clitoris is an integral part of the woman’s sexual and reproductive satisfaction and health, its removal is not only unfair but signifies how women are reduced into desirable objects that satisfy the preferential taste of others. The reasons put forward by proponents who could include circumcisers, community leaders, religious figures and even some political leaders are almost endless but also fail to convince me!

One thing though is certain, is the fact that there are no medical benefits FGM brings along. Instead, the WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA and many other NGOs, researchers and medical practitioners have revealed the lifelong consequences the practice is related with. It has both short and long term health effects thus threatening the attainment of the highest standard of health. From shock, severe bleeding, possible transmission of infections to the possible loss of life are the true impacts of FGM. In addition,the physical and psychological effects could be traumatic for an entire lifetime. The destruction of the genitalia and obstruction of the proper function of reproductive organs put girls and women at risk of complications related with pain and risk of challenges at child birth. The consequences, to be honest, are non-exhaustible in this paper.

FGM reflects the “underlying gender structure and power relations” that ultimately affect women disproportionately in our world, the UNFPA reiterates. This also sustains discrimination and inequality that most of its victims live through for almost all their lives. It must be added that the cruelty and pain of such a practice disqualifies every girl child and woman to undergo the process. It is never too late to act together. The time is now to turn our tragedies into strategies to educate all we could reach about the complications FGM come with. Our tears must turn into strength to stand, talk (shout out!), mobilize, lobby, advocate and demand that women and girls are protected from all form of abuse, torture and exploitation in the name of culture. Instead of a rite of passage, we demand for a passage of laws to protect our rights everywhere. What we need is intellectual empowerment instead of physical and emotional measures to control how we feel, what we do and how we live our lives. We need memories of laughter and joy instead of the memories of sorrows and fears of blades piercing through our genitalia!

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