It is about using patriarchal power to reduce a woman’s sexual desire in order to prevent her from achieving her own feminine power.
A quote from former President Jimmy Carter’s book “Losing my Religion for Equality “, states clearly his views about the deprivation of women’s equal rights in the name of religion or tradition as repugnant.
“This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths. Nor, tragically, does its influence stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue or temple. This discrimination, unjustifiably attributed to a Higher Authority, has provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women's equal rights across the world for centuries.
At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.” Jimmy Carter
Kindness and compassion are not Gender specific, and I feel it is important to say that ALL VOICES, both those of men and women are needed to convey a message of hope and encouragement to those victims of sexual violence.
Female Genital Mutilation is defined by the World Health Organization as “the practice of all procedures involving partial or total removal of the female external genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.”
According to the WHO, “FGM is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. It is nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children. The practice also violates a person's rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death.”
The WUNRN (Women’s UN Report Network), is a highly respected global research and resource program addressing the human rights, oppression, and empowerment of women and girls all over the world. The organization is a powerful catalyst for advocacy, activism, education and social change, and human rights.
Their mission statement states that "any practice that hinders or endangers the normal growth, and affects the physical and psychological development of women and girls should be condemned and eliminated;" and that they are "determined to ensure that the rights of women are promoted, realized and protected in order to enable them to enjoy fully all their human rights."
The issue of how female genital mutilation evolved is complex.
It is primarily about the use of patriarchal power to control a woman's sexuality; to reduce her desire, and keep her faithful in her marriage. It is believed to enhance her femininity, which is “synonymous” with docility and obedience.
After "Cutting", she is considered by men of the culture, as more desirable.
But the origins of the custom are deeply rooted in what is considered to be the "social norm", and conforming to peer expectation. The practice is based upon the uneducated belief that it is more sanitary, despite the horrifying physical disfigurement, potential infections and psychological effects. A woman who has not succumbed to this ritual is often considered an outcast. It is anecdotally taught to be one of "The Three Feminine Sorrows"; the Circumcision, the Wedding night, and the Birth of a baby."
It is estimated that between 100 million and 140 million women and girls worldwide have been subjected to FGM. Three million girls and women a year are at risk of mutilation - approximately 8000 girls per day.
There are high prevalence rates in Africa, including Somalia, Nigeria, Yemen, and in Kurdish communities; also Egypt, Mali, and Saudi Arabia. There is evidence that the practice has spread to Europe, possibly related to immigration, and the subsequent increased diversity of community and religion.
It is not my purpose here to exploit the details of this practice of mutilation, or to assume the position of someone well educated in the subject.
The purpose of this blog, and of my own writing is to stimulate thought, and promote social change.
(I have my own poem about female mutilation that I have been working on for a while, but it is not ready yet.)
In researching this difficult subject, I found two poems that stand out, representing the stories of two women, who have experienced this barbaric ritual, and who speak out against it in their evocative writing.
Below you will find these poems, both properly acknowledged. These women deserve the greatest respect for courageously addressing an issue that is deeply personal, and chillingly traumatic.
Poem by Maryam Sheikh Abdi
I was only six years old
when they led me to the bush, to my slaughterhouse.
Too young to know what it all entailed,
I walked lazily towards the waiting women.
Deep within me was the desire to be cut,
as pain was my destiny:
it is the burden of femininity,
so I was told.
Still, I was scared to death . . .
but I was not to raise an alarm.
The women talked in low tones,
each trying to do her tasks the best.
There was the torso holder
she had to be strong to hold you down.
Legs and hands each had their own woman,
who needed to know her task
lest you free yourself and flee for life.
The cutting began with the eldest girl
and on went the list.
Known to be timid, I was the last among the six.
I shivered and shook all over;
butterflies beat madly in my stomach.
I wanted to vomit, the waiting was long,
the expectation of pain too sharp,
but I had to wait my turn.
My heart pounded, my ears blocked;
the only sound I understood
was the wails from the girls,
for that was my destiny as well.
Finally it was my turn, and one of the women
winked at me:
Come here, girl, she said, smiling unkindly.
You won’t be the first nor the last,
but you have only this once to prove you are brave!
She stripped me naked. I got goose pimples.
A cold wind blew, and it sent warning signs
all over me. I choked, and my head
went round in circles as I was led.
Obediently, I sat between the legs of the woman
who would hold my upper abdomen,
and each of the other four women grasped my legs and hands.
I was stretched apart and each limb firmly held.
And under the shade of a tree . . .
The cutter begun her work . . .
the pain . . . is so vivid to this day,
decades after it was done.
God, it was awful!
I cried and wailed until I could cry no more.
My voice grew hoarse, and the cries could not come out,
I wriggled as the excruciating pain ate into my tender flesh.
Hold her down! cried the cursed cutter,
and the biggest female jumbo sat on my chest.
I could not breathe, but there was nobody
to listen to me.
Then my cries died down, and everything was dark.
As I drifted, I could hear the women laughing,
joking at my cowardice.
It must have been hours later when I woke up
to the most horrendous reality.
The agonizing pain was unbearable!
It was eating into me, every inch of my girlish body was aching.
The women kept exchanging glances
and talked loudly of how I would go down in history,
to be such a coward, until I fainted in the process.
Allahu Akbar! they exclaimed as they criticized me.
I looked down at myself and got a slap across my face.
Don’t look, you coward, came the cutter’s words;
then she ordered the women to pour hot sand on my cut genitals.
My precious blood gushed out and foamed.
Open up, snarled the jumbo woman, as she poured the sand on me.
Nothing they did eased the pain.
Ha! How will you give birth? taunted the one with the smile.
I was shaking and biting my lower lip.
I kept moving front, back, and sideways as I writhed in pain.
This one will just shame me! cried the cutter.
Look how far she has moved, how will she heal?
My sister was embarrassed, but I could see pain in her eyes . . .
maybe she was recalling her own ordeal.
She pulled me back quickly to the shed.
The blood oozed and flowed. Scavenger birds
were moving in circles and perching on nearby trees.
Ish ish, the women shooed the birds.
All this time the pain kept coming in waves,
each wave more pronounced than the one before it.
The women stood us up but warned us not to move our legs apart.
They scrubbed the bloody sand off our thighs and small buttocks,
then sat us back down.
A hole was dug,
Malmal, the stick herb, was pounded;
The ropes for tying our legs were ready.
Charcoal was brought and put in the hole,
where there was dried donkey waste and many herbs—these were the cutter’s paraphernalia.
The herbs were placed on the charcoal,
and we were ordered to sit on the hole.
As I sat with smoke rising around me,
I could hear the blood dropping on the charcoal,
and more smoke rose.
The pain was somehow dwindling but I felt weak
Maybe she is losing blood? my sister asked worriedly.
No, no. It will stop once I place the herbs, cried the cutter impatiently.
The Malmal was pasted where my severed vaginal lips had been,
and then I was tied from my thighs to my toes
with very strong ropes from camel hide.
A long stick was brought and the women took turns
showing us how to walk, sit, and stand.
They told us not to bend or move apart our legs--
This will make you heal faster, they said,
but it was meant to seal up that place.
The drop of the first urine,
more burning than the aftermath of the razor,
passed slowly, bit by bit,
one drop after another,
while lying on my side.
There was no washing, no drying,
and the burning kept on for hours later.
But there was no stool . . .
at least, I don’t remember.
For the next month this was my routine.
There was no feeding on anything with oil,
or anything with vegetables or meat.
Only milk and ugali formed my daily ration.
I was given only sips of water:
This avoids "wetting" the wound and delaying healing, they said.
We would stay in the bush the whole day.
The journey from the bush back home began around four and ended sometimes at seven.
All this time we had to face the heat
and bare-footedly slide towards home . . .
with no water, of course.
We were not to bend if a thorn stuck us,
never to call for help loudly
as this would "open" us up and the cutter
would be called again.
Everything was about scary dos and don’ts.
I stayed on with the other five
for the next four weeks. None of us bathed;
lice developed between the ropes and our skin,
biting and itching the whole day and night.
There was no way to remove them,
at least not until we healed.
The river was only a kilometer away.
Every morning the breeze carried the sweet scent of its waters to us,
making our thirst more real.
The day the cutter was called back
each of us shivered and prayed silently,
each hoping we had healed and there would be no cutting again.
Thank God we were all done
except one unlucky girl
who had to undergo it all again,
and took months to heal.
Our heads were shaved clean.
The ropes untied, lice dropped at last.
We were showered and oiled,
but most important was the drinking of water.
I drank until my stomach was full,
but the mouth and throat yearned for more.
It was over.
All over my thighs were marks from the ropes,
dotted with patches from the lice wounds.
Now I was to look after myself,
to ensure that everything remained intact
until the day I married .
By -Dahabo Ali Muse
And if I may speak of my wedding night:
I had expected caresses, sweet kiss, hugging and love.
Awaiting me was pain, suffering and sadness.
I lay in my wedding bed, groaning like a wounded
Animal, a victim of feminine pain.
At dawn, ridicule awaited me.
My mother announced:
Yes she is a virgin.
When fear gets hold of me,
When anger seizes my body,
When hate becomes my companion,
Then I get feminine advice, because it is only feminine pain,
And I am told feminine pain perishes like all feminine things.
The journey continues, or the struggle continue,
As modern historians say.
As the good tie of marriage matures.
As I submit and sorrow subsides.
My belly becomes like a balloon
A glimpse of happiness shows,
A hope, a new baby, a new life!
But a new life endangers my life,
A baby’s birth is death and destruction on me!
It is what my grandmother called the three feminine sorrows.
She said the day of circumcision, the wedding night and the births of a baby are the triple feminine sorrows.
As the birth bursts, I cry for help, when the battered flesh tears.
No mercy, push! They say.
It is only feminine pain!
And now I appeal:
I appeal for love lost, for dreams broken,
For the right to live as a whole human being.
I appeal to all peace loving people to protect, to support
And give a hand to innocent little girls, who do no harm,
Obedient to their parents and elders, all they know is only smiles.
Initiate them to the world of love,
Not to the world of feminine sorrow!
Sister Somalia is an organization whose mission "is dedicated to providing catalytic support to survivors of sexual violence in Somalia, while changing the global conversation on women’s security "
They provide counseling and rehabilitation for victims of FGM and other sexual violence.
For more information, or support on this subject, use the link below.
Art work at the beginning of this blog, by Womensvoice1
"Deformation of the Rose, rebirth and renewal"
I would welcome any comments or contributions to this article.