Guest Author - Jeanne Egbosiuba Ukwendu
In Africa, the tribes that circumcise their boys may also circumcise their girls at the same time. Girls can be circumcised generally as young as nine years old to as old as seventeen or eighteen. This all depends on the tribe and their traditions.
Like the boys, the girls also have a rest period after the circumcision. This gives them time to heal and to learn about the tribal traditions. The girls usually marry shortly after circumcision. They also stop attending school at this time. Remember, school is not compulsory in a good part of Africa.
What is female circumcision? It is the cutting of the female genitalia. Some people and human right groups have renamed this practice "female genital mutilation" or "FGM". What happens exactly is dependent on the tribe involved.
Circumcision ranges from a simple pricking of the private area to cutting off the exteriour portions of the female genitalia. Pain killers are not generally used. A girl may be told to sit in some cold water before the procedure to numb the area and to prevent profuse bleeding. The cuts are made with a knife, razor, piece of glass, or possibly a piece of a tin can. Several girls are circumcised at the same time and the tool used to do the circumcision becomes duller for each successive girl. As with the boys, the tool is not sterilized between circumcisions. Rich families are able to bring their girl to a local hospital and have a doctor perform the procedure with an anaesthetic.
After the cuts are made, the genitalia is stitched together. Openings are left for the basic functions, however they are considerably smaller than they are naturally. At times, needle and thread are not available so thorns may be used.
There are health problems associated with female circumcision including various infections which can plague a woman for the rest of her life, childbearing problems, and painful intercourse. Sometimes a girl dies from shock and/or loss of blood.
Why is this done? This cultural tradition is very deeply rooted. Anyone who is not circumcised is considered to be a child. That means an uncircumcised woman cannot be married, bear children, or make adult decisions. She will be always treated as a child. The implications of this are severe and the woman could be ostracized from her community.
Men seem to want women who are circumcised. If a woman is married and her new husband finds she is uncircumcised he can return her to her family and ask that the dowry he paid for her be returned. A circumcised woman is more attractive and will fetch a higher dowry for the family when she is married.
There are many western movements that are trying to stop the female circumcisions in Africa. Some of these are: Amnesty International, Equality Now, Taririh Justice Center, and V-Day. Should you get involved? Well, think about this... How would you like it if an outsider came into the U.S. and said, "Abortion is murder! You must stop this practice!" Some of us would stand up and cheer. Others would scream back "It's our right! Leave us alone!" This is the reaction from Africa about female circumcision. Some mothers don't want their girls circumcised. There are girls who do not want it either. However, there are others who do want it and that does include women and girls.
One tribe in Kenya, Meru, is now allowing an alternative circumcision ceremony for those girls who do not want to be physically circumcised. It's called 'Circumcision Through Words'. The girls still go through the same teachings and rituals, but are simply not physically circumcised. I believe we may see more of this type of circumcision as time goes on.