I had a student from Kenya, from a Massai Mara tribe. She had a female genital mutilation done. From her I learned a lot about the reasons and the about the thousands years long history/mythology behind. It is a complicated thing: it's terrible for you, but in most cases you are doomed in a society if you don't undergo it. You can't be married off, you're isolated, etc. Only option is to run away to city, where poverty is already rampant. It's not a simple matter of African being cruel animals, you know.
In spite of laws against mutilation of females, this ill-treatment continues in many parts of Africa. Different organisations working against the practice, stress the need of thorough information on the damage this tradition generates on women. The practice tends to go underground when its only limitation rests on the law.
What is FGM?
The World Health Organization (WHO, 1997) defined female genital mutilation (FGM) as all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs whether for cultural or other non-therapeutic reasons.
The World Health Organization also classified FGM into four types:
Type I. Excision of the prepuce, with or without excision of part or all of the clitoris.
Type II. Excision of the clitoris with partial or total excision of the labia minora.
Type Ill. Excision of part or all of the external genitalia and stitching/narrowing of the vaginal opening (infibulation).
Type IV. Unclassified: this includes pricking, piercing or incising of the clitoris and/or labia; stretching of the clitoris and/or labia cauterization by burning of the clitoris and surrounding tissue.
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), also known as female circumcision, or female genital cutting, has been practiced for several thousand years in almost 30 African and Middle Eastern nations. It is also practiced, to a lesser extent, in parts of Asia. FGM is practiced by Muslims, Christians, Jews and followers of traditional African religions.
Why practise FGM?
For parents, reasons for adhering to the practice range from fear for the daughter's marriageability and honor, to conformity and insistence by older relatives and the community. Most often the historic reasons cited are marital fidelity, controlling the woman's sex drive, preventing lesbianism, ensuring paternity, "calming" her personality, and hygiene. It is commonly considered an important rite of passage.
Female circumcision is frequently described as an "age-old Muslim ritual," when in fact it predates Islam and is even believed to be pre-Judaic. There is no mention of it in the Koran, and only a brief mention in the authentic hadiths, which states: "A woman used to perform circumcision in Medina. The Prophet said to her: 'Do not cut severely, as that is better for a woman and more desirable for a husband.'
Because of this still debated hadz'th, some scholars of the Shari school of Islam, found mostly in East Africa, consider female circumcision obligatory. 'I'he Hanafi and most other schools maintain it is merely recommended, not essential.
In the nineteenth century, women in the United States and Europe were sometimes circumcised because it was believed to relieve epilepsy, hysteria, and insanity. In Africa, FGM practises are mostly not related to Islam itself, although its prevalence is higher in predominatly Muslim countries (see table). While FGM is not practised in Muslim Morocco, it is widespread in Sierra Leone (among Muslims and followers of traditional religions) and it is equally practised by Orthodox Christians and Muslims in Ethiopia.
The authors of a Female Genital Mutilation: A Guide to Laws and Policies Worldwide contributed with valuable information on fighting FGM. Stopping the practice of female genital mutilation requires profound social change, the Director of the International Programme at the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy, Anika Rahman states in her book, co-editored by Dr. Nahid Toubia, Founder and President of the Research, Action and Information Network for Bodily Integrity of Women. The book is unique in that it addresses the practice of female genital mutilation as a human rights issue.
While laws alone can not achieve that change, they are an important tool, says Ms. Rahman. The book, which provides a description of the legal status of laws on female circumcisions - also known as female genital mutilation - is unique in that it addresses the practice of female genital mutilation as a human rights issue. Ms. Rahman says 41 countries have addressed the issue of female genital mutilation in their laws and policies.
FGM practices by country
Country Prevalence Type
Benin 5-50% excision
Burkina Faso up to 70% excision
Cameroon local clitoridectomy and excision
Central Afr. Republic 45-50% clitoridectomy and excision
Chad 60% excision and infibulation
Côte d'Ivoire up to 60% excision
DRC (Congo) local excision
Djibouti 98% excision and infibulation
Egypt 85-95% clitoridectomy, excision and infibulation
Eritrea 95% clitoridectomy, excision and infibulation
Ethiopia 70-90% clitoridectomy, excision and infibulation
Gambia 60-90% excision and infibulation
Ghana 15-30% excision
Guinea 65-90% clitoridectomy, excision and infibulation
Guinea Bissau local clitoridectomy and excision
Kenya 50% clitoridectomy, excision and some infibulation
Liberia 50% excision
Mali 94% clitoridectomy, excision and infibulation
Mauritania 25% clitoridectomy and excision
Niger local excision
Nigeria 60-90% clitoridectomy, excision, some infibulation
Senegal 20% excision
Sierra Leone 90% excision
Somalia 98% infibulation
Sudan 90% infibulation and excision
Tanzania 18% excision, infibulation
Togo 12% excision
Uganda local clitoridectomy and excision
Based on statistics from Amnesty International and US govt.