There are three things I hate: animal abuse, child abuse and sexual abuse. Oftentimes when I am perusing the Internet, I take the time to educate myself on the current events of the world. There is a specific incident going on in other parts of the world that relate to the last two things I hate: female genital mutilation.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) occurs broadly in Africa and in some Middle Eastern countries. An estimated 135 million women and girls have undergone genital mutilation and two million girls a year are at risk for the procedure. The physical effects of FGM include pain, shock, organ damage, infection and the possible spreading of HIV. The psychological effects are unimaginable.
As a woman, I take pride in my body. No one has control over it but me. I make decisions to avoid placing myself in potentially dangerous situations that would cause harm to my body. So far, I've been lucky and remained harm-free.
If I were a young girl born in a country that practices FGM, this would not be the case. The age and method of which I would undergo the ordeal depends on ethnicity. Most commonly, girls endure FGM between the ages of four and eight. The procedure ranges from clitoridectomy to excision or both. These measures involve cutting off different parts of the female genitalia. In some cases, raw skin is stitched together to form a cover over the vagina, making eventual sexual intercourse extremely painful.
Because these procedures are performed in poorer countries, it is evident that these girls receive no painkillers and the tools and wounds are not sterilized, furthering the spread of HIV. Taking into account these negative effects, we should question why FGM is still performed at all in our advanced, industrial world of today.
The reasons for FGM range from cultural and gender identity to the control of a women's sexuality. It is a tradition and believed to complete a girl's transformation into womanhood. Many societies think FGM reduces a woman's sex drive, thus reducing the likelihood of extramarital sex.
"Circumcision makes women clean, promotes virginity and chastity, and guards young girls from sexual frustration by deadening their sexual appetite," argues one [female] defender of genital mutilation in Kenya.
To me, it would seem that sexual drive wouldn't be considered a problem for young girls between the ages of four and eight. But medical research suggests that young children (girls and boys) are sexually aware right out of the womb. Infant masturbation has been observed in children as young as three months. Our society's view of sex would have us believe this isn't natural, when in fact, it is as much a part of development as bone growth.
Because sexual identity is a natural, healthy concept, FGM is performed for all the wrong reasons. The supporters of FGM are guilty of cultural and societal beliefs, much like the way we as Americans are guilty of our hush-hush attitudes about sexuality. This doesn't justify or lessen the effects of FGM, but instead should raise our awareness and demand a call for our help.
The view of women in America has come a long way in the last 100 years. While we are still dealing with problems regarding the roles and rights of women and discussions of the connotations of words such as "slut" and "whore," our problems are nowhere near the magnitude of the problems of FGM-practicing countries.
The point of this column was to encourage awareness in women and men who may have only heard of FGM but don't realize that it is a huge problem. Though we may be miles away from the crisis, we can take the first steps toward education. Sexuality and human rights are critical issues in America and around the world.
The above information about FGM was summarized from the Amnesty International Web site. For more information, visit www.amnesty.org.
Megan Schulz is a sophomore technical journalism major. Her column runs every Tuesday in the Collegian.