Female Genital Mutilation in Yemen

I recently read an article in the Yemen Observer and I was appalled. It’s a little gruesome, but I encourage you to read the rest of it OK, I knew that FGM (or female circumcision as it is euphinisticly called) is a big problem in Africa, but I never thought about it here. Yemen is very close to Africa, so it shouldn’t surprise me I suppose. Anyway, the most common method of doing this is to completely cut off the clitoris and labia minora. A more extreme version also sews the labia majora together leaving only small opening. This is done to girls somewhere between being newborns and adolescents. Since this is done in village settings mostly, no anesthetics are used. Some richer families will take their daughters to a health clinic where things are supposedly sterilized…

Why do people do this? There are a handful of reasons given, none of which are convincing of course. Some argue that it is for “hygiene” purposes, never mind the terrible complications due to blood loss, infections, abscesses, etc. This reason plays right into the whole “women are dirty” mind set… Some claim that it is necessary under Islamic law. This is totally false, there isn’t a single verse in the Koran about this, and I don’t believe any reputable scholar has endorsed this practice. As a matter of fact, a fairly straightforward argument can be made against it on Islamic grounds. To do this for the reasons stated implies that God made a flawed or purposeless part of a women. If you think you are “correcting” God’s mistake, you are committing blasphemy in the purest sense.

Then there are the people that get right down to it. They claim that by doing this they will make women less sexually active. This is supposed to lead to chastity before marriage and them being loyal to their husbands. Well, maybe it would, but my God! Talk about brutal! If a woman was crazy enough to want to do this for that reason, well, she’s crazy but at least it would be her decision. Can you imagine taking your 12 year old daughter to have this done to her? Can you imagine being that 12 year old? Or can you imagine finding out what had been done to you as a baby and “looking forward” to your wedding night?

For me, this last reason is what it is all about. Arabic culture is accused of being brutal to women. Most people point to the veiling of women and their place in society as examples. To me, those things are a blend of culture and religion and I can’t definitively call them repressive. FGM is another matter, there is no excuse and it is nothing but brutality. FGM is a way to assert control over women and to deny them of sexual pleasure or even of sexual freedom. What really galls me is that the article gives short shrift to the “sexual problems”, possible physical complications, mental scarring, and the appalling lack of freedom that the daughters and mothers have in this choice and instead concentrate most of the negativity on possible complications during childbirth. “It’s all about having children!” is the basic point of the article. I guess the paper was playing to its audience, but I do wish that they had the guts to drive home the more repressive aspects of the practice.

Oh, and the women that say “It’s a badge of honor and chastity” should just be shot. If its so damned honorable, why force women to do it? A really honorable woman would do it to herself following that line of “reasoning.” I suppose there is probably more than a little rationalization going on there. I guess if I had something that terrible done to me, I’d try to find meaning in it too… Anyway, I had heard of this issue before but I was never really aware of what was actually involved. I’m glad that I know about it now, but it saddens me to think that people could really do this sort of thing….


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