Activists using religion to stop Female Genital Mutilation

BlogHer Original Post

Elizabeth Kennedy of the AP has reported a change in the approach to FGM in Kenya:

Trying to stop a bloody ritual undergone by millions of Muslim women in sub-Saharan Africa and the Arab world, health activists are trying a new appeal -- they're citing the Quran.

"The guiding factor is always Islam," says 34-year-old Maryam Sheikh Abdi, who grew up in a region of northeast Kenya where 98 percent of girls are believed to undergo the procedure...Women believe "the pain, the problems, the bleeding they are all God's will."

Health activists, finding that focusing on women's rights isn't working to persuade Muslims to stop performing the ritual, are increasingly using theology to make the case that "the cut" has nothing to do with religion...

"Women don't have to torture themselves. Islam does not require them to do it," said Abdi, who underwent the procedure when she was 6 and was a college student by the time she realized it was not necessary from a religious viewpoint.

Thankfully, some Islamic men have also weighed in stating that FGM is NOT mandated at all by the Q'ran.

I remember when Alice Walker's book, Posessing The Secret of Joy, opened my eyes to the issue of Female Genital Mutilation. I had no idea. I had heard about it, but had no idea of the sheer scope of this tragic practice. Over 2-3 million little girls a year are estimated to go through this. Even discussion of FGM is held often in secret, as are so many sexual issues in Africa and the Middle East.

It is, consequently, very hard to get accurate statistics about how often this is done or even in which countries. It even escaped the notice of the World Health Organization for years that Iraqi Kurds used this practice.

After Walker's book came out, I remember watching a TV documentary about the topic, where a sensitive woman journalist from England walked with a mother and her daughter to the mud hut where a circumsizing woman would shortly slice into the little 7 year old's genitals with a piece of dirty broken glass, removing her clitoris and would sew her labia almost shut. The mother had not told her little girl what would happen. She dropped her off at the hut, and waited outside sitting on a big rock, weeping as she heard her daughter's screams of agony.

The reporter asked her if she herself had been put through this. "Yes," the woman wept.

The reporter held her as she cried. She asked, "If you know this is so hard, help me know why you brought your little girl here?"

The mother sat back and looked at the reporter with amazed eyes. She was puzzled that the reporter did not understand. She said, "Because pain and suffering -- this is what it is to be a woman."

I sat back in my chair as though I had been hit by a brick.

I wish those who present the facts well -- and I hope telling women that the Q'ran does not mandate this mutilation does help.

But I fear that the underlying spiritual issues are even deeper. The phrase "this is what is is to be a woman" haunts me. At the heart of who this woman, at the core of what she can dream for her daughter -- is an act of violent and terrifying assault.

And I cannot help but think that if tender young white boys in England were having their genitals cut up with broken shards of glass in order to impair their sexual function, that the world's outrage and response would be far different.

What to do?

135 million women living today have gone through this. That is 4 times the population of Canada. Twice the population of France.

It is estimated that it happens once every 15 seconds. In the time it has taken you to read this far, 5 or 6 little girls have been mutilated.

Here is a testimony of one of them (not for those who have difficulty with very graphic descriptions of such an act. Please, if you are one of those people, do not read on.) It has been taken from the Amnesty International site

'I was genitally mutilated at the age of ten. I was told by my late grandmother that they were taking me down to the river to perform a certain ceremony, and afterwards I would be given a lot of food to eat. As an innocent child, I was led like a sheep to be slaughtered.

Once I entered the secret bush, I was taken to a very dark room and undressed. I was blindfolded and stripped naked. I was then carried by two strong women to the site for the operation. I was forced to lie flat on my back by four strong women, two holding tight to each leg. Another woman sat on my chest to prevent my upper body from moving. A piece of cloth was forced in my mouth to stop me screaming. I was then shaved.

When the operation began, I put up a big fight. The pain was terrible and unbearable. During this fight, I was badly cut and lost blood. All those who took part in the operation were half-drunk with alcohol. Others were dancing and singing, and worst of all, had stripped naked.

I was genitally mutilated with a blunt penknife.

After the operation, no one was allowed to aid me to walk. The stuff they put on my wound stank and was painful. These were terrible times for me. Each time I wanted to urinate, I was forced to stand upright. The urine would spread over the wound and would cause fresh pain all over again. Sometimes I had to force myself not to urinate for fear of the terrible pain. I was not given any anesthetic in the operation to reduce my pain, nor any antibiotics to fight against infection. Afterwards, I hemorrhaged and became anemic. This was attributed to witchcraft. I suffered for a long time from acute vaginal infections.''

Hannah Koroma, Sierra Leone

I do not know all of the charities and organizations listed here, but when I googled "help stop fgm" here is what was displayed Please review and help. Female Genital Mutilation is an issue on many levels, political, cultural, religious and certainly on the spiritual level.

The face of the woman on the news special haunts me still -- "because this is what it is to be a woman."

Those of you who have or had a seven year old daughter -- just imagine someone wanting to do this to her. Imagine what it would feel like if you believed it was her destiny.

Give help. Pray. Speak out about it. Make it known.

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