In 2012, the United Nations (UN) designated February 6th as the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). The day is observed to raise awareness of the issue and to encourage concrete action against the practice. For readers who’ve never heard of this inhumane and harmful practice—FGM involves partial or total removal of a females’ external genitalia for non-medical reasons. The practice is carried out as a way to control women’s sexuality and to ensure ‘virginity’ before marriage and fidelity afterward, and to increase male sexual pleasure. While the exact number of girls and women worldwide who have undergone FGM remains unknown, at least 200 million females in 30 countries have been subjected.
I learned more about FGM after watching the movie, The Desert Flower, seven times! It gives a clear image of how the practice not only destroys the females’ body—introducing infection, septicemia and neurogenic shock—but also her confidence and personality. Every single time I’ve watched the movie, I cry and cry, knowing the practice is being carried out on millions of young girls sometimes between infancy and the age of 15. While the majority of girls undergoing FGM are in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, a significant number of females in immigrant communities in Europe and the US are also at risk. It is recognized in many European nations and American states as illegal and a human rights violation but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t occur. It’s illegal but difficult to enforce. A study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found 513,000 females in the US are at risk of FGM, a threefold increase in recent years due to the rise in immigration from counties where it is practiced.
I’ve attempted multiple times to understand the cultural and patriarchal justification for FMG. Females who are subjected to this act are told it is being done in order for them to be clean, faithful, and beautiful and to stay away from sexual temptations. But I fail to understand or to justify such an act. FGM not only causes severe physical and mental illnesses but often leads to death. I refuse to understand or accept justifications for killing or scarring girls, endangering their health and depriving them of their rights and the chance to reach their full potential.
I often wonder, if I feel like this, as a female, then why do women in the community carry out the procedure on these young females? The reality is that they are reluctant to betray their families or community members and have been told from their mothers, aunts and sisters that the act is right. If you get told often enough something is right—you start to believe it and not question. These beliefs often reflect deep rooted inequalities between men and women and are a form of discrimination against women and girls.
To promote the abandonment of FGM, coordinated and systemic efforts are needed. We must engage with communities and focus on gender equality. There should be conversations that bring awareness and efforts to empower communities to collectively end the practice. Most importantly, we must address the sexual, reproductive and mental issues that FGM causes. We need to stand up together to end FGM because protecting the health and life of our girls is a universal duty.
Photo Credit: (1) U.S. Government Accountability Office from Washington, DC, United States (2) DFID - UK Department for International Development (Families free from FGM/C)
Euxhenia Hodo is currently an undergraduate student studying International Criminal Justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and is a Gendered Based Violence intern to the UN for Intersections. She is passionate and committed to ending all forms of violence towards women and girls.