Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Patriarchy and Female Circumcision

"If the equivalent procedure were done on men there would be global thermonuclear conflict. People would be at each other's throats, seeking revenge and restitution. And here we've tolerated this for millions of women worldwide."
Dr. Marci Bowers, reconstructive surgeon, San Fransciso, U.S.A.

Female genital mutilation ... or cutting (FGM), is a tradition in 29 countries concentrated in the Middle East and Africa. According to the latest report out of UNICEF, 125-million girls and women have been cut. Another 30-million are at risk over the next decade. This is a rite of passage for girls becoming women, and sometimes for girl-children long before they will ever become women, to pass through in a culture that values virginity before marriage and the assurance that before marriage no girl or woman would seek to have sexual relations lured by hormones and pleasure.

For most of the girls and women who undergo this procedure, it is part of their Muslim heritage. The custom is a tradition that most women themselves cannot see beyond, for it garners them respect, and without evidence that cutting has taken place, no woman can be self-respecting, knowing that no man would take her as a wife whose modesty and adherence to customary practise signifies she will make a good, 'traditional' wife. Whose issue he can control. It represents male ownership of female fecundity.

Some types of FGM are devastating in their results, particularly infibulation, considered the most seriously invasive and dangerous surgical technique of all. It is a barbaric flesh version of the medieval chastity belt, an iron girdle whose key a woman's husband kept, and only he could free her from the affliction of that confinement....
                                                 Women in a fifteenth century Italian breviary
Infibulation involves cutting the clitoris just as the other forms of cutting do, but it goes beyond this, by stitching the vaginal opening shut with a tiny hole left open for passage of urine and menstrual fluids. While undergoing the procedure some girls have been known to bleed to death post-operation, while others suffer chronic infections and incontinence. Sexual intercourse in an adulthood of marriage is painfully difficult, and childbirth a dreadful misery that some never recover from.
Moreover, neither do the babies. A study by the World Health Organization found that an additional one to two babies per 100 delivered in a hospital setting die as a result of FGM. With such casualties in hospital settings, speculation of far greater losses are fairly well guaranteed in less formal, clinical settings such as rural villages where specialist medical assistance is not available. Even when women from the Middle East and Africa migrate to Europe or North America the tradition carries on.
Women themselves, concerned for the future welfare of their daughters and granddaughters see to it that they are 'cut', thus sparing them the potential of being passed over as wives in traditional marriages. A 2011 Canadian census and statistics from UNICEF on the prevalence of FGM holds that with recent waves of immigration from Africa and the Middle East an estimated 80,000 or more FGM survivors live in Canada. In that number is included very young girls and teens.
Somali-born Kowser Omer-Hashi, a midwife living in Toronto 14 years ago, involved herself in speaking out about FGM, wanting to protect girls from being taken by their families back to Africa for a 'visit' back home, whose mission was to have the girls 'cut'. She, along with Dr. Beverley Chalmers, adjunct professor of obstetrics and gynecology, University of Ottawa, surveyed over 400 female Somali immigrants on their Canadian birthing experiences.
 FGM is illegal in Canada. The survey discovered that nearly half of the women expressed a desire to have their own daughters circumcized.  Omer-Hashi worked with doctors, social workers and educated health professionals, to increase awareness of the situation. She found herself ostracized by her own community, threatened and put aside. Her marriage, her health, her job were all affected. Until she finally stopped her anti FGM activism.
 Defying destiny
For 15 years, Amran Mahamood made a living circumcising young girls in Somalia. Four years ago, she gave it up after a religious leader convinced her the rite was not required by Islamic law. She now fights the practice, also known as female genital mutilation. FGM is declining in parts of Somalia, but the country still has the highest rate in the world.Photograph by: AFP , AFP/Getty Images
"That's why FGM has survived hundreds of years. People keep their hands off, saying, 'That's their tradition', and that attitude is wrong, wrong, wrong", she said, blaming the white host community for their sensitivity to tradition and culture emanating from other countries. "It's time we broke the silence", Lynne Featherstone, British education minister said last month. All government hospitals in Britain now must record information on patients suffering or at risk of FGM.
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada recommended training on the issue to be included within the Canadian medical curriculum. "We need to raise awareness of this issue (and start) support groups", Dr. Margaret Burnett, chair of the society's committee on social and sexual issues, claimed. French urologist Pierre Foldes began treating women with FGM while working with WHO over two decades ago, developing a reversal procedure.
He now performs 50 reversal procedures monthly, paid for by the health service in France. And he has taught his procedure to doctors interested in performing it themselves.  Dr. Foldes has operated on over four thousand women, teaching the procedure  to doctors from around the world. One of those he taught was U.S. surgeon Marci Bowers. She became the first North American doctor five years ago to perform FGM reversal surgeries, and it comprises her pro bono work.
Dr. Bowers was born male. She was married and bore three children, but became convinced she was acting out the wrong gender role and underwent transgender procedures that altered her identity from "Mark" to "Marci" Bowers. "When I see so many of these women say I've lost my identity, that really pulls on my heartstrings", she says. Dr. Bowers specializes in gender reassignment surgery, a procedure very much in demand.Marci Bowers
It is her unpaid work that inspires her to return the lives of women deprived of their idea of themselves as femininely sexual, and the reality of their loss and their pain, that gears her to offering to these women a biological, personal treasure that has been taken from them in a culture of male dominance. 

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