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

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Living Chastity Belt

"It must be carried out, because that's the way to maintain the purity of girls, to make sure that the girl is not out of control. We don't care if it's against the law or if they're trying to stop it. We know doctors who are willing to continue and have done so."
Egyptian woman, 53, interviewed for BBC documentary

It is against the law. It defies morality and human rights. Infibulation, genital cutting, consigns girls and women to a lifetime of pain and often enough dire medical conditions associated with the cultural practise. Also called clitoridectomy or excision or female circumcision, it is the surgical removal of a female's integral anatomy related to sex, the clitoral hood. The cultural tradition associated with some primitive religious rites is meant to ensure that women take no pleasure in the sex act.

Theoretically it is meant to make certain that a woman will not stray from the bed of her husband. In practical terms it often makes a semi-invalid of the woman, one for whom the sex act is fraught with pain. And the process and procedure make her dependent on her husband. To do otherwise is to flaunt societal custom and the heritage tradition of male custodianship of female dependants. It is to make certain that dishonour does not blemish the family honour code.

Women, under such social customs are little more than possessions, treasured for their capacity endowed by nature to usher new life into the world and in so doing provide the male with an heir to inherit his genes, the means by which nature presents to her creatures a mode of survival from one generation to the next. And patriarchal societies have developed this scheme of altering a woman's capacity to be fully female to suit their ends.

Throughout the Middle East and Africa and parts of Asia, the practise is dangerous to women's health, demeaning to their dignity but in those cultures a girl who has not been 'prepared for marriage' by circumcision is not considered to be marriageable. The procedure is often carried out without attention to hygiene, and crude tools used in the process. It ranges from snipping off part of the clitoris to the entire removal of all external pudenda.

And it can lead to health issues running the gamut from problems with urination, cysts and infections to severe bleeding, infertility or serious childbirth complications.
Road sign near Kapchorwa, Uganda, 2004

Ethnic groups who familiarly practise this rite of passage continue to do so when they migrate elsewhere in the world, in Western societies where they take up their new lives, bringing with them the odious custom of female genital mutilation, where mothers and aunts continue to cleave to tradition claiming they are thinking of their daughters' futures which, without circumcision will be bleak with no prospect of marrying and bearing a family.

UNICEF estimates that of the 125 million women worldwide have have suffered genital cutting in the 29 countries where it remains prevalent, mostly Africa and the Middle East, one in five lives in Egypt. Egypt is the most populous Arab country in the geography straddling Africa and the Middle East. According to the government of Egypt, the rate of female genital mutilation among women aged 15 to 49 is 91%.

Egyptian activists have been striving to eradicate the practise that girls as young as five are forced to undergo. It is not only Muslims but Egyptian Christians as well that honour the practise. Female genital mutilation is considered internationally to represent a violation of the human rights of girls and women. UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon in October announced a global campaign to end it within a generation.

But like banning child poverty and striving to bring about an alleviation in the condition of children throughout the world whether they lived in impoverished countries of the world or First-world economies yet live with privation, it is easier said than done. Egypt has banned the practise, imposing a universal ban in 2008. Though the practise is often referred to as circumcision, it is nothing like male circumcision where the hood of the penis is removed with no lingering ill effects.

The World Health Organization's description of the custom is succinct enough: "[It] comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons." There are no health benefits attached to the custom. It reflects only a society's obsession with virginity and chasteness; that a woman is endowed with sexuality remains a taboo subject.

Even though in Egypt there is a penalty of up to two years in prison or fines of up to 5,000 Egyptian pounds (roughly $800), the custom has proven impossible to stamp out. "Medicalized" cutting, which is to say surgery taking place in hospitals by medical staff has actually risen to 77% from 55% decades earlier. To eradicate this custom is paramount in achieving "social justice and human dignity", a pledge by women battling the practise, intent on protecting the quality of life of girls and women.

Labels: , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home

()() Follow @rheytah Tweet