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Kate Baggott is a Canadian writer living in Germany. Her work ranges from technology journalism to experimental fiction. Links to other published pieces can be found at http://www.katebaggott.com

In this article Kate discusses Female genital mutilation.


Want to Change the World? End FGM, says Development Workers

 article about Female genital mutilation
2010-04-06 01:27:15
For girls in Sub-Saharan Africa, one cultural practice is all that stands between them and the struggle for life and dignity.

According to development workers, ending this rite alone would stem the tide against AIDS, reduce maternal and infant mortality and encourage respect for women's human rights throughout the developing world. The practice that must be ended to change the world is called FGM.

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), also known as female circumcision, is meant to combat sexual promiscuity, preserve virginity and prepare a girl for marriage. When she is as young as 3, or as old as 18, her clitoris may be cut out in the simple version of the procedure. During the more brutal version, the outer lips of her vagina may be removed with a dull razor or a blunt knife and sewn back together with only a small hole left for urine and blood to escape.

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Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), also known as female circumcision, is meant to combat sexual promiscuity, preserve virginity and prepare a girl for marriage.
The extent of the damage caused by FGM is coming to light as the entire population of Sub-Saharan Africa becomes more vulnerable to warfare, extreme poverty and epidemics. The new urgency to eradicate it is being led by women, African activists like Zeba Mbuvi and Annastacia Olembo.

According to Zeba Mbuvi, a communications manager for World Vision based in Nairobi, Kenya, FGM is a precursor to early marriage. Combined, these two factors are deadly. Women are 400 times more likely to die in childbirth where FGM is prevalent than women in Western countries are. In addition, when the natural protection a woman's genital design gives her are removed, her susceptibility to HIV/AIDS and other blood-borne diseases such as hepatitis are increased.

It is difficult to believe these threats would be tolerated if a similar procedure were performed on men.

"It really is a chauvinistic practice," says Mbuvi. "Even today, when you talk to young men, they still have the attitude that the only way to control a woman's sexual behavior is through circumcision."

Annastacia Olembo, The Gender-Advocacy Coordinator for World Vision, Somalia, has seen the sexist nature of FGM at its worst.

"It is not a rite of initiation in Somalia," she says. "It is performed because a girl is only valued if she is a virgin. The men who are the 'consumers of the product' want a virgin girl and the only way they can be convinced she is a virgin is when the inlet is as small as a paper pin prick!" says Olembo.

As a result, Olemba says, girls in Somalia face the most severe forms of FGM earlier in life, between the ages of 4 and 8, and encounter more problems.

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The extent of the damage caused by FGM is coming to light as the entire population of Sub-Saharan Africa becomes more vulnerable to warfare, extreme poverty and epidemics.
"Since the majority of them are not in school, they end up getting married very early," Olembo has learned. "These girls, because of the damage they received during the operation, experience difficulties during delivery. Some of them lose their lives while others develop what we call fistula where there is no control of urinary output."

The practice of "circumcising" women is often said to come from a misinterpretation of the Koran and, in some cases, partnerships between Christian aid organizations and local Muslim leaders have been successful.

"In most of the population where FGM is practiced it is believed when a girl is uncircumcised she is not holy, or pure, and therefore she should not pray as her prayers will not be accepted," says Olemba. "The Imams are highly placed in the community and if they have the right information they can make a change in those communities."

Inter-religious communication and cooperation is only part of the strategy. FGM pre-dates Islam and is also found among Christians and followers of tribal religions.

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"It is not a rite of initiation in Somalia," she says. "It is performed because a girl is only valued if she is a virgin. "
To change attitudes toward FGM is to change how female sexuality is perceived. The focus is on educating key community groups about the harm and risks of the procedure. These groups include girls themselves, fathers, young men, and perhaps most importantly, mothers who have undergone the procedure.

"It's the mothers who are scared that they'll lose face in the community if their daughters aren't circumcised," says Zeba Mbuvi.

It's an attitude Mbuvi knows too well. A member of the Maasai tribe, Mbuvi was raised as a Christian in urban Nairobi and never underwent FGM.

"Both of our parents were educators and, my mother especially, who was circumcised, never wanted any of us to go through that," she says.

As a result she and her sisters were teased when they visited their family's rural community.

"I thought I could encourage the girls in my own family, but there is still always the suggestion, ‘Oh, you are not like us,' meaning ‘you are not quite a real woman,'" Mbuvi remembers

While difficulties certainly remain, there is evidence that efforts to change attitudes are working. World Vision, who both Mbuvi and Olemba work with, has convinced many women who performed FGM to give up their blades and razors. Raising sheep is a popular alternative career.




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