She feels a horrible pain, like no other, as she cries. As if her entire body is on fire and there is no salvation in sight. A young child, a girl, is taken by her mother and female relatives. They hold her down so she cannot move, and though the girl screams and cries they do not stop. While the girl is held down her dress is lifted and one of those in the room, the “cutter,” comes with a knife. She proceeds to mutilate the child, grabbing and cutting off the outer genitalia of the girl. She is then sewn up and the entire procedure occurs with no anesthetic. She is not taken to a hospital or given medicine other than natural herbs. She is taken home where her body slowly heals, even if her mind never will. And though she asks why, she receives no answer.
FGM, female genital mutilation, is no relic of the past. It is still practiced worldwide, though there are laws against it in some countries. It is a reality that far too many women and girls have to live with. It has been found that at least 200 million girls and women have experienced FGM in 30 countries across three continents. And while it does occur in far off countries, tribes of Africa, Middle Eastern countries, it also happens right here in America. In America it is estimated that over 500,000 women and girls are at risk of FGM. Though it has been a crime under federal law since 1996 and is punishable by up to five years in prison, it is not a crime under state law in 25 of the 50 U.S. states. Around the world, 3 million girls every year suffer FGM.
FGM is a procedure involving the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or injury to the female genital organs for any non-medical reason. This usually includes the removal or cutting of the labia and clitoris. It is a procedure that carries no health benefits and that can be, and often is, dangerous for those upon whom it is forced. Those who have had it done often have many health problems such as severe pain, prolonged bleeding, infection, infertility, and even death. Not to mention the interference experienced in the natural functions of the female body. And it isn’t just a danger for the women, but also for their children. Due to adverse obstetric outcomes, FGM leads to an extra one to two perinatal deaths per 100 deliveries.
FGM can take place for girls in infancy and up to age 15.It occurs for many reasons, most being cultural. By many, it is seen as a rite of passage into womanhood as well a condition of marriage. It is seen as a way to ensure the girl’s virginity and a way to control and prevent premarital sex from taking place. In many communities, FGM is expected and very hard to fight against. The girls themselves have no choice and the parents do not object, as it would lower or even eliminate the likelihood of marriage and could cause the girl to be an outcast within the community.
In America up to 500,000 girls and women are vulnerable to FGM. Many undergo “vacation cutting,” when parents send their daughters to stay with family abroad and force them to endure FGM. In 2013, the Transport for Female Genital Mutilation Act outlawed “vacation cutting,” but it is still widely practiced. Many girls will be told that they are going overseas to learn of their ancestry and to undertake a rite of passage, but little other details are given. This is what happened to “Lesha” who was born and raised in the U.S. She is one of the few survivors of FGM that have shared their story. “My husband will kill me if he ever finds out that I spoke out against FGM and my parents will back him up. But I know that my story needs to be heard,” she said in a 2014 article in Cosmopolitan. “Lesha” was 11 when she went to Guinea for summer vacation with her nine-year-old sister. She survived FGM but, her sister did not. “What I remember is she was blamed for not taking their herbs and everything they were doing to help her, which never included taking her to a doctor.” When “Lesha” came back home, “She was blamed for not surviving, and I was praised for taking it well… no one asked about what happened to her. No one asked why she was just no longer there. I was told to forget it, like it never happened.” This is a reality that is shared among many women and girls in the U.S., but that all too often is ignored.
FGM is no remnant of the past, it occurs today in a modern and “civilized” society. It can happen, and is happening, here, in America. Many women and girls, maybe even some you interact with every day, have or will undergo FGM. The pain, health issues, and emotional trauma that are experienced by these women often go untreated due to oppression of these women or lack of knowledgeable care facilities. After a girl has the procedure, many will say that they have finally become women. But can we say the same for ourselves? Can we truly call ourselves men and women while allowing this to go on — while allowing young girls to be mutilated and pretending it doesn’t even happen? The answer is no, this is not something that should be allowed to go on. It is not something to remain silent about any longer