In thinking what to discuss for my first blog post, I came across the issue of what is most commonly referred to as female genital mutilation (FGM). It is a topic that has always been of great interest to me due to the very serious consequences it has for tens of millions of young girls and women around the world. This term encompasses “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.” (World Health Organization) Female genital mutilation is practiced either in hospitals under general anesthesia or by use of crude methods with or without anesthesia, typically on infants and young girls.
FGM is prevalent in traditional societies, such as those existing in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. There are numerous cultural and social reasons for why FGM is practiced, such as the belief that it promotes sexual modesty and cleanliness in women. FGM is widely recognized as a serious violation of the human rights of young girls and women and one of the most serious problems existing in the developing world. FGM has detrimental effects on the psychological and physical wellbeing of women. According to the World Health Organization, it “violates a person's rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death.”
According to the WHO, immediate consequences include severe pain, bacterial infection, and open sores in the genital region. Long-term consequences include bladder and urinary tract infections, infertility, and possibly further surgeries. FGM does not bring any health benefits to women. It has been estimated that 100 to 140 million girls and women worldwide have undergone this procedure.
This issue is obviously of significance to feminists and women’s rights advocates around the world, particularly in those countries most affected by this barbaric custom. The question may then arise as to what we in the developed countries can do about this. Groups like Amnesty International and the WHO have worked to end this practice. The World Health Assembly, the decision-making body of the WHO, has passed a resolution calling for the elimination of FGM. The WHO has outlined a multi-pronged program consisting of advocacy, research, and guidance for health professionals in assisting women who have undergone this procedure.
It is chilling to think that even in our modern age, such barbaric treatment of women and young girls is widely tolerated in certain parts of the world. Such a practice reflects, I think, a conception of women as something less than full human beings, to the extent that even their most fundamental rights can be freely violated, with or without their consent.