The Way Forward from a Backward-Looking Practice

Imagine being told that there will be a big party celebrating you as you reach adulthood. Imagine dancing all night and preparing for this long awaited day. Now, imagine it has finally come and you are walking out toward your family and friends to greet them on this joyous day. A woman walks up to you and sits you down. You are not expecting anything, but suddenly she opens your legs and cuts off your clitoris. Sadly, this ritual of Female Genital Mutilation is rampant in the developing world and many women are affected daily. In fact, about 100-140 million females have had this procedure done.

The World Health Organization defines this practice as “all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons”. Kakenya Ntaiya, a hero who fights for women’s rights and has passed a law prohibiting it, experienced this “celebratory” mutilation firsthand.

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Dr. Kakenya Ntaiya

I’m lucky, I never died, but many die. It’s a practice with a rusty, old knife and no anesthesia.  – Kakenya Ntaiya, @KakenyaN

Female Genital Mutilation occurs in numerous countries across central Africa, in the southern Sahara, and in parts of the Middle East. In Egypt and Ethiopia, where almost one-half of these victims live, the ritual is most common. There are many reasons for such countries performing Female Genital Mutilation on women. Many think that it will ensure the girl gets married or that it is necessary to complete the step into adulthood. Others are of the opinion that it is to keep the woman’s virginity by limiting her sexual behavior and stopping her sexual desire.

The consequences in terms of health vary a lot. There are many short-term consequences, such as losing a lot of blood and getting infected. Furthermore, most victims suffer severe long-term consequences that cannot be healed by a simple fix.

  • Increased risk of HIV. By using the same, non-sterilized knife for the practice, women are more likely to get sexually transmitted diseases, such as hepatitis or HIV
  • Problems with pregnancy. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states that women are 25-30% more likely to be infertile after Genital Mutilation. Furthermore, infection and heavy bleeding that are caused by this ritual can cause a woman to lose her child once she gets pregnant.
  • Psychological issues. Female Genital Mutilation may cause posttraumatic stress disorder as well as depression and a low self-image.
  • Gynecological health issues. Repeated infections can occur and it will be difficult for victims to get a pap test or a pelvic exam done after the procedure.

African-girls

So what can be done about this horrid ritual that ruins millions of women’s lives and makes them feel worthless?

First of all, educating women about the procedure is the most important step to take. Kakenya Ntaiya never knew about what she would be going through until it was too late. She did not know it was against the law in Kenya, her home country. She did not know that she had a right to say “No”. For many women this is a tremendously big issue. They simply don’t know their rights. Even if they had the power to speak up, which many don’t because of fear of disappointing family or culture, they could not, because many are unaware of what they can legally demand for themselves. Kakenya Ntaiya is a strong feminist, who had the capability to take a stand; however, she was unable to do so, because she thought this practice was legal and undisputed.

Another way to help fight this ritual is by creating a concrete, international law prohibiting Female Genital Mutilation. Already, the practice is breaking several basic human rights: The right of the child, the right to health, the right to life and physical integrity, including freedom from violence, and the right to be free form all forms of discrimination against women. Many international health organizations argue that changes towards Female Genital Mutilation can only be made, if local governments agree. I disagree with this logic. Female Genital Mutilation is a violation of 5 basic rights. This should be reason enough to outlaw it internationally.

This ritual infringes upon the right of a basic human being to live free from harm and discrimination. Women should not have to put up with damaging rituals that have long-lasting consequences. They should have the right to say “No” and take a stand for themselves. With education and international laws backing them up, women can take the first step to fight for their rights as citizens of the world.

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