Updated: Feb 18, 2019
I first heard of the act of female genital mutilation during an episode of America’s Next Top Model in 2007, at the age of 10. Somali-born contestant, Fatima Siad spoke to the judges about her experience. “It happened, there’s nothing I could do about it but I’m gonna dedicate my life to make sure that no one goes through what I went through”. These words and that clip have stayed with me since then. Even at the age of 10, with little understanding of what the procedure actually entailed, I knew from this one woman’s story that it was something serious and devastating. I think this was one of the earliest times I became aware of my privilege as a white woman. I remember sitting there confused, with so many questions – her world, so seemingly far-removed from mine. My mum explained the process to me, in a way that a 10-year-old me could attempt to get her head around, but I still couldn’t. How is this happening to girls younger than me, I thought. At this point in my life the worst thing that had happened to me was falling out with my friends, and suddenly the world seemed a lot bigger. A lot darker. I became aware that I lived a rose-tinted life compared to a lot of other women around the world. It was a defining moment for me as a feminist.
Skip forward 5 years, and a 15-year-old me is researching and reading about FGM; watching videos and sharing tweets; learning about the atrocities. I was working on a media project at the time and found a fact that stated, “in Birmingham hospital alone, 45 women per month are treated for FGM-related conditions”. I was astounded. Suddenly this despicable act was actually happening just twenty miles away. The world suddenly grew smaller again. And I checked my privilege again. The realisation that the shock and disgust I felt through merely reading the stories of the women who were victim to this atrocity, was absolutely nothing compared how these women were mistreated and the emotions that they must have endured, highlighted to me one very important lesson. I could never write about FGM in the way that these women can, I could never do their stories justice. Who am I to retell their stories?
Recently, I have become incredibly aware, more aware than I ever have been for that matter, about the behaviour of white feminists. White feminists, me included, continually write about their personal experience, as if it’s the collective experience of all women, when it most certainly is not. I have always been one concerned about writing about the experience of other women, because there is nothing in bad taste quite like people in positions of racial privilege speaking for and on behalf of BAME communities and people. I believe that instead, if you have a platform you should use that to promote the work, stories and articles of other people who can obviously explain their experience better than anybody else can. Don’t be ignorant to your white privilege. And definitely don’t be ignorant to the very real and very significant experiences of other women. Feminism should be intersectional and should acknowledge the trials and tribulations of ALL women from a variety of cultures. It should evaluate how racial discrimination overlaps with gender discrimination. So, from here, this post will lay out the facts of FGM and then provide links to other works from people with a far greater awareness of the experience and culture behind it.
According to the World Health Organisation, female genital mutilation is classified into four types. These types alternate depending on which parts are the vagina and vulva are mutilated. For example, type one is where part or all of the clitoris is removed; type two also includes removal of the labia minora; type three involves narrowing the vaginal opening by creating a seal; and type four includes all other harmful procedures performed on female genitalia. There is categorially NO health benefits to women and girls who have suffered FGM, in fact, it results in significant health risks in the victims. These risks include; severe pain; haemorrhage; infection; tissue damage; sexual problems; menstrual problems; psychological problems… the list goes on. The most disturbing aspect of the whole ordeal, in my view, is the fact that the procedure is mostly carried out on young girls, between infancy and adolescence, with more than 3 million at risk each year. The countries where instances of FGM are concentrated are in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. An article by The Guardian released on 7th November 2018 (linked below), states that a study by BMJ Global Health found that the rates of FGM in girls 14 and under, in East Africa, have dropped from 71% to 8% in the last 20 years - which shows progress to some degree but by no means enough. The article also states that a UN analysis of FGM across 30 countries where it has high prevalence, found rates had reduced from 46% to 35% in a 15-year time frame. Again, progress. But surely, in 2018, there is more which needs to be done to outlaw the procedures.
In some countries, FGM has become a societal norm and is engrained in the culture of these young women and girls. It’s motivated by widely adopted beliefs about sexual conduct in women, with people thinking that it ensures premarital virginity and fidelity. It’s important to state that no religious scripts actually necessitate this practise, however people defend it by believing it has religious support. It is quite obviously clear to most that FGM is an atrocity and a stain on these cultures which needs to be eradicated. It is an instance where you cannot celebrate the drop in rates until it drops to 0. Every single country around the world needs to have a zero-tolerance policy for those who perform and practise FGM but until they do, global initiatives must be supported. I cannot stress enough the importance of learning about the experiences of other women around the world and the horror they face not only in their early years but for decades to come afterwards. Below are a series of links to other works and articles on the subject, it could not get any easier to become clued up on the topic. Do your research and you will achieve a greater awareness of the world around you and a greater respect for every single woman who endures such a tragic start to womanhood.