TODAY, February 6, is an International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation. It is a day that is observed every year to raise awareness of a practice that is harmful to girls and women around the world.
FGM, also known as female circumcision or cutting, is the deliberate mutilation of the female genitalia. It involves the partial or total removal of a girl’s external genitals (the clitoris and labia). In its most extreme form, girls are subjected to the removal of the clitoris and labia, and the sewing up of their vagina, leaving only a small opening for urine and menstrual blood. It is a practice that is widely condemned.
“The truth is that Female Genital Mutilation has no benefits, only detriments. It is an act of physical abuse against girls and women, which cannot be condoned or ignored,” Tanya Plibersek, Federal Member for Sydney, who is passionate about the eradication of FGM, said.
It is estimated that more than 140 million girls and women around the world are living with the effects of FGM. According to Professor Ajay Rane, from The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, those effects include pain, difficulty passing urine, recurrent infections, painful intercourse, inability to have intercourse, difficulty during childbirth, increased still birth rate, urinary fistulation.
While the physical effects are considerable, it doesn’t stop there. “The mental health toll is enormous and has not been scientifically evaluated as yet,” Professor Rane said.
In isolated areas like West Pokot in Kenya, FGM is shockingly common. Kenyan teenager Christine* was 15 years old, when she was subjected to female genital mutilation, before being forced to marry a much older man.
“My mother and brothers said it was the only thing for my future. When it had been done to me and I was in seclusion, an old man came to my brothers and gave him 15 cows to marry me.”
“On my first night in the house with the old man we were left alone together. He forced himself on me and I felt so much pain that I cried. The other wife was waiting at the door and he asked her to come in so that she could make me bigger using a cow’s horn. The eldest daughter of the man also came in to help. It was very shaming and I felt sad afterwards.”
Unfortunately Christine’s case is not uncommon. And it’s not just an issue affecting women and girls in developing countries, it is happening in Australia too.
In January a Sydney father was charged with organising the FGM of his baby daughter overseas, becoming the first person in NSW to be prosecuted for aiding and abetting the practice.
The case shone a light on FMG in Australia, which experts say is more common that people may think.
“We do have significant migrant populations that come from countries where FGM is practiced, so it’s really important that we take this issue seriously,” says Michelle Higelin, head of programs at Action Aid Australia.
However it is important to be aware that in some cultures within our society FGM is both an important cultural practice and central to their belief system. It is often considered a rite of passage into womanhood, a religious requirement or an essential preparation for marriage. It is therefore crucial that we don’t stigmatize women and girls who have undergone the practice.
“It’s really important that we create a safe space so that women that have undergone FGM in countries outside Australia are able to access health and psychological support as they need,” Higelin explains.
The strongest voices in the move to end FGM are those within the communities who practice it. “Much good work is being done within affected communities by their own members to change these beliefs and prevent the practices, both in Australia and in the countries of origin. We need to work with those community leaders to build understanding,” says Dr Chris Bayly, Senior Clinical Advisor, the Royal Women’s Hospital (the Women’s).
Dr Bayly believes that we can all play a part in the eradication of FGM. “It’s about communication. We need to listen to people and recognise their concerns,” he explains. “But the most effective way for us to contribute is to provide responsive health care and accurate information.”
Source: Essential Kids