Three forms of mutilation are generally found in a triangular band stretching from
to Tanzania in the east and
in the west. Although often referred to as “female circumcision,” there is no
equation with the removal of the penile foreskin that is practiced among all
males in Muslim and Jewish societies and in the Senegal Only the most modified
version, Sunna (“tradition”), can correctly be called circumcision. It
affects only a small proportion of women, largely in non-African countries.
Sunna can entail a simple pinprick of the clitoris; more often the hood of the
clitoris is removed. U.S.
Excision, the most common practice in
entails the cutting of the clitoris, sometimes its removal, and slicing of some
or all parts of the labia minora and majora.
An inexperienced hand or poor eyesight can lead to puncturing of the urethra, the bladder, the anal sphincter and/or the vaginal walls. Heavy keloid scarring can impair walking; the development of dermoid cysts is not uncommon.
A ritual frequently justified as a guarantor of fertility can lead to sterility.
Most women in the Horn of Africa are also infibulated. In addition to clitoridectomy, the reduced labia majora are sewn together, leaving a trivial opening. After the operation, the girl’s legs are bound together from hip to ankle for up to 40 days to permit the formation of scar tissue.
Urination and menstruation are excruciating ordeals: it can take up to 30 minutes to empty the bladder; the retention of urine and menstrual blood guarantees infection.
For infibulated women, sexual intercourse becomes a practically unbearable burden, especially on the wedding night. Consummation may take weeks, beginning with the husband having to open his wife’s infibulation with fingers or a knife or ceremonial sword. The woman must lie still with legs spread through repeated, bloody penetrations until a large enough opening becomes permanent. Many women see pregnancy as an escape from these painful and pleasureless sexual encounters, yet childbirth itself is traumatic.
Scar tissue is often ripped up as the baby pushes out. Those who have access to hospitals need both anterior and posterior episiotomies. Many infants die or suffer brain damage in the second phase of delivery because thick scarring prevents sufficient dilation of the cervix.
In many countries custom demands reinfibulation after each pregnancy to ensure women remain “tight as a virgin.”
Hanny Lightfoot-Klein, a social psychologist who spent six years studying female genital mutilation in
, notes that women without
reinfibulation fear their husbands will leave them. Sudan
Some claim to prefer it; in her 1989 book Prisoners of Ritual, she writes: “A tight fit makes the most of what is left after an extreme excision.”
The fight against #FGM continues