Saturday, 23 May 2015
Female genital mutilation from Africa to the west
Female circumcision has been practiced historically and continues today in more than 28African countries, with prevalence rates in each of these countries ranging from 5% to 99%.
These practices have taken many symbolic forms—a birth practice, a childhood or adolescent rite of passage, a symbol of reaching manhood or womanhood, a sign of tribal affiliation, or a protection against sexual activity prior to marriage.
Female circumcision is practiced in many African countries but, based on individual tribal or cultural practices, not necessarily in every region of each individual country. It is estimated that at least 100 million women are circumcised currently, representing various socioeconomic classes and different ethnic and cultural groups, including Christians, Muslims, Jews, and followers of indigenous African religions.
Circumcision was believed to be an economic necessity since the men would be away from their homes for long periods of time, and therefore, wanted assurance that any children born during their absence were their own.
Various types of female circumcision has been an integral portion of many of the cultural and religious practices in Africa for thousands of years.
These practices have taken many forms—a birth practice, a childhood or adolescent rite of passage, a symbol of reaching manhood or womanhood, a sign of tribal unity, a protection against sexual promiscuity.
Each cultural group has its own practices with its own meaning or meanings attached. Therefore, it is inevitable that these practices may continue as the African diaspora continues.
Western history of female circumcision
Excision and infibulation are by no means unique to Africa, as might be assumed in this discussion to present. These practices have existed and still exist in many parts of the world.
Female clitoral excision was practiced fairly extensively in the English-speaking world during the 19th Century. Some doctors thought that clitoridectomy was necessary not only to cure such sexual conditions as nymphomania (high sex drive), but also to prevent masturbation, hysteria, epilepsy, melancholia, and insanity (Sanderson, 1981).
In 1865, Isaac Baker Brown, elected President of the Medical Society of London and respected gynecological surgeon, published his views on female excision. Dr. Brown’s treatment was excision of the clitoris and of the labia minora, sometimes without even the prior knowledge of the patient. It is likely, according to Dr. Brown’s records, that several thousand such operations were performed during the mid- to late-1800s. In 1867, the British medical establishment repudiated Brown’s “cures” and expelled him from the Obstetrical Society of London, and the practice was abandoned.
Similar practices in the United States existed as well and, in the United States from the 1880s to the 1950s, excision was performed to supposedly prevent masturbation, frigidity, hysteria, depression, epilepsy, lesbianism, kleptomania, nymphomania, and melancholia. Even into the 1970s, 3,000 such operations were performed, and their costs were covered by Blue Cross Insurance until 1977 (Sanderson, 1981)
Criminalizing, on its surface, seems a justifiable response for practices that are thought to harm or maim another. Nevertheless, the history of criminalizing, particularly of cultural practices, tends to divert the practice underground, and therefore, lead to more rather than less concerns. Criminalization of such practices is also seen as paternalistic—one society’s attempts to elevate their own practices as the correct or moral ones and negate another culture’s practices as lesser or immoral. Statutes requiring educational initiatives rather than criminalization initiatives might be the most appropriate compromise.