Tribal Traditionalism: Part 1 Female Genital Mutilation

dm carlsen mrsdmcarlsen at
Mon Apr 15 09:02:05 MDT 2002

Jomo Kenyatta, the late President of Kenya, argued
that FGM was inherent in the initiation which is in
itself an essential part of being Kikuyu, to such an
extent that "abolition... will destroy the tribal
system".  A study in Sierra Leone reported a similar
feeling about the social and political cohesion
promoted by the Bundo and Sande secret societies, who
carry out initiation mutilations
and teaching. -Amnesty International

Those who like to get all googly-eyed about tribal
traditionalism might want to take a deeper look at
issues important to women - 51% of the world's
Below are some excerpts from

& Far East     

FGM originated in Africa. It was, and remains, a
cultural, not a religious practice.
The operation is forced on approximately 6,000 girls
per day, worldwide -- about one every 15 seconds.
Since FGM is practiced when the girls are young, they
are unable to give their informed consent.

FGM has spread to countries in or near Africa (e.g.
Egypt) which are Muslim. But FGM is rare or
nonexistent in many other Muslim countries. Examples
are Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey. Also, It
is not done in the Maghreb countries of Northwest

FGM is only occasionally found in Indonesia and other
predominately Muslim countries in Asia.

One of the motivations for this essay is the
misperception by many people that the practice is a
religious one. That belief has led to unjustified
religious intolerance against Muslims.
What It Is 
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is practiced in many
Sunna circumcision in which the tip of the clitoris
and/or its covering (prepuce) are removed.

Clitoridectomy where the entire clitoris, the prepuce
and adjacent labia are removed.

Infibulation  (a.k.a. Pharaonic circumcision) which is
a clitoridectomy followed by sewing up of the vulva. A
small opening is left to allow urine and menstrual
blood to pass.  A second operation is done later in
life to reverse some of the damage. In some cultures,
the woman is cut open by her husband on their wedding
night with a double edged dagger. She may be sewn up
again if her husband leaves on a long trip.
Because of poverty and lack of medical facilities, the
procedure is frequently done under less than hygienic
conditions, and often without anesthetic by other than
medically trained personnel. Anesthesia is rarely
used. Razor blades, knives or scissors are usually the
instruments used. The In the rural Mossi areas of
Burkina Faso, group female circumcisions are scheduled
every three years in many villages. Girls aged from 5
to 8 are assembled by their mothers into groups of up
to 20. The circumcision "uses a knife-like instrument,
the barga, reserved specifically for this purpose;
after each operation she simply wipes the knife on a
piece of cloth, sometimes rinsing it in water first." 


Why it is Done? 
The justification for the operation appears to be
largely grounded in a desire to terminate or reduce
feelings of sexual arousal in women so that they will
be much less likely to engage in pre-marital
intercourse or adultery. The clitoris holds a massive
number of nerve endings, and generates feelings of
sexual arousal when stimulated.
-FGM makes a woman's face more beautiful.

-If FGM is not done, older men may not be able to
match their  wives' sex drive and may have to resort
to illegal stimulating  drugs.

-An intact clitoris generates sexual arousal in women
which can  cause neuroses if repressed.

FGM has probably been performed for at least 1,400
years (some references estimate 2,000 years), and
started during what Muslims call "al-gahiliyyah" (the
era of ignorance).
Nawal El-Saadawi, a Muslim victim of infibulation,
"The importance given to virginity and an intact hymen
in these societies is the reason   why female
circumcision still remains a very widespread practice
despite a growing   tendency, especially in urban
Egypt, to do away with it as something outdated and
harmful. Behind circumcision lies the belief that, by
removing parts of girls' external genitals   organs,
sexual desire isminimized. This permits a female who
has reached the dangerous age of puberty and
adolescence to protect her virginity, and therefore
her honor, with   greater ease. Chastity was imposed
on male attendants in the female harem by castration  
which turned them into inoffensive eunuchs. Similarly
female circumcision is meant to   preserve the
chastity of young girls by reducing their desire for
sexual   intercourse."
Fatwas are published opinions by Muslim religious
scholars. They are non-binding in law. But Muslim
believers are expected to follow them. In Egypt, a
number of Fatwas have been issued by the influential
Egyptian Fatwa Committee on FGM:

1949-MAY-28: They decided that it is not a sin to
reject female circumcision.

1951-JUN-23: They stated that female circumcision is
desirable because  it curbs "nature" (i.e. sexual
drive among women). It stated that  medical concerns
over the practice are irrelevant.

1981-JAN-29: The Great Sheikh of Al-Azhar (the most
famous  University of the Islamic World) stated that
parents must follow the lessons of Mohammed and not
listen to medical authorities because the latter often
change their minds. Parents must do their duty and
have their daughters circumcised.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is
ambiguous about FGM. On one hand, Article 24,
paragraph 3 states: "States Parties shall take all
effective and appropriate measures with a view
to abolishing traditional practices prejudicial to the
of children.". But Article 29 paragraph 1.c calls for:
"The development of respect for the child's parents,
his or her own cultural identity, language and values,
for the national values of the country in which the
child is living, the country from which he or she may
originate, and for civilizations different from his or
her own."

Copyright © 1998 to 2001 incl. by Ontario Consultants
on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 1998-MAR-13
Last update: 2001-NOV-13
Author: B.A. Robinson

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