Geography of Female Genital Mutilation:
The prevalence of FGM greatly varies among countries of the world. The procedure is currently practiced in about 28 African nations, some Middle Eastern countries, among a few minority groups in Asia and areas that immigrant communities reside. Frequency rates tend to fluctuate widely. On the lower end of the spectrum, the Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) and Uganda report a 5% occurrence rate; while in countries such as Egypt and Somalia up to 98% of their women population have experienced varying degrees of mutilations.
Estimates claim that 15% of all women worldwide who have been circumcised have endured the most severe form, yet between 80-90% of circumcisions are of this nature in Somalia, Sudan and Dijbouti (WHO fact sheet 2002). According to Amnesty International, many men and women in commonly FGM-practicing countries believe that FGM is so normal and universal that they cannot envision a woman who has not undergone the procedure. In a 1989 interview with Ahmed, a 32-year old Sudanese veterinarian, she noted that “Until recently it never occurred to me that there was anything strange about women’s circumcision.” Moreover, in a news report titled “Egyptian Court Allows Female Circumcision,” published in a 1997 Toronto Globe stated, “According to a government study97% of 14,779 Egyptian women polled had been circumcised. Eighty percent of those circumcised said they were pleased with the results.”
The increase of immigration and the dual penchant of tradition and fierce secrecy have caused female circumcisions to spill onto the soil of Europe, Canada, the Pacific and the United States. Typically, families of women and girls living in industrialized nations have the operation performed illegally by “doctors” of their own communities who share the same beliefs. More often however, the girls are sent abroad to their homeland to be mutilated or traditional practitioners are brought into the country and paid for by families pooling their resources.
FGM in the US
The American public who are aware of FGM usually assume that it barbarically practiced in faraway, remote places and does not reach into the homes or lives of the United States. Yet consider this alarming quote by an American doctor: “A baby girl, two years of age, had been troubled all her life with anuria and malnutrition. She had been treated by different doctors for different diseases, but with no benefit. The clitoris was completely buried beneath an adherent hood. In a few hours after circumcision, the red, angry boils on her face had perceptively paled; in thirty-six hours they were dried up. Her kidneys began to act normally, and she was transformed from a cross, peevish, discontented child into a state of perpetual sunshine.”
The year was 1915 and the quote is by a physician who was President of a Missouri medical university. He authored a paper, respectfully published in the American Journal of Clinical Medicine entitled, “Circumcision in the Female: Its Necessity and How to Perform It.”
Female circumcision further gained importance in the U.S. stemming from the influence of allopathic doctors who, playing upon the prevailing sexual anxieties of the times encouraged the procedure as a “cure” for a childhood diseases and disorders including polio, tuberculosis, bedwetting and such afflictions defined as masturbatory insanity. There are even startling reports of clitoridectomies performed by American and British medical professionals as recently as the 1950’s in an effort to cure nymphomania, melancholia, masturbation, hysteria, lesbianism and epilepsy.
In 1958, Dr. McDonald of Wisconsin published a paper that also argued the validity of FGM and of the specific techniques of performing the operation. In his paper, he notes several “successful” illustrative cases and offers visual diagrams of the procedure. One such “success” was described as: “A youngster was suspected of having epilepsy. At about two years of age, she was brought to my office with the mother and was left alone while I examined the mother. I noticed the child masturbating by rubbing back and forth in a sitting position. She finally toppled over in hyperventilation. The disorder disappeared with the simple expedient of female circumcision and the cleansing away of irritants”.
Although the medical profession soon thereafter abolished the practice, American doctors are still confronted with the abhorrent practice in patients that are from other cultures. As more and more immigrants enter the U.S. and transport their customs, their food, and their practices to American soil, thousands of children are subsequently being circumcised every year. In fact in 1998, it was reported that at least six thousand immigrants settled in Denver, CO from African countries continue to widely practice FGM.
And because most of these women continue to be sheltered, ignorant of their own bodies and have belief in myths such as if the clitoris is left alone, it will grow enormous and drag on the ground, that no man will marry an uncircumcised women, that the clitoris is so dangerous if it touches a male’s penis he will die and that if the clitoris touches a baby’s head during childbirth the baby will die, the secret practice of FGM will continue to thrive.
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