Close your eyes and imagine

Editor’s Note: This post was written by a graduate student in the Spring 2009 Feminist Theory class in The University of Akron’s Women’s Studies Program. To read more student posts, click here.

Close your eyes and imagine this happening to you, your daughter, your sister, your mother… genital1_2

The grandmother or an older woman officiates…
…all girls, without exception, must undergo this mutilation as
it is a requirement for marriage… the child, completely naked, is made to sit on a low
stool. Several women take hold of her and open her legs wide. After
separating her outer and inner lips, the operator sits down facing the child. With her kitchen knife, the operator first pierces and slices open the hood of the clitoris.
Then she begins to cut it out. While another woman wipes off the blood with a
rag, the operator digs with her sharp fingernail a hole the length of the
clitoris to detach and pull out the organ. The little girl, held down by the
women helpers, screams in extreme pain, but no one pays the slightest
attention. The operator finishes this job by entirely pulling out the
clitoris, cutting it to the bone with her knife. Her helpers again wipe off
the spurting blood with a rag. The operator then removes the remaining flesh,
digging with her finger to remove any remnant of the clitoris among the
flowing blood. The neighbor women are then invited to plunge their fingers
into the bloody hole to verify that every piece of the clitoris is removed.
After a short moment, the woman takes the knife again and cuts off
the inner lips (labia minor) of the victim. The helpers again wipe the blood
with their rags. Then the operator, with a motion of her knife, begins to
scrape the skin from the inside of the large lips… with the abrasion of the
skin completed… the operator closes the bleeding
large lips and fixes them one against the other with long acacia thorns. At
this stage of the operation, the child is so exhausted that she stops crying,
but often has convulsions. The women then force down her throat a concoction
of plants. The operator’s chief concern is to leave an opening no larger
than a kernel of corn or just big enough to allow urine, and later the
menstrual flow, to pass. The family honor depends on making the opening as
small as possible because with Somalis, the smaller the artificial passage
is, the greater the value of the girl and the higher the bride price. When
the operation is finished, the woman pours water over the genital area of the
girl and wipes her with a rag. Then the child, who was held down all this
time, is made to stand up. The women then immobilize her thighs by tying them
together with ropes of goat skin. This bandage is applied from knees to the
waist of the girl, and is left in place for about two weeks. The girl must
remain lying on a mat for the entire time, while all the excrement evidently
remains with her in the bandage. After that time, the girl is released and
the bandage is cleaned. Her vagina is now closed, and remains so until her

[An Unnamed Eyewitness, NOCIRC Symposium, 1989]

That is Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), and according to the World Health Organization (WHO), in May of 2008 an estimated 100 to 140 million girls and women are currently living with the consequences of FGM. In Africa, three million girls are at risk annually of being mutilated for no medical or health reason.

Some of the foolish excuses given to defend this human rights atrocity are the deep-rooted customs and traditions of ancient tribes, religion – particularly Islam, increasing the sexual experience for the husband that forces open the artificial opening created during the mutilation, making sure the girl is not overcome by sexual desire, family honor, aesthetic reasons, purification, enhancing fertility, a higher bride price…

The list goes on and on. However, none of the reasons have any intellectual or medical validity whatsoever!

Other countries in Asia and the Middle East are known to practice FGM, along with some immigrant communities in North America and Europe. Of the 47 countries in Africa, only 15 have banned FGM.

Even in the countries in which FGM is outlawed, it still occurs and the abusers go unpunished under the “religious law” that governs these tribal areas.

FGM is considered a human rights violation, according to the WHO. In 2008, WHO, the United Nations, UNICEF and the UNFPA joined together to release an official statement urging the abandonment of FGM.

To learn more about Female Genital Mutilation or to read testimonies from victims of FGM, please visit:

With continued education and global support, hopefully this horrific and barbaric practice of abusing women will end.


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