Female Genital Mutilation
On Monday, October 29th, Reza Aslan took an interesting spin on the issue of Female Genital Mutilation when going against the comedian Bill Maher’s perspective of violence and oppression against women. Maher stated that this is a problem in “Muslim countries” that occurs in extreme forms. According to Aslan, the argument was labeled as “unsophisticated”.
As of recently, I never knew much about Female Genital Mutilation simply because I have never tried to look more deeply into the issue. What I know is what I have heard or been told, without doing any research. A question that still fathoms me every day is, how do we know what to believe? First, do your research. Not every source will be bias free and full of explicit facts. After stumbling upon a video of Reza Aslan speaking up about Female Genital Mutilation in regards of Bill Maher, a comedian who spoke on the issue of it being a “Muslim” problem, my curiosity level went sky high. I wanted more information on this global issue, so I dove a little deeper.
What is Female Genital Mutilation?
For those who are unfamiliar, female genital mutilation is a procedure that alters or results in injury to the female organs for non-medical reasons. FGM is known to be concentrated in Africa and the Middle East, where over 125 million girls and women have undergone this procedure. There are many complications to this procedure and are no known health benefits. You may now be asking yourself about what this procedure is and why this procedure is carried through.
In reference to “cutting” there are many procedures that remove the tissue from the genital area. According to the World Health Organization, there are four categories of Female Genital Mutilation or cutting: Clitoridectomy or the removal of the clitoris, Excision, Infibulation, and cauterizing the genitalia. This is a procedure that is done without any type of anesthesia and are typically not performed in hygienic settings. This operation can also lead to many types of consequences such as severe bleeding, infections, excruciating pain and death. Many long time consequences are also common such as long delays during childbirth, difficulty urinating and painful sexual intercourse. More information on these complications can be read on http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/121897/female-genital-cutting-FGC.
There are many causes of FGM including cultural, religious and social factors which are huge factors when viewing this procedure as a violation of human rights versus tradition. One explanation for Female Genital Mutilation is the belief that it is part of raising a girl properly while also linking many of these procedures to premarital virginity. FGM is also in association with multiple ideas of femininity and modesty in many cultures. After the removal of body parts that are considered, “unclean”, girls can then be looked at as beautiful after going through with this procedure (WHO Media Centre). Although not all religious leaders see FGM relevant to religion, many practitioners believe that the practice has a religious support. Those who can uphold this practice varies, immensely. It lays in the hands of local structures of power and authority, religious leaders, circumcisers and medical personnel in which it is highly justified as a cultural tradition. This justification has spiraled to many arguments as to whether it is against women’s rights. When looking at Female Genital Mutilation from two opposite ends of a spectrum, it is either perceived as a procedure that is one of the steps to marriage and motherhood; which is a more positive perception. On the other end, it can be seen as control especially when relating it to a woman or girl’s virginity and sexual desire.
Areas where Female Genital Mutilation is Concentrated
Now, the argument can began to stir up when labeling where Female Genital Mutation is truly practiced. In July of 2013, a UNICEF report was made showing the percentage of girls and women who have undergone female genital mutilation. According to the map, FGM has occurred in 27 Central African countries, Iraq and Yemen, which are the two Middle Eastern countries. When speaking of Female Genital Mutation people are not conscientious when they label these areas as “Muslim Countries”. Research shows that a lot of the countries with current practices of Genital Female Mutation are indeed Muslim. However, saying that it is “Muslim countries” practicing this is predominately false considering there are many other countries with a high population of Muslims that do not practice FGM. According to a WHO report, more than 90 million girls and women went through this procedure in Africa alone. This practice has been passed down for centuries and includes Judaism and Christianity, not just Islam (UNICEF). To label this practice specifically to Muslims would disregard the fact that it is also practiced by Christians, as well. The Islamic-majority countries such as Iraq and Yemen actually have lower rates of this practice, according to a report made by Katie Sanders.
When speaking of global issues such as Female Genital Mutation, it is easy to make a broad generalization and label a whole group of people for the particular practices of smaller ones. Before saying about this subject I wanted to educate myself. This is not a black and white issue. There are Muslims who practice this, but there are also Christians who practice it as well. Language is the most powerful tool we have and it needs to be utilized accurately when speaking on such important issues in the world. As global leaders, we need to be globally aware and do our research, especially on an issue such as Female Genital Mutation. Now in reference to Aslan, have you ever painted everyone with the same brush?