The British National Health Service– in a first-of-its-kind, just released study— has documented 467 “newly identified cases” of girls and women who had been genitally mutilated. Half live in London.
Previously, 1, 279 such girls and women were known to be receiving post-mutilation treatment. However, estimates suggest that up to “170,000 women and girls living in the UK may have undergone FGM.”
This is simply not acceptable.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is not at all like male circumcision. Not only is the capacity for sexual pleasure destroyed, complications are routine and include bleeding, painful urination, cysts, dangerous and recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections, the growth of scar tissue that make marital intercourse a nightmare and that turns childbirth into an experience of danger and torture. It increases the likelihood of newborn deaths. In addition, some girls and women develop fistulas and become incontinent. They are doomed to defecate and urinate without control. Absent effective surgery, this is a life-long condition which leads to the woman being shunned by her family.
And then there is a life-long post-traumatic stress disorder that normally accompanies the experience of having been forced into such suffering, usually by your mother or grandmother, and at the hands of a female specialist.
This is a grim picture indeed. But matters are far worse in non-Western countries. Earlier this year, the World Health Organization estimated that 125 million women have been genitally mutilated. They confirmed that this hellish procedure renders absolutely no health benefit and, on the contrary, harms its victims beyond measure and violates their human rights. As we know, the practice is common in 29 countries: in the Arab Muslim Middle East and in parts of Muslim, Christian, and animist Africa. According to UNICEF, “91% of married Egyptian women between 15-49 have been subjected to FGM.”
This particularly heinous crime is flying right under the radar in the West– not only in England, but also in America. A lawyer who deals with immigrant families in New York City, believes that it is the “capital” of FGM in America. She told me that “Doctors usually see it when the women go into labor and they do not know how to deal with the tremendous scarring
My colleagues Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Soraya Mire have each written harrowing, literary accounts of their own mutilations. Both have campaigned against it–as have many other Muslim and ex-Muslim women who are both Left and Right in orientation, including Dr. Nawal el-Sadawii.
One must ask: Then why does this custom persist?
Some insist that it is due entirely to the patriarchal refusal to have their sons marry “unclean” (un-mutilated) girls who might sexually stray. Thus, if the men and their parents of a given tribe, clan, or country can be otherwise persuaded, the custom will cease. Molly Melching, with whom I worked in 2008 at a G8 conference in Rome, has done very creative work in this regard in Africa. She persuaded the families of eligible grooms to accept uncut girls in marriage.
The custom persists in cultures where the value of a woman’s life is unimaginably cheap. Neither her existence nor her suffering– proper penance for the crime of being born female– count.
In the West, misguided concepts of “multi-cultural relativism” and fear of offending an increasingly hostile Muslim and African immigrant population has condemned those girls and women who live among us and who deserve their rights under Western law. This practice must be prevented in the West. This is tricky to accomplish because the practice is done in secrecy, sometimes on a “vacation” to one’s home country, sometimes by a certified physician in the West or in one’s country of origin. One might have to assume that all girls of a certain ethnicity or region will be subjected to FGM from the time they are five years old and act pre-emptively, thus running the risk of being accused of xenophobia, Islamophobia, or racism.
Failing that, those who perpetrate this crime and who live in the West must be prosecuted. And that too is tricky. If the mother and father are responsible and the girl and all her sisters are removed from her home–who will her extended family and community be? How well would a state home treat her?