Guardian.co.uk & Plan
Every year, around two million girls undergo excision (sometimes known as genital mutilation or cutting). Most of these girls live in sub-Saharan and north-eastern Africa.Historically, most girls were excised between the ages of 8 and 14 years. Today, the age of female genital cutting has a much wider range. It is performed on newborn babies, during childhood, during adolescence or even on mothers after they have given birth. However there is a general trend of declining age of excision in west Africa. In Mali, this tendency is particularly strong. In the past, the practice was a ritual for adolescent girls, but a recent study by Plan in five regions of the country found that the average age of excision was less than one year. In many cases infants were excised within their first week of life. Most excisions are performed without anaesthesia. For the great majority of girls, the first experience is extreme and unexpected pain. The most common immediate complication is excessive bleeding due to accidental cutting of a major vein or artery. Other typical complications include urinary retention, tetanus and other wound infections, sometimes resulting in septicaemia. The mental scarring can be just as significant. But for the women who practice excision it is often an important part of their tradition, a tradition they are reluctant to abandon because it helps them define who they are. Going into these communities and trying to impose western doctrine upon them won’t work. In the communities where it occurs, Plan is actively pursuing its abandonment – in the right way. Experience has taught its workers to respect the communities they work in and to listen to their members’ views and opinions. Changes of societal norms and behaviours have to come from within. Effecting such changes requires a constructive dialogue. Plan is continuing this dialogue in Mali and elsewhere, and is revolutionising women’s lives as a result.
(See orginal site for poll)