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Monday, August 31, 2009

KENYA: Killing the cut but keeping tradition alive

August 31, 2009
Source: IRIN

MERU, 31 August 2009 (IRIN) - An ancient myth from Meru, eastern Kenya, tells of a war during which all the healthy men in the village were deployed to fight an enemy tribe, only to return and find the women had been impregnated by the men left behind, who had been deemed incapable of defending the village.

From that day on, the legend continues, Meru women have had their clitorises removed to curb their sexual appetites and ensure their marital fidelity.

The practice of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), once the foundation of womanhood among the Meru, is slowly dying out as people become more aware of the physical risks involved and its reinforcement of women's inferior position in society. There is still some resistance, however, with many believing abandoning FGM/C will undermine Meru values still considered intrinsic to young girls becoming women in the community.

"Female circumcision rites had a dual role; the cut, yes, but there was also the period of seclusion following the cut, during which girls were schooled in the ways of women in Meru society – how they should behave in polite society, how they should interact with men and how to be a respectable member of society," said Gilbert Musai, of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Meru, which, with the Catholic Relief Services NGO, runs an alternative rite-of-passage (ARP) that teaches local girls both new and old-school values as a replacement for FGM/C. "We are trying to find a way to link the old system to the new system."

Old and new practices

More than 2,000 girls have been through the ARP in several Meru locations since 2007, and according to officials of the diocese, the increase in class sizes and requests for more sessions is proof that they are having the desired impact. The course lasts one week and culminates in a colourful graduation ceremony attended by parents and local leaders.

"Key to our success is the fact that we don't put down local traditions; we don't go around bad-mouthing Meru culture, and apart from the cut – and in order to remain friendly with cultural leaders we call it the cut and not mutilation – we teach values that these girls would ordinarily learn in preparation for womanhood, coupled with modern advice," said Joseph M'eruaki, the diocese's social development director.

FGM/C has been illegal since 2001 under the Children's Act, and as a result, the counselling portion of the rite has been lost – circumcisers perform their duties under the cover of darkness, never spending enough time with the girls to impart traditional values. The ARP fulfils that role.

"Meru culture is very rich and varied, and we teach the girls that even with education, which they should pursue earnestly, they must continue to respect their own culture and be assertive in a respectful way," said Rael Mugambi, a facilitator at the Chiakariga Girls' High School, which recently hosted an ARP.

Lessons include self-awareness, Meru cultural values, relationships and marriage, as well as substance abuse and HIV/AIDS.

The classrooms are named after prominent Kenyan women – doctors, lawyers and legislators – to encourage the girls' aspirations. Samantha, 16, one of the girls attending the course, says she wants to be a vascular surgeon and hopes one day to become as well-respected as the women whose names grace the classrooms.

Mixed support

But while Samantha's parents support her education and her choice not to be circumcised, not all the girls enjoy the same backing. Doris, 21, did not tell her parents she would be attending an ARP but only a diocese seminar.

"My older sisters are all circumcised and so far, I have refused to give in to the pressure to be cut," she told IRIN/PlusNews. "My parents believe that they will get more goats [bride price] for me if I am circumcised; I think that's why they are insisting on it."

In the meantime, her parents have refused to pay for any further education or to support Doris in her quest to open a dress-making business.

The women who carry out the procedure are equally resistant to change - not only are they losing their position as valued and respected members of society, they are also losing income.

"These women get goats, local brew and cash in exchange for their services – one girl's circumcision can bring as much as 5,000 shillings [about US$70], so you can understand their resistance," M'eruaki said.

The diocese has tried to start a dialogue with the circumcisers, said M'eruaki, convincing some to join local micro-finance schemes to find alternative income. However, the illegal nature of the practice means they are very hard to reach.

"Things happen slowly – when we started there was a lot of resistance, but today we find the very people opposing us come to ask us to hold more ARPs," he added. "Slowly but surely, we will achieve the change that is needed."

The diocese aims to start the ARPs in all its parishes in Meru, eventually letting each parish run its own every year; one parish is already running the programme independently of diocesan support.

More than half of all Meru women undergo FGM/C and while an impact assessment has yet to be done on the diocese's ARP, separate alternative rites have registered some success. In 2005, the Family Planning Association of Kenya, through Ntanira na Kithomo, or "initiate me through education", contributed to a 13 percent decline in the prevalence of FGM/C in Meru North District.

Murugi in war on the female ‘cut’

August 30, 2009 By NATION Team Thirty-seven communities in Kenya are still carrying out female genital mutilation 10 years after the government banned it. Gender minister Esther Murugi on Sunday criticised the custom, adding that it was most prevalent among the Maasai, where it is performed on 93 per cent of the women. Speaking at Kinoru in Meru during a public declaration by the Njuri Ncheke to abandon FMG, Ms Murugi said the ‘cut’ was now being carried out secretly, even by trained medical professionals. Ms Murugi said about 60 per cent of women in the Meru region undergo the rite, while in Central Province the figure stands at least 30 per cent. “It is deplorable that these communities practise FGM despite the results often being tragic, with many women bleeding to death,” she said. At the same time, a project to reward women who quit their work as female circumcisers with cows has begun to bear fruit in West Pokot. The 10 women who received 20 cows have offered seven heifers, which will be given to other circumcisers in the fight against female genital mutilation (FGM). The women were given the livestock six years ago by the Kapenguria-based Setat Women’s Organisation, which is involved in the fight against FGM in North Rift. Setat executive director Lillian Plapan said the heifers would be given to circumcisers who agree to give up the custom. “We realised that after talking to the circumcisers to stop FGM against young girls during our campaign, they went back to the custom due to idleness and we saw that one way of keeping them busy was to start an income-generating activity of their choice,” Mrs Plapan said. About 2,000 girls drop out of school each year due to FGM and early marriages in West Pokot District. Mrs Dorcas Ng’imor, a gender activist in North Rift, said many parents in the Pokot community still subjected their daughters to circumcision, and then married off soon after. Female circumcision and early marriages have also been blamed for high school dropout among girls in the Kerio Valley region. The Marakwet Girls and Women Project has launched a campaign against FGM. Reported by Charles Wanyoro, Peter Ng’etich, Edward Koech and Barnabas Bii

KENYA: Faith Mukwanyaga: "Giving birth was like being circumcised all over again"

August 2009 (IRIN) MERU, Faith Mukwanyaga, 48, a married mother-of-four in Meru, eastern Kenya, remembers the pain of the female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) she underwent as though it were yesterday. Today, Mukwanyaga is a facilitator for an alternative rite-of-passage organized by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Meru with the support of the Catholic Relief Services NGO, using her own experience as a warning to young girls about the dangers of the practice. "Circumcision was something I looked forward to, knowing it would mean I had become a woman at last. I knew that women who were not circumcised never got married and never earned the respect of the community - I saw them discriminated against by their peers, and I didn't want to be like them. "One day when I was nine years old, my family prepared a large amount of traditional brew and lots of women came to my house to cook a feast. I knew my circumcision was soon because my female relatives had been preparing me for the pain of the cut by pinching me in the days before. I and several other girls were then stripped naked and wrapped in blankets before being washed; the ladies sang for us as the circumciser cut the girls one by one - she used the same tool. "The pain was indescribable - my whole body hurt, I almost fainted. I bled so much that I had to have special herbs put on the wound to stop the bleeding. I then spent several days alone at home healing. One lady was assigned to me to wash me and feed me and ensure I healed properly. During the healing period, I was taught other things; I was prepared for sex and marriage. "When I got married, I found it difficult to enjoy sex; although I had a healthy sex drive, my husband found it very difficult to please me sexually, and I have always felt that something was missing from my sex life. "Giving birth was terrible. Each time I gave birth, the scarring from my circumcision meant I had severe vaginal tearing and bleeding, and I had to stay in the hospital for about a week after birth, when other women went home the same day they delivered. Giving birth was like being circumcised all over again. "I would never allow my girls to go through circumcision - the physical effects alone are a terrible and painful burden, but even the counselling I received after the cut [only] prepared me for marriage. My peers who were never circumcised all went on to complete school and have successful careers, but I had been told the most important thing in life is to be married and respected in the community; many of these women never married, but because of their careers they are respected. "Today I tell young girls about my own experience so that they can aspire to greater things than just marriage; they should seek education, not the pain and suffering of female circumcision."

15 parents nabbed over FGM

August 31, 2009 BY CORRESPONDENT THARAKA, Kenya, Aug 31 - Fifteen parents have been arrested in Tharaka South District for attempting to have their daughters circumcised. Tunyai District Officer Robert Kimosop on Monday said more arrests would follow and any parent found carrying out the outlawed cut would be prosecuted. The news comes even as 600 schoolgirls were rescued before they underwent Female Genital Mutilation in Meru and went through an alternative rite of passage facilitated by the Catholic Diocese of Meru. Majority of the girls, drawn mainly from Igembe North and South, Maara and Tharaka South districts said their families intended to have them circumcised over the just concluded August holidays. Meru Diocese social development coordinator Joseph Eruaki said the girls took part in seminars that ensured they embraced their cultural identity without violating their basic human rights. Mr Eruaki said the church extensively consulted respected elders’ council, parents and other stakeholders to assist in identifying valid cultural aspects to be imparted to the youth during trainings. He said the alternative rite of passage project does not aim at changing the Meru culture but enhances values that promote human dignity. The girls were trained in topics like adverse effects of FGM, their human rights, HIV/Aids prevention and control, relationships with the opposite sex, and positive and negative traditional practices. During the training the graduands narrated their ordeals before they came to the workshop, with one claiming that she had to escape from her grandparents’ home after she learnt of their plans to have her secretly circumcised and spent the night in the bush. Speaking in Meru at the weekend, Gender Minister Esther Murugi said out of the 42 tribes in the country, only five did not practice FGM.

Egypt: Female circumcision crackdown

August 30, 2009
By Bikya Masr

CAIRO: Reports on Thursday said that the first doctor in Egypt was being charged under a new Egyptian law that forbids the controversial practice of female genital mutilation, or FGM. The man allegedly illegally circumcised a young girl last week and is being charged after a local hospital notified the authorities following the 11-year-old girl’s admittance into the hospital with heavy bleeding as a result of the procedure.

According to al-Arabiya news organization, the doctor performed the procedure at the girl’s Minya home – some 400 miles south of Cairo – for 150 Egyptian pounds ($27).

He said he performed the operation using a scalpel and the girl remains in critical condition.

In summer 2008, Egypt’s Parliament passed a law that ostensibly bans the controversial procedure. Not that it should have needed to legislate against FGM – it was already officially banned in the country during the mid-nineties – but with doctors continuing to perform the procedure on girls as young as five, Parliament felt it was necessary to intercede.

The new law stipulates a fine of 1,000 Egyptian pounds ($185) to 5,000 Egyptian pounds ($900) and a prison term of anywhere between three months and two years if caught performing FGM.

However, Ahmed Gad al-Karim, 69, is not the first doctor to be charged with carrying out this procedure. While he may be the first under the revised government law, other doctors remain in prison due to the procedure.

In June 2007, 12-year-old Badour Shakour died as a result of a circumcision operation. The death sparked a battle within the country over the use of the controversial medical procedure. Her death galvanized women and children’s rights groups to action, where they pushed for more stringent penalties against those who carry out FGM.

Shakour’s cause of death was an overdose of anesthetic, but her memory was the cause of an awakening that reached to the upper echelons of government.

A 2005 report by UNICEF contended that 97 percent of single Egyptian women between 15 and 49 have undergone some form of FGM, although other estimates put the number at 70 percent.

Opposition to the bill was strong. Member of Parliament Mohamed Al Omda of a small opposition party, brought his three daughters to the floor of the People’s Assembly in protest of the ban last year. One of his daughters carried a sign that read: “No to any attempt to forbid what is divinely allowed. No to any attempt to allow what is divinely forbidden.” Two of his three daughters are circumcised.

Many conservative Muslims in the country maintain that the practice is condoned in Islam. The country’s Muslim Brotherhood has come under fire over many of their members’ denouncements of Parliament’s bill. The powerful Islamic group, and many Islamic scholars, argues that the ban is akin to “imposing Western ideals” on Egyptian society, which they maintain is based in Sharia.

“Religion does not prohibit or criminalize female circumcision,” prominent Islamic scholar Mustafa Al Shaka said to the local press shortly after the bill was passed.

Progressive Islamic scholar Gamal Al Banna – brother of late Brotherhood founder Hassan Al Banna – says there is simply no precedent in Islam for this kind of practice. He argues that it was imported into society as a means of forcing women into the background of everyday life.

“It didn’t exist in Islamic history and those who argue it is Islamic or part of the Sharia are wrong,” the 87-year-old argued. “Religion does not subscribe to this kind of treatment that can cause death and other horrible results. It is un-Islamic.”

Al Azhar, the Sunni Islamic world’s most notorious religious authority, agrees with the elder Al Banna. In 2007, the Council of Islamic Research issued a statement saying that FGM and cutting are “harmful, have no basis in core Islamic law and should not be practiced.”

But Egyptian society remains stratified into opposing camps over the issue, says the National Council for Motherhood and Childhood Sectretary General Moushira Khattab. She believes that although the ban will remain permanent that it will take time to educate the population over the long term effects of cutting a woman’s clitoris.

“Nobody is going to say no to something that has negative effects caused by the procedure and in time Egyptians will see this,” she begins, “so the punishments that are being handed out against those who conduct this practice is vitally necessary.”


40% of Somali & Ethiopian Women in Netherlands Genitally Mutilated

August 29, 2009

THE HAGUE, 30/05/09 - Four out of ten Somali and Ethiopian women who give birth in the Netherlands have been genitally mutilated. This is relatively few, Health State Secretary Jet Bussemaker wrote to the Lower House on Friday.

The figures were recorded by research organisation TNO after questioning midwives. The number of cases of female circumcision is fairly low, since nine out of ten women in the countries of origin have been circumcised, Bussemaker reasoned.

To obtain a better picture of female circumcision, the state secretary previously announced that midwives would be registering this form of mutilation. They will also be trained in how to discuss circumcision with families.

I realise that the populace concerned is small, but the percentages are shocking. Criminal. And dont think this is just Islam. Ethiopia is a Christian nation. Christ, what a mess. But there is hope over to the south of Europe. I quote:

Italy plans to launch a campaign to focus attention on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in a bid to stem its practice in the country, Equal Opportunities Minister Mara Carfagna said on Wednesday. Some 150 million women are victims of the practice world-wide, with an estimated 35-40 thousand cases in Italy by foreigners living in the country, said Carfagna who called FGM "torture, a barbaric action".

The government plans to run a series of ads on state-run television in a bid to convince parents to end the practice.It is also setting up a committee to deal with the problem, which Carfagna said is "an underestimated phenomenon". "I plan to use my ministry's funds to combat and prevent a practice which violates human rights," she told a news conference. The government has already earmarked some 3.5 million euros and plans to add another four million to back 21 projects set up to deal with FGM.

FGM, which is also known as female circumcision, covers a number of different practices, usually involving either removing the clitoris or sewing up the vagina. The most severe form, infibulation, entails both, and accounts for around 15% of all procedures. An estimated 150 million women around the world have undergone genital mutilation, while some 6,000 girls are mutilated every day, according to the London-based human rights organization Amnesty International.

It is practiced in at least 28 African countries, and is also common in some Middle Eastern states, including Egypt, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates. Italy passed a law in January 2006 outlawing FGM. IT lays down jail terms of up to 12 years for those who carry out the procedure on adult women and up to 16 years if it is carried out on a minor or in exchange for money. Doctors caught carrying out FGM are banned from their profession for up to ten years. The law is applicable even if the woman is operated on abroad.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Government launches study into Female Genital Mutilation

August 27, 2009 Source: Department of Health GPs and health professionals working in maternity, obstetrics, gynaecology, and sexual health are today being asked to take part in new study into Female Genital Mutilation in a bid to better ensure that services to protect women and girls are as effective as possible. The study aims to increase the Government’s knowledge about women and girls affected by Female Genital Mutilation in England. It will also look at how the training needs of key health professionals could be improved and provide vital information for the development of appropriate sexual and reproductive health services. The findings will inform the forthcoming cross-government strategy on tackling Violence Against Women and Girls. Female Genital Mutilation, also known as female genital cutting, can cause long-term mental and physical suffering, difficulty in giving birth, infertility and even death. It is illegal in the UK. Dame Christine Beasley, England’s Chief Nursing Officer said: “Up to 24,000 young girls in the UK are at risk of Female Genital Mutilation. We have put training in place to support frontline healthcare staff in responding where they see or hear of this practice taking place. “By taking part in this research, Nurses will be helping to ensure that the training available to them in this difficult area is refined and improved. “I urge all nurses to log on and take part in this important research. “ Health Minister, Gillian Merron said: “Female Genital Mutilation is an extremely harmful practice and is illegal. It violates women’s most basic human rights. Keeping children and young people safe is a top priority for the health service and the findings of this research will be essential in ensuring that we continue to offer women the best possible protection. “Often, women affected by Female Genital Mutilation first come into contact with the NHS through maternity, obstetrics and gynaecology and sexual health services. I am therefore asking all these health professionals to take a stand against this practice by taking part in this research.”

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Genital mutilation grounds for asylum bid

August 25, 2009
By Bob Egelko

SAN FRANCISCO -- A Northern California family whose daughter underwent forced circumcision in Indonesia is entitled to seek political asylum in the United States, a federal appeals court said Monday.

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco criticized immigration officials who, in ordering the family deported, decided that the girl had suffered no serious harm when her genitals were mutilated as a newborn.

Any form of female genital mutilation is "horrifically brutal" and amounts to persecution under established precedents in federal courts and the Justice Department's immigration courts, the court said.

The 3-0 ruling gives Bob Benito Benyamin, his wife, Anabella Rodriguez, and their three daughters another chance to challenge deportation to Indonesia, where the oldest daughter underwent forced circumcision at 5 days old in 1992 at the orders of a grandmother. The family said she has felt pain from the procedure ever since.

The family entered the United States legally in 1999 and applied for asylum in 2002 after Benyamin's business visa expired. They live in the Sacramento area, their lawyer said.

Federal courts have granted asylum to women who fled their countries after being genitally mutilated or threatened with mutilation. In this case, the parents argued that one of their younger daughters would face ritual mutilation if deported to Indonesia, and that sparing her from deportation would be meaningless if the rest of her family was deported.

In denying asylum, immigration judges cited a State Department report that said female genital mutilation as practiced in Indonesia "involves minimal short-term pain, suffering and complications."

Contrasting the procedure to a court's description of mutilation in Ethiopia, where the genitals are cut with knives and recovery takes 40 days, immigration courts said the Indonesian girl had not been persecuted and that neither she nor her family was entitled to asylum.

But the appeals court said its rulings and a World Health Organization report have found that even in its least drastic form, the genital mutilation of women and girls causes physical and psychological harm and the risk of serious complications.

An immigration review board's "attempt to parse the distinction between differing forms of female genital mutilation is ... a threat to the rights of women in a civilized society," Judge Margaret McKeown said in the court ruling.

The court returned the case to the immigration board to decide whether the younger daughter faced a likelihood of genital mutilation in Indonesia. If so, the board must decide whether the entire family is eligible for asylum or whether the parents and their daughters might instead be sent to Venezuela, the mother's native country. The younger daughter was born there.

Robert Ryan, an attorney in San Francisco who represents the family, said the court had corrected a series of legal errors by the immigration judges, including their downplaying of the older daughter's trauma.

"There's no such thing as mild female genital mutilation," he said.

FGM/C Challenge

July 2008 A World Fit For Children Goal: End harmful traditional or customary practices, such as early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation, which violate the rights of children and women. "Even though cultural practices may appear senseless or destructive from the standpoint of others, they have meaning and fulfill a function for those who practise them. However, culture is not static; it is in constant flux, adapting and reforming. People will change their behaviour when they understand the hazards and indignity of harmful practices and when they realize that it is possible to give up harmful practices without giving up meaningful aspects of their culture." - Female Genital Mutilation, A joint WHO/UNICEF/UNFPA statement, World Health Organization, Geneva, 1997. The challenge Female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) violates girls’ and women’s human rights, denying them their physical and mental integrity, their right to freedom from violence and discrimination and, in the most extreme cases, their lives. Defined as "the partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for cultural or other non-therapeutic reasons1" FGM/C is grouped into four types3 according to the World Health Organization: • Excision of the prepuce (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris), with or without excision of part or the entire clitoris. • Excision of the clitoris with partial or total excision of the labia minora (the smaller inner folds of the vulva). • Excision of part or all of the external genitalia and stitching or narrowing of the vaginal opening (infibulation). • Unclassified, which includes pricking, piercing or incising of the clitoris and/or labia; stretching of the clitoris and/or labia; cauterization by burning of the clitoris and surrounding tissue; scraping of tissue surrounding the opening of the vagina (angurya cuts) or cutting of the vagina (gishiri cuts); introduction of corrosive substances or herbs into the vagina to cause bleeding or to tighten or narrow the vagina; and any other procedure that can be included in the definition of female genital mutilation noted above. < h2> The procedure is generally carried out on girls between the ages of 4 and 14; it is also done to infants, women who are about to be married and, sometimes, to women who are pregnant with their first child or who have just given birth. It is often performed by traditional practitioners, including midwives and barbers, without anaesthesia and using scissors, razor blades or broken glass. FGM/C is always traumatic. Immediate complications include excruciating pain, shock, urine retention, ulceration of the genitals and injury to adjacent tissue. Other complications include septicaemia (blood poisoning), infertility and obstructed labour. Haemorrhaging and infection have caused death. A violation of rights FGM/C is a fundamental violation of human rights. In the absence of any perceived medical necessity, it subjects girls and women to health risks and has life-threatening consequences. It violates rights to the highest attainable standard of health and to bodily integrity, among others. Furthermore, it could be argued that girls (under the age of 18) cannot be said to give informed consent to such a potentially damaging practice as FGM/C. FGM/C is, further, an extreme example of discrimination based on sex. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women defines discrimination as "any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field" (article 1). Used as a way to control women's sexuality, FGM/C is a main manifestation of gender inequality and discrimination "related to the historical suppression and subjugation of women4" denying girls and women the full enjoyment of their rights and liberties. As stated in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, all actions concerning children should be undertaken in the best interests of the child (article 3.1). The Convention further asserts that children should have the opportunity to develop physically in a healthy way, receive adequate medical attention and be protected from all forms of violence, injury or abuse. While 'the best interests of the child' may be subject to cultural interpretation, FGM/C is an irreparable, irreversible abuse and therefore violates girls' right to protection. Commitments to end the practice Some governments have been reluctant to address FGM/C. Considered a sensitive issue, it has been widely viewed as a private act by individuals and family members rather than state actors. But the health and psychological consequences of the practice, as well as its underlying causes, make it imperative for societies, governments and the entire international community to take action towards ending FGM/C. The international community has broadly recognized the human rights implications of FGM/C. In Vienna in 1993, the UN World Conference on Human Rights called the elimination of all forms of violence against women a human rights obligation: "In particular, the World Conference stresses the importance of working towards the elimination of violence against women in public and private life… and the eradication of any conflicts which may arise between the rights of women and the harmful effects of certain traditional or customary practices.5" There are many international treaties and conventions that call for an end to harmful traditional practices, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. A specific focus on FGM/C is found in UN General Assembly Resolution 56/128 on Traditional or Customary Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Girls, and in the Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol), adopted by the African Union in 2003. Many of the countries where FGM/C occurs have passed legislation prohibiting the practice, and some countries with large immigrant populations -- Canada, France, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States -- have also outlawed it. Some countries have legal clauses granting asylum to women who fear being mutilated if they return to their country of origin. For example, Section 273.3 of the Canadian Criminal Code protects children who are ordinarily resident in Canada (as citizens or landed migrants) from being removed from the country and subjected to FGM/C. The effects of domestic laws on FGM/C prevalence levels are largely understudied; as an indicator, they need to be more closely monitored. At the UN General Assembly Special Session on Children in 2002, governments forged a commitment to end FGM/C by 2010. In February 2003, 30 African countries vowed to end FGM/C and called for the establishment of an International Day of Zero Tolerance. The pledge was reinforced in June of that year at the Afro-Arab Expert Consultation, whose Cairo Declaration highlighted the provision of existing legal tools for the prevention of FGM/C. UNICEF and FGM/C UNICEF first outlined its position on FGM/C in 1979 as a follow-up to the WHO Seminar on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (Khartoum Seminar): "The health hazards and psychological risks, long term as well as immediate, to young girls as a result of the practice of female excision in its varied forms are a serious source of concern to UNICEF.6 " In 1980, at the Mid-Decade Conference for Women, UNICEF announced that its support to anti-FGM activities was "based on the belief that the best way to handle the problem is to trigger awareness through education of the public, members of the medical profession and practitioners of traditional health care with the help of local collectives and their leaders.7" UNICEF, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and WHO in 1997 released a joint statement to bring about a substantial decline in FGM/C in 10 years and to end the practice within three generations. The statement calls for a multidisciplinary approach and emphasizes the importance of teamwork at the national, regional and global levels. It further identifies the need to educate the public and lawmakers on the importance of ending FGM/C, to tackle FGM/C as a violation of human rights, in addition to being a danger to women's health, and to encourage every country where it is practised to develop a national, culturally specific plan to end FGM/C. In its Medium-Term Strategic Plans (MTSP) for 2002-2005 and 2006-2009, UNICEF sees protecting children from violence, exploitation and abuse (including FGM/C) as an integral component for the protection of their rights to survival, growth and development, and consequently to the achievement of several of the Millennium Development Goals. 1. WHO, UNICEF and UNFPA (1997), Female Genital Mutilation: A joint statement, World Health Organization, Geneva. 2. WHO (2000), 'Female Genital Mutilation', Fact Sheet No. 241. Accessed on the Web at (21 Oct. 2005). 3. WHO, UNICEF and UNFPA (1997), Female Genital Mutilation: A joint statement, op.cit. 4. Ontario Human Rights Commission, Policy on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), Ontario Human Rights Commission, Toronto, Revised 22 November 2000, p. 7. 5. United Nations, 'Report of the World Conference on Human Rights, Report of the Secretary General,' Section II: Adoption of the Vienna Declaration and Report of the Conference, para 38, General Assembly document A.CONF.157.24 (Part I), 13 October 1993. 6. Hosken, Fran P., The Hosken Report: Genital and Sexual Mutilation of Females, 4th Edition, Women's International Network News, Lexington, Massachusetts (USA), 1994, p. 334. 7. UNICEF Press Release (#IN/80/8, 7 July 1980), cited in Ferguson, Ian, and Pamela Ellis, Female Genital Mutilation: A review of current literature, unedited working document WD1995-15e, Research, Statistics and Evaluation Directorate, Policy Sector, Department of Justice, Canada.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Seventh Circuit Calls Asylum Denial 'Absurd'

August 24, 2009 (CN) - The 7th Circuit gave a Kenyan family a second shot at asylum, saying the immigration judge's reasons for denying the petition "lapsed into incoherence" by refusing to recognize female circumcision as a ground for protection. Petitioner Francis Gatimi sought asylum after defecting from a violent tribal group called the Mungiki. The group requires women, including the wives of defectors, to undergo female circumcision. When Gatimi defected in 1999, Mungiki members allegedly broke into his home looking for him, and when they couldn't find him, killed his servant. They came back a month later, looking for his wife, who then fled to the United States with her newborn child, according to Gatimi. The group allegedly returned a third time, killed Gatimi's family pets, burned two vehicles, and threatened to gouge out his eyes. He said the police promised to protect him, so his wife agreed to return to Kenya. But within a week, the Mungiki threatened to kill him unless his wife got a clitoridectomy. He and his family fled to the United States. Gatimi returned to Kenya briefly to see if conditions had changed, but was allegedly kidnapped and tortured by the Mungiki. As soon as he was released, he joined his family in the United States. The immigration judge ruled that the Mungiki's actions were not persecution, but merely "mistreatment." "That is absurd," Judge Posner wrote for the three-judge panel, adding that female genital mutilation is a recognized ground for asylum. The Chicago-based appeals court also rejected the Board of Immigration Appeals' finding that Mungiki defectors don't qualify as members of a "particular social group" because they can't be readily identified. "The only way, on the Board's view, that the Mungiki defectors can qualify as members of a particular social group is by pinning a target to their back with the legend, 'I am a Mungiki defector,'" Posner wrote. This makes no sense, Posner said. "Women who have not yet undergone female genital mutilation in tribes that practice it do not look different from anyone else. A homosexual in a homophobic society will pass as heterosexual." The board also ignored evidence of the Kenyan government's complicity in the Mungiki's violence, the 7th Circuit found. It vacated the board's ruling and remanded.

Official Medical Quackery - "Preventative" Sexual Mutilations

August 22, 2009
By James DeMeo

Growing International Crimes of Sexual Mutilations:
Both tribal and modern societies do them.

While proclaimed as a "cancer preventative", the surgical removal of women's sexual organs based upon flawed "genetic" testing methods is quack-junk science, and is no different from African Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), except that it is wrapped up with "medical" magic and superstition, rather than purely "moral-taboo" justifications. In fact, one could say, the Africans are closer to the truth, in that they openly proclaim female sexual organs (clitoris, labia) are "ugly, dirty, offensive, and ought to be cut out". The MD's doing this form of Western FGM won't say that so directly, but wrap their sadism in the language of "science".

Below is the Abstract of a paper I gave on the subject some years ago -- my only correct to it would be, to note this is not just an American phenomenon, but has similar expressions in hospital surgery world-wide. Such as the introduction of female genital mutilation procedures into hospitals within the Muslim world, something that should be classified as no different from branding of slaves with a red-hot iron (done in "hospitals" to make it "sanitary") and opposed by every decent physician and international health organization.... but isn't:

James DeMeo PhD: "Modern Horrific Medicine: Unnecessary Sexual Surgery", Presented to the 3rd Int. Symposium on Circumcision, National Organization of Circumcision Information Resource Centers, Washington, DC. 1994.

One of the more telling methods for understanding the urge to mutilate the genitals of young males and females is to view the problem cross-culturally. There is a cross-cultural pattern recorded in the anthropological literature, demonstrating that cultures which engage in genital mutilations also have, in general: high levels of political hierarchy, premarital sexual taboos, subordinated female status, taboos regarding vaginal, hymenal, and menstrual blood, male dominance over childbirth matters (couvade), an emphasis upon military glory, high levels of alcoholic aggression, and belief in a moralistic high god. The argument is raised that the sadistic energy directed towards the sexual organs of children is but only one expression of a larger cultural component of sadistic energy more generally directed at sexual functions, especially childhood and female sexuality. From the cross-cultural and other scientific evidence, one can make an extended critique of other ritual sexual mutilations not generally considered to be in the same category as genital mutilations. Unnecessary surgeries upon the sexual organs of women in modern American hospitals are critically reviewed from this new perspective, wherein the same medical shamans who perform painful and unnecessary genital mutilations on children -- the obstetrical/gynecological specialists -- are given similar critical decision-making roles for a variety of other generally unnecessary but often routine and common sexual mutilations: episiotomy, Cesarean section childbirth, and hysterectomy all have been criticized by health reformers for their generally unnecessary nature, and for the subsequent problems they create for the women subject to them. Here, we view them as expressions of culture-wide sexual anxiety and sadism. For the patient, such sexual mutilations dampen or extinguish sexual feeling, thereby relieving the individual of sexual anxiety. For the medical surgeon, the mutilations provide an outlet for scientifically rationalized sadistic urges. Carrying the critique farther, the current "epidemics" of breast and prostate cancer are critically reviewed as expressions of epidemic mass sexual hysteria and sexual anxiety, lacking in a solid scientific foundation. The absence of serious investigation of natural healing methods, the broadening of diagnostic criteria to define larger numbers of healthy people into the "sick" category, and the use of medical-police tactics to imprison and suppress health reform dissenters, are reviewed as critical components in the "scientific" rationalization of traditional hospital mutilations as "treatment". This analysis is particularly relevant where cultural propaganda regarding the "unhealthy" nature of the normal breast is used to justify "enhancement" mutilations, or where unscientific "genetic" screening methods are employed to convince anxious but otherwise completely healthy women into having "preventative" breast-amputation mutilations. Other high-tech screening methods, such as mammography and other forms of x-ray when used for diagnosis in the absence of independent clinical evidence of pathology are critically reviewed as factors in the "elevation in cancer rates". In short, American medicine is awash in a host of various forms of unnecessary, scientifically invalid and barbaric ritualized genital/sexual mutilations. Most of these are as bad or worse than anything practiced by other cultures, such as infibulation of little girls in Africa. While this latter African practice has attracted much attention and criticism in the American press, circumcision of baby boys, and other "modern medical" mutilations, have not.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

UN Releases Report on Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting

August 19th 2009
By vital voices staff

The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) recently released the ‘Global Consultation on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting’, in which the global trends and prevalence of FGM/C are examined. A World Health Organization estimate indicates that between 100 and 140 million girls worldwide have undergone some form of either practice, with the UN Children’s Fund estimating that 3 million girls are at risk of being mutilated or cut annually.

In consideration of legal provisions to protect against FGM/C, Faiza Jama Mohamed of Equality Now explains that the practice constitutes torture as a violation of fundamental human rights and in accordance with the UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Despite the pervasiveness of FGM/C on the African continent, only 16 countries have enacted laws criminalizing the practice. Inconsistencies in defining FGM/C, as well as in sentencing for those convicted of the crime contribute to the perpetuation of the practice.

Examining the perceived function or reasoning behind FGM/C, the study finds that the practice is “linked to marriageability,” which families prefer and seek out for their daughters. The implications that this social pressure and perception has in preventative efforts leads advocates on the ground to “facilitate dialogue…reflect non-coercive and non-judgmental discussion,” and attempt to encourage a collective group decision to forego FGM/C.

Read the full report: Global Consultation on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting-UNFPA Report

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Female Genital Mutilation: A vice or Virtue to Ladies?

August 18, 2009
By Clive Siachiyako

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a cultural practice that started in Africa about 2000 years ago. It is primarily a cultural practice, not a religious custom. But some religions include it as part of their practice. FGM is so deep-rooted into these cultural practices that it defines members of such cultures. And people in such cultures believe that a girl would never become a woman without undergoing such a procedure.

Female genital mutilation is also known as female circumcision (FC) or female genital cutting (FGC). But whatever name it may be called, the World Health Organisation (WHO) defines it as all procedures of partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. The practice is mostly carried out by traditional circumcisers, who often play other central roles in communities, such as attending childbirths. Increasingly however, the practice is being performed by medically trained personnel.

Female genital mutilation has been practiced for centuries. Egyptian mummies, for instance were found to have been circumcised as far back as 200 BC (before Christ). In the 19th Century, FGM was practiced in Europe and North America as a remedy for ailments like epilepsy, hysteria, and masturbation. The practice is most prevalent in African countries such as Nigeria, Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya, Egypt, Ghana and some area of the Middle East. It is however not restricted to any ethnic, religious or socioeconomic class of society. On the religiosity side, followers of different religions that practice female genital mutilation include Muslims, Christians (Catholics, Protestants and Copts) and Animists.

Although FGM is mostly associated with Africans, it is also practiced in some Middle East countries. For example, it is practiced in Egypt, Yemen, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Israel. It is also carried out by Muslim groups in Indonesia where the most common form is a symbolic pricking, scraping or touching of the clitoris. In Malaysia, FGM is performed by a very small number of Malay Muslims in rural areas where it resembles a symbolic prick, a tiny ritual cut to the clitoris or where the blade is simply brought close to the clitoris. To a very small extent, Bohra Muslims in Pakistan also practice female genital mutilation.

The World Health Organisation states that FGM is classified into four major types. The first type is known as clitoridectomy, which is the partial or total removal of the clitoris (a small, sensitive and erectile part of the female genitals) and rarely, the removal of prepuce (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris) as well. The second type is called excision. This involves partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (the labia are "the lips" that surround the vagina).Infibulation is the third type of FGM. This involves the narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the inner and sometimes outer labia, with or without removal of the clitoris. The fourth and last type is unclassified. This type includes procedures like pricking, piercing or incision of the clitoris and/or labia. It also involves stretching the clitoris and/or labia and cauterization by burning of the clitoris and surrounding tissues. In some cases, it involves scraping of the vaginal ‘lips.’ In addition, it involves the introduction of corrosive substances into the vagina to cause bleeding, or introduction of herbs into the vagina to tighten or narrow the vagina.

The practice is generally performed on girls between the ages of four and twelve, although in some cultures it is practiced a few days after the baby is born or prior to marriage, during pregnancy or after the first birth. There is a progressive decrease in the age at which girls are undergoing the practice. However, depending on who is practicing it, FGM is not limited to a specific age group. For example, clitoridectomy (first type of FGM) was promoted among teen girls in the United States and Britain during the 19th and early 20th centuries as a cure for lesbian practices or suspected masturbation, hysteria, epilepsy, and nervousness. It is estimated that more than one hundred and thirty million females have been exposed to FGM worldwide and about two million girls are circumcised every year. Accurate figures on the number of women and girls who have undergone this procedure are however not available, largely because the cultural role of women inhibits public discussion or opposition to the practice. The practice and its records have remained in the secretive archives of women, (mostly old women who claim that it is a taboo to talk about the practice in public or make publications about it).

There are many reasons for the perpetuation of this practice; the most common ones being cultural and religious beliefs. Although it is often associated with Islam, it is also practiced by other religious groups, including Christians. Even if there is no mention of FGM in the Koran, an overwhelming factor for its justification is the cultural influence and traditions, social acceptance within the community, and ensuring chastity and fidelity by attenuating sexual desire. A study in Nigeria by the World Health Organisation on the Igbos tribe found that women believe that FGM makes them more feminine and thus more attractive to men. The organisation’s (WHO) social study in other African communities established that the practice is believed to raise the social status of families and generates income when the daughters get married and the dowry is paid.

Societies that practice FGM attach a number of economic factors to the practice. One of these factors is the ritual that surrounds the practice. Often this ritual involves gifts given to the girls in a ceremony and honours their families receive. More importantly, is the fact that it is much easier for the parents of a circumcised daughter to find a mate for their child, than it is for the parents of an uncircumcised daughter. Being able to "marry off" daughters is an important economic consideration in some of the poorer countries that practice FGM.

There are other complex perceived benefits of FGM. In some cultures, the practice is believed to enhance love as girls are taught how to satisfy a man sexually (improves a woman’s sexuality) and other matrimonial rituals that ‘cement’ a marriage. It is also a way a woman can achieve recognition and economic security through marriage and childbearing, and FGM is often a prerequisite for qualifying for wifehood. The practice therefore accords a woman economic and social protection. Female genital mutilation is also believed to improve on a woman’s sexuality as it brings about “dry sex,” which provides more pleasurable sex to men. This dryness is achieved by using certain herbs and ingredients that reduce vaginal fluids and increase friction during intercourse, which is attained by using the fourth type (unclassified) of FGM. Men are understood to love dry sex and if a woman is wet, they think it is not normal.

The other rationale for FGM is based on purifying, aesthetic and hygienic benefits. It is argued that the clitoris is an unhealthy, unattractive and/or lethal organ that has to be chipped off. This argument gained popularity with the coming of the concept of cunnilingus (kissing the vagina) in the equation of sex. Proponents of FGM claim that men prefer to practice cunnilingus on circumcised women than the uncircumcised because the vagina of the former is considered more hygienic. Some communities also believe that removing the external genitalia is necessary to make a girl spiritually clean and is therefore required by religion. Contrary to the highly glorified advantages of FGM, the practice can have devastating and harmful consequences throughout a woman’s life. The health problems a woman can experience mainly depends on the severity of the procedure, the sanitary conditions in which it was performed, the competence of the person who performed it and the strength of the girl’s resistance. Old women and barbers who perform FGM are medically unqualified and can do extreme damage to a woman or a girl, sometimes resulting in death. In cases where the procedure is carried out in unsanitary conditions, dangers of infection are great.

The practice may cause numerous physical complications, including hemorrhage and severe pain, which can cause shock, even death. A woman may go into immediate shock after FGM as a result of the sudden loss of blood (haemorrhagic shock) and experience severe pain and trauma (neurogenic shock), which can be fatal. This is mainly caused by the way the procedure is carried out such as the use of knives, scissors, razors, or pieces of glass. Sharp stones and finger nails are also sometimes used to pluck out the clitoris of babies in some parts of the world like Sudan and the Gambia. These instruments may be re-used without being cleaned, putting women at higher risk of HIV infection. Other than HIV infection, other infections are very common during and after FGM because of unhygienic conditions, use of unsterilized instruments and the application of substances such as herbs or ashes to the wound. These conditions provide an excellent growth medium for bacteria. Fungal bacteria accumulate around the wound, resulting into urinary tract infection, pelvic infection or tetanus. Sometimes holes (fistulae) between the bladder and the vagina or between the rectum and vagina can develop as a result of injury to the soft tissues during mutilation, opening up infibulation or re-suturing an infibulation, sexual intercourse or obstructed labour.

In addition to the above short term FGM consequences, long-term complications resulting from scarring and interference with the drainage of urine and menstrual blood, such as chronic pelvic infections, may cause pelvic and back pain, infertility, chronic urinary tract infections or kidney damage. Kidney damage is caused by recurrent urinary tract infection, which causes bladder and ureters infections. Such infections can spread to the pelvic girdle, causing chronic uterus, fallopian tube and ovary infections. The uterus, fallopian tube and ovary infections may cause irreparable damage of reproductive organs, leading to sterility. FGM also increases problems associated with childbirth. Severe forms of mutilation cause partial or total occlusion of the vaginal opening, which makes it difficult to monitor the stage of labour and foetal position and appearance. As a result, labour may be prolonged or obstructed. Prolonged or obstructed labour can lead to tearing of the walls of the womb and uterine inertia which can cause lead to stillbirth and maternal death.Considering the horrific nature of FGM and the trail of anguish it leaves in the lives of victims, the practice should not be encouraged in the Zambia. The country is currently wrestling with many health challenges that are overpowering the efficiency and effectiveness of the health system. And adding some more grievous effects to the already existing health hurdles in the name of sexual appeasement to men and cultural loyalty would worsen the already inferior health services in the country.

The already strained health personnel would have to attend to numerous complications that result from FGM operations, a thing that may worsen health service delivery in the country.
In a country where most households are struggling to access a simplest meal, death from FGM complications may be graver than can be envisioned. Worse still, women are the most poor in Zambia, least educated and most unemployed, hence most unlikely to seek medical attention when FGM complications arise. This can increase the number of orphans in the country. Furthermore, women are already the most affected by the challenges facing the health system such as maternal death and the HIV and AIDS infection in Zambia, hence encouraging FGM practices like infibulation would add more misery to their well-being. Zambia has currently recorded reductions in the HIV and AIDS infection rate, but encouraging FGM may reverse and worsen the status quo. What Zambia needs are approaches that can better women’s welfare, not worsening it. The country has a mammoth task of finding means of empowering women in all areas of human endeavour other than plunging them into retrogressive cultural and religious chaos.

There are so many ways of appeasing and satisfying a man during sex, without undergoing genital mutilation. The illusions that a man can appreciate sex more when the genitalia are mutilated are not justifiable as God who created a woman knows what can satisfy man sexually. The false impression about the genitalia in relation to sex should not be given room to ruin women’s lives in Zambia. Women should be happy with the genitalia they are born with and never yield to misleading beliefs.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Combating female genital mutilation in Iraqi Kurdistan

Kurdish Herald Vol. 1 Issue 4, August 2009 By Haje Keli As the first organization in Iraqi Kurdistan to open a women’s shelter, WADI is an authority on women’s issues in the region, an area of great concern to any activist or observer concerned with true democratization and respect for human rights. When the organization’s “Nawa center” opened in 1999, the social acceptance for such an institution was scarce, and the group’s volunteers faced daily challenges of various types. In some people’s eyes, women's shelters are seen as institutions that break up homes, and the female beneficiary is believed by those people to be bringing shame upon her family. Furthermore, even the employees of the organization have faced ridicule for their efforts. Mr. Falah Murad Khan, the director of WADI’s office in Sulaymaniyah, Iraqi Kurdistan, laughingly recalls an incident where he was phoned by an anonymous caller telling him that he should be ashamed that, as a man, he was working on "feminine" affairs. This was after Mr. Khan appeared on a radio show talking about WADI’s efforts to fight female genital mutilation. In a region plagued by various issues of gender discrimination, WADI has devoted much of its efforts as of late to one particular, serious issue: female genital mutilation. This practice involves partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, which more specifically includes partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora. This painful surgery is customarily performed on women usually between the ages of 4 and 12, without regard for medical concerns or sanitation. The procedure itself is customarily done by a woman using a razor or knife, and no anesthetic is provided. Following the cutting, the woman’s bleeding wound is covered with ash and sometimes icy water is used in an attempt to control bleeding. The victim of this procedure may indeed bleed to death or contract a potential lethal infection. This phenomenon has been widely discussed over the last few years in Kurdistan; although no one has ever provided any real data regarding the number of Kurdish women who have been victimized in this awful way. This changed in 2003, when WADI sent out teams of workers to knock on the door of every house and ask the women if they had been “circumcised”. This bold idea bore fruits, as the different teams discovered disturbing tendencies among the rural population of Kurdistan and then developed a plan of action to address this issue. WADI assembled teams consisting of specially trained employees and assigned them to different areas such as Raniya/Qaladize, Germiyan, Erbil and Sulaymaniya. These teams, consisting of only women, traveled around villages and knocked on doors, seeking to inform the people about genital mutilation. The first year of the project was dedicated to using data obtained to map the various areas that have been specifically affected by trends of female genital mutilation. The teams began contacting women in certain villages, gathering them to view a film produced by the organization about genital mutilation. The film is a sort of documentary where doctors and religious scholars speak of negative effects of genital mutilation. The doctor in the film speaks about the damage done to women from a medical point-of-view, while the Islamic cleric states that it is non- Islamic to circumcise girls. There are also women in the film, victims of genital mutilation, who share their painful experiences. After viewing the film, there was time for a discussion among the women, and according, to WADI’s employees, some of them realized that genital mutilation was a bad thing and stated that would not put their own daughters through it. The following year the WADI teams went back to the same homes and spoke to the same women that they had met who were shown the film, with the purpose of finding out if the women had indeed spared their daughters from circumcision, or if they had succumbed to pressure from the rest of the village. The film would be shown again, but now the WADI teams would concentrate specifically on the unconvinced women. The third year, the teams yet again went back to the villages they were assigned to the first year and spoke with the same women from the last two years. From 2005-2008, the WADI teams visited a total of 84 villages. As the American-led war against Saddam Hussein approached in 2003, the WADI organization trained groups of workers to provide immediate assistance to internally displaced women and children as a result of the war. When it became obvious that the war did not impact women and children in the Kurdistan autonomous region, the organization switched its focus and traveled to various villages to see what sort of aid women were in need of. This is when the teams discovered that females in many of Kurdistan’s rural areas had similar stories of post-circumcision complications. Many of the village women had been genitally mutilated, and reported that, as a result, they suffered physically and sexually. A major long-term - indeed lifelong - complication of so-called circumcision is that women lose a sense of sexual desire. Unfortunately, not everyone sees this as a negative consequence. Mr. Khan explained, “This is not seen as a problem, as sex is viewed as being for the enjoyment of the man only.” In 2004, the teams of WADI spoke to 1,500 women in the Germiyan region, and 907 of them admitted to being victims of female genital mutilation. At the same time, the team assigned to the Erbil region discovered that 380 of the 440 women they spoke to subject to the practice. Four female employees of WADI present during the meeting in Sulaymaniyah told various stories about the people they met and discussions they had during the course of their work. During their many meetings with the women of villages, they discovered that some women were mutilated during their wedding day. They had also been told that some women had been mutilated so badly that parts of their inner thighs had been sliced off in the process. One would hope that the local government would be the first in line in addressing the serious issue of female genital mutilation. Sadly, according to Mr. Khan, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs were, at first, very open to collaboration with WADI, but after all the plans were set, they withdrew their support. According to Mr. Khan, the Ministry of Health claimed that the statistics presented by WADI were inaccurate, and it was impossible that so many females could have been subjected to genital mutilation. Mr. Khan explained that the sudden reluctance of the ministries to cooperate with WADI might be because the government sees this sort of work as possibly generating bad publicity for the region. Regardless of the difficulties facing those who seek to combat female genital mutilation, there is actually a glimmer of hope. The WADI teams have discovered that, after fighting genital mutilation for years, there is now, in some areas, a certain stigma attached to the practice. The younger generation, upon choosing a wife, will ask her if she has been “circumcised”. If she has been, she becomes less desirable because now men know that a woman sexual urges decrease substantially as a result of this mutilation. Many men in the younger generation want their wife to enjoy sex as much as they do. WADI is taking a special approach in tackling this serious societal problem, as, year-after-year, they work with the same people. The people who viewed the film about the genital mutilation were contacted the following year and the year after to see if they had “changed” their minds. This approach has the likely affect of giving those contacted a sense of importance and motivates them to be a more active part in this focused, individualized effort. At the same time, it provides for reliable data concerning the efficacy of WADI’s approach to education on the issue of female genital mutilation. One will hope that they can continue in their efforts despite the various obstacles that lie in their way, and receive increased support from both governmental and non-governmental groups to expand their efforts. It would be a true victory for Kurdish society if the practice of female genital mutilation could soon become a thing of the past.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Egypt makes first arrest over female circumcision

August 13, 2009
CAIRO (Mustafa Suleiman)

An Egyptian man has been charged with illegally circumcising a young girl on Thursday, making him the first person to face the law since Cairo criminalized the controversial practice of female genital mutilation, or FGM.

Ahmed Gad al-Karim, 69, was charged with inflicting injury on an 11-year-old girl after a local hospital notified the police when the young girl was brought in suffering from heavy bleeding following a circumcision.

"The government wants to protect Egyptian children and give them a healthy environment." -Prosecutor general

The Upper Egyptian governorate of Minya, 600 kilometers south of Cairo, was told that the girl's mother gave Karim 150 Egyptian Pounds ($ 27) to circumcise her daughter, who remains in critical condition.Karim said he performed the operation at the girl's house and said he had used a scalpel.

According to the World Health Organization and estimated 100 to 140 million females worldwide currently live with the consequences of FGM, which is internationally recognized as a human rights violation.

First arrest
"Although the new law criminalizes female circumcision, girls in the Egyptian countryside still undergo these operations." -Prosecutor general

Karim's arrest is the first since Egypt passed law number 126 in 2008, which criminalizes FGM due to the physical and psychological damages it inflicts on the victims.

In 2008, the law was met with objections by the Muslim Brotherhood and independent MPs, who argued that female circumcision is part of the Shariah law as it protects a woman's chastity.

But Dar al-Iftaa, the government institution in charge of issuing religious edicts for contemporary issues, ruled that circumcision is not part of Islam and is a cultural practice.

"The government wants to protect Egyptian children and give them a healthy environment," the prosecutor general said in a statement of which Al Arabiya obtained a copy.

"Although the new law criminalizes female circumcision, girls in the Egyptian countryside still undergo these operations," he concluded.

Female Genital Cutting raises childbirth risks

By Amy Norton August 13, 2009 NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Pregnant women who underwent female genital cutting as girls are at increased risk of needing an emergency Cesarean section or suffering serious tears during childbirth, a new study finds. It is estimated that more than 130 million women worldwide have undergone female genital mutilation, also known as female "circumcision." The centuries-old practice, which involves removing part or all of a girl's clitoris and labia, and sometimes narrowing the vaginal opening, remains a common practice in some countries, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa. With increased immigration, more and more healthcare workers in developed countries are seeing women who have undergone female genital mutilation. In the new study, doctors at the University of Berne, in Switzerland, followed 122 pregnant women with a history of genital mutilation who received prenatal care at their medical center. They compared their childbirth outcomes with 110 other women the same age who delivered at the hospital. Overall, women with genital mutilation had a higher risk of emergency C-section; 18 needed the procedure, compared with three women in the comparison group. They were also more likely to suffer severe vaginal tears during delivery -- with nine having the complication, versus one woman in the comparison group. The findings, which appear in the medical journal BJOG, show that healthcare workers in developed countries need to be prepared to care for women who've undergone genital cutting. That includes prenatal discussions about how delivery should proceed, Dr. Annette Kuhn, the senior researcher on the study, told Reuters Health in an email. All of the women with genital cutting in this study had been asked about how they wanted to manage delivery. Six percent wanted to have defibulation -- surgical widening of the vaginal opening -- before giving birth. Another 43 percent wanted it during labor, while one-third requested that it be done only if medically necessary. A small number of women wanted to have the vaginal opening re-stitched after giving birth -- a request they were denied because it is medically inadvisable, as well as illegal in Switzerland, the researchers note. It is important, Kuhn said, for health professionals in developed countries to be able to sensitively discuss the issue of female genital cutting, and inform women of their potential treatment options.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The 'Perfect' Porn Vulva: More Women Demanding Cosmetic Genital Surgery

August 12, 2009 By Rebecca Chalker, AlterNet Women are risking their lives to achieve an unrealistic and unnecessary ideal. Type "labiaplasty," "vaginoplasty" or any of nearly a dozen female genital cosmetic surgeries into any search engine, and a flurry of doctors' Web sites will pop up touting the self-esteem, sexual enhancement, comfort and fashion benefits of female genital cosmetic surgery. These sites, typically decorated with airbrushed pictures of lovely women in various states of undress or even nude, are replete with before-and-after photos of trimmed-down labia and gushing quotes from satisfied customers. Many of these sites promise ecstasy, plus: "Laser vaginal reconstruction can accomplish what ever [sic] you desire." Some patients seem happy with the results. "When my husband and I had sex, well, it was like nothing I've ever experienced before," a 40-year-old woman reports, six weeks after a three-hour combination labiaplasty, vaginoplasty and clitoral unhooding, costing at low estimate of $15,000 (a high estimate: at least double that). "I had an orgasm probably within three minutes. … I feel like I've found what I had lost ... I feel like I'm 25 again!"Her surgeon reports this case study as "Strengthening Our Love For Each Other." Dig a little deeper though, and you find stories tinged with grief and regret about genital "enhancement" surgeries gone wrong. "Had the surgery 1/07," one woman reports. "Can't say enough [about] how much I regret it. The problems I had it done for can't even compare to the pain and discomfort I'm having now. The surgeon, who has extensive experience, doesn't know why this is happening." One of the newest wrinkles in the business of sex is the explosion of genital cosmetic surgery. Not surprisingly, women constitute 90 percent of patients requesting these surgeries. Both physician and popular Internet sites prey on women's sexual insecurities by promoting appearance and alleged sexual benefits, but pay scant attention to the wide range of normal genital appearance, the variability of sexual response and possible harm. The New View Campaign Working Group on Female Genital Cosmetic Surgery, a project that I participated in, identified unresearched claims made about female genital cosmetic surgery (FGCS) and analyzed how the rhetoric used by the body-modification and sexual-medicine industries has co-opted core feminist concepts of empowerment, self-determination and choice for profit. Our review of medical, academic and popular literature, and a survey of physicians' promotional materials provides a disturbing picture. There are nearly a dozen genital "remodeling" procedures. The most popular by far is labiaplasty, the trimming of one or both sides of the inner lips or labia minora, or cutting out a V-shaped wedge. As a part of the clitoral system, the inner lips are sexually sensitive, so removal of this densely innervated tissue to get better sex seems, well, counterintuitive. The next most popular surgery is vaginal tightening: vaginoplasty or vaginal rejuvenation, which involves removal of part of the vaginal lining and tightening tissue and muscles surrounding the vaginal opening. The question about the development of scar tissue and disruption during future vaginal births is typically left unaddressed. Reduction of the glans or tip of the clitoris (clitoropexy) for is done for purely aesthetic purposes. The only function of the glans is sexual sensation, so trimming can in no way enhance sexual pleasure. The protective clitoral hood (or "unhooding") is rarely requested, but is often offered (for additional cost) along with labiaplasty. The idea that reduction or removal may enhance clitoral sensation is pure mythology. Hymen restoration or repair (hymenoplasty) is done to provide the illusion of virginity when the hymen has been broken through normal activities or intercourse. Some women are having hymenoplasty as a "Valentine's present" to their lovers. Removal of a tough or "imperforate" hymen for functional reasons is variously called hymenotomy or hymenectomy. The wildly controversial "G shot" is an injection of a quarter-sized dollop of human-engineered collagen through the vaginal wall into the urethral sponge, the spongy tissue surrounding the urethra. Developed and franchised by Dr. David Matlock of Dr. 90210 fame, this procedure must be redone every few months. According to Matlock's Web site, and unpublished data, this injection results in "enhanced sexual arousal and sexual gratification for 87 percent of normal sexually functioning women." Many women sing the praises of the shot: "After my G shot, I get sexually aroused performing yoga." But comedian Margaret Cho reported no sexual enhancement at all and says it felt like she was "sitting on a hemorrhoid donut." Other procedures include pubic mound reduction, reducing or poofing up the outer lips or labia majora and "building up and strengthening" the perineal body. Regarding the ecstatic reviews, psychologist Carol Tavris notes that "One of the most well-documented findings in sociology is called the 'justification of effort' effect: The more time, effort, money and pain that people invest in a procedure, program, surgery, or other activity, the more motivated they are to justify it. "How easy would it be for you to find a Marine willing to say that cadet hazing and suffering were unnecessary and brutal?" Or "… to get George Bush to say 'Gee, I guess going to Iraq was a bad decision?' " All women by far are not enthused. "Perhaps the only rejuvenation going on is the doctor's wallet," an anonymous contributor to the Wall Street Journal blog opined. On Women's Health News, Rachel Walden observed "… spending $3,500 to $20,000 cutting up your hoo-ha isn't going to fix what's wrong with you." The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists noted in 2007 that these "procedures are not medically indicated, and the safety and effectiveness … have not been documented. No adequate studies have been published assessing the long-term satisfaction, safety and complication rates," although the college dropped the ball by failing to institute regulations or sanctions. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons informally agrees with this policy, but does not have a formal policy of its own. Women may believe that their doctors are proficient in these techniques, but ob-gyns, family-practice physicians and urologists are promoting and performing these lucrative surgeries with minimal training. By Matlock's estimation, doctors in all 50 states, and around the world, operate as "franchisees" of his business. Although he has been asked repeatedly for documentation on safety and effectiveness, Matlock has refused to publish any outcome studies, citing his need to "protect his intellectual property." The most reliable evidence of the possible negative after-effects of genital surgeries is reported in follow-up reports on children with intersex conditions. In many cases, labia reduction removes sexually sensitive tissue, may cause lifelong hypersensitivity or numbness, pain on intercourse, infection, adhesions and scarring. Some doctors acknowledge the downside of these putative enhancement procedures. "We have seen many unfortunate examples of terrible, scarred, uneven results of labiaplasty from other physicians who have attempted labia-reduction surgery with typically poor results, which are usually permanent," Dr. Robert Roh, a New York City gynecologist, reports on his Web site. Dr. Red Alinsod, an Orange County, Calif., gynecologist, concurs: "The numbers of patients requiring labiaplasty revisions have dramatically increased over the past several years. It is not a common procedure but one that is steadily on the rise as more surgeons attempt to perform labiaplasty surgery without knowledge of the basic tenets of aesthetic vaginal surgery." No guidelines for "normal" genital appearance exist. An article in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology by Jillilan Lloyd and colleagues notes that "Previous work has defined the labia minora as hypertrophic [enlarged or overgrown] … if the maximum distance from the base to edge was [greater than] 4 centimeters." After careful measurement of 50 volunteers ages 18 and 50, these authors report "wide variation in all parameters assessed," with the width of the labia minora varying from 7 to 50 centimeters in width. Describing protuberant labia minora as "looking like a spaniel's ears," French surgeons reported a high patient satisfaction rate for 98 women who answered a post-operative mail questionnaire. Although they defined labia minora hypertrophy to be greater than 4 centimeters, they concluded "… we believe that hypertrophy of the labia minora is definitely a mere variant of normal anatomy." The 7 percent dissatisfaction rate was caused by poor aesthetic or functional result, or unrealistic patient expectations. The authors concede that "… 40 percent of the patients did not respond to the questionnaire, or were lost to follow-up, thus giving a potentially lower satisfaction rate." Normal female genitals are virtually invisible in the popular media, except through pornographic sources. Lloyd and her colleagues note, "With the conspicuous availability of pornography in everyday life, women and their sexual partners are increasingly exposed to idealized, highly selective images of the female genital anatomy." In 2005, shock-jock Howard Stern went live on the E Channel and found that the frequent appearance of porn stars enhanced ratings. Houston, a popular porn star and strip club dancer, appeared on Stern's show and talked about reducing her labia to look better on film. Carlin Ross, of remembers how Stern milked the topic. "He could see that the porn stars were good for ratings, and they would bring their labia trophies cast in clear resin like an award and auction them off on Ebay." Surgeons have also noted the impetus behind this trend. "Some women just want to look 'prettier,' like the women they see in [pornographic] magazines or in films," one New York City ob-gyn says. Another doctor reports that his patients want their vulvas to look like "the playmates of Playboy." Based at least partially on the porn model and on the invisibility of normal genitals in the media, on Web sites, in chat rooms and women's magazines they are establishing a narrow norm and aesthetic ideal. These negative messages feed a long history of misogynist genital disgust, and misinformation creates an environment of dissatisfaction and a demand for female genital cosmetic surgeries that would fall within the definition of female genital mutilation articulated by the WHO, UNICEF, and UNFPA in 1997: Female genital mutilation comprises all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for nonmedical reasons. … In some forms of Type II … only the labia minor are cut. Women's right to choice is a core feminist concept, but choice made in the vacuum of the deficient discourse on FGCS is little more than wishful thinking. The entrepreneurial medical and media narratives do not provide a useful understanding about the appearance and function of the female genitals, hence, informed consent is impossible. Sexual attraction, response and pleasure are complex interactions of psychological and physiological processes that change with age, partners and experience, and regardless of the perceived short-term benefits of genital surgeries, reconfiguring the genitals is unlikely to have significant impact on sexual fulfillment. And it's not just grown women that are drawn to the procedure. Hosting a chat room on the subject, the Web site elicited this hyperemic query: "i dont think this is normal can i just cut my labia off." ... "hello whats the younest age you can have labiaplasty sugery?" [sic] Click here for more information on female genital cosmetic surgery and on the New View Campaign's fall protest.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Designer Vaginas: Is Female Circumcision Coming Out of the Closet?

Reposted from July 2, 2009

By Gbemisola Olujobi

As a circumcised and sexually fulfilled African woman, when I consider the fuss that female circumcision has attracted to Africa over the years and the wind of labiaplasties and genital rejuvenations currently sweeping across Europe and America, I cannot help but ask in the words of Dr. Deborah Tolman, professor of social welfare at Hunter College School of Social Work, “What happened in the last three years to make [these] women’s labias so big that they can’t walk around with them?”

I was watching an episode of “Dr. 90210” on E! Entertainment Television recently. A young American woman was getting a labiaplasty and clitoral hood reduction. She said her labia “didn’t look nice” and her clitoral hood was “uncomfortable,” especially when she was having sex. I didn’t know what to think.

I was circumcised (read labiaplasty and clitoral hood reduction) when I was 9 days old, in line with the tradition of the Yoruba of western Nigeria. And thanks to the “enlightenment” of Euro-American NGOs, I grew up lamenting what I thought was my irreparable loss and thinking I would definitely have been better off with my genitals intact. Imagine my confusion at the spectacle before me on television.

I have since seen more labiaplasties and clitoral hood reductions on “Dr. 90210.” I am an avid fan of the show and confess to being totally smitten with the effervescent Dr. Robert Rey. But the more of these procedures I see, the more I ... well, wonder. What are labiaplasty and clitoral hood reduction if not female circumcision? Female circumcision, also known as female genital cutting (FGC) or the more demonized female genital mutilation (FGM), is defined by the World Health Organization as “all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs whether for cultural, religious or other non-therapeutic reasons.”

FGC is practiced throughout the world, but seems to be more widely practiced in Africa than anywhere else. Not all ethnic groups in Africa practice female circumcision, though it is found in 28 of the continent’s 53 countries.

The WHO identifies three broad types of female circumcision. Type I circumcision is the partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or the prepuce or clitoral hood. Type II circumcision is “partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora. Type III circumcision involves narrowing of the vaginal orifice with creation of a covering seal by cutting and repositioning the labia minora and/or the labia majora, with or without excision of the clitoris. This type of circumcision is also known as infibulation or pharaonic circumcision. It is the most extensive form of FGM, and accounts for about 10 percent of all FGM procedures identified in Africa.

And what are labiaplasty, clitoral hood reduction, vaginoplasty and the other procedures classified as female genital cosmetic surgery? Labiaplasty is plastic surgery of the labia majora and/or the labia minora, which are the external folds of skin surrounding the structures of the vulva. The procedure involves reducing the size of one or both sets of labia. Clitoral hood reduction is an operation which repositions the protruding clitoris and reduces the length and projection of the clitoral hood. Vaginoplasty is the surgical modification of the female vagina. The most frequent vaginoplasty procedure is the narrowing of the vaginal opening to make it firmer.

These operations involve cutting that includes full or partial amputation of the labia or clitoris, as well as procedures to narrow or tighten the vagina—all hallmarks of circumcision and infibulation.

Now, from what I understand, some Euro-American women are becoming so disturbed by the appearance of their genitalia that they are asking plastic surgeons to modify them. But how did this new worry start? Or, as professor Tolman puts it, “What happened in the last three years to make [these] women’s labias so big that they can’t walk around with them?”

Physicians and mainstream mass media report that the widespread viewing of pornography has increased demand for labiaplasty. As more people see the shortened labia of pornographic actresses, they are getting the idea that trim genitals are the ideal. Human sexuality expert Bonnie Zylbergold argues in an article that women are getting the HD version of their vulvas outside a biology class for the first time. And “while women might not be trading notes on their vaginal proportions,” says Zylbergold, “they have become increasingly comfortable with mainstream pornography and that leads to one dimensional representations of what vulvas look like.”

Just as the phenomenon of Playboy magazine in the 1950s spread the craze for breast enlargements in the ’60s and ’70s, an increasing number of women are going to plastic surgeons with pictures of spread-eagled models in magazines such as Playboy and Penthouse and saying, “I want those clit and lips,” very much as some women have been ordering Angelina Jolie’s mouth and Jennifer Lopez’s butt in surgeons’ “supermarkets.”

Call it “labia envy,” says New York writer Louisa Kamps. A host of plastic surgeons are aggressively offering women relief from this new form of envy.

Kamps quotes Dr. Gary Alter, a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon, as saying: “Some women have this feeling they’re not that pretty down there. If you really think you’re deformed, you’re going to be less open to a sexual relationship. Before, it was the dark ages, because nobody really cared, or knew, what it looked like. But now, with Penthouse and all these magazines that show vaginas—I mean, they really show it—you have women, not just men, looking. And they start making aesthetic judgments.”

Many surgeons are against these procedures and some have even called the doctors who perform them “fraudulent.” Among those who disagree with that criticism is Dr. Scott W. Mosser, a board-certified plastic surgeon based in San Francisco who has been performing labiaplasties for the past four years. He insists that anything that is distracting enough to interfere with a person’s quality of life or lifestyle is something that should be addressed.

Sex expert Zylbergold asks, “What’s with all the women who truly feel as though FGCS [female genital cosmetic surgery] will better their quality of life? Are we simply to ignore them? Tell them that they don’t really know, or understand for that matter, what they really want?”

One woman who responded to a post on labiaplasty at wrote: “I used to talk about this [surgery] all the time. There are times I still want to do it. My right inner labium is larger than the left, even larger than the outer labia (it looks like a tongue sticking out). It’s bothered me my whole sexual life and I always used to talk about getting it removed so it looks more symmetrical. Not to mention it sometimes gets stuck during intercourse and is painful every now and then. I even threaten to do it myself. I can see why some women might want to get it done, and I feel if that’s the way they want it, fine. Porn might have something to do with it, but I think there are women out there who want to get it for their own satisfaction.”

Researcher Karen Roberts McNamara reports that accounts of this medical trend in mainstream media quote doctors and patients alike as describing the new beauty standard for the vulva as “neat” and “clean.” McNamara cites a Boston Globe article in which a 25-year-old student from California, a patient of Dr. David Matlock, describes her postsurgery genitalia as “cleaner” and “more hygienic.”

Acclaimed champion of what he calls “vaginal rejuvenation,” Dr. Matlock proffers what he considers to be the definition of vulvar beauty as a “nice, clean look.” He claims that his laser rejuvenation will “effectively enhance the vaginal muscle tone, strength and control, decrease the internal and external vaginal diameters, as well as build up and strengthen the perineal body.”

Now, unless something really drastic happens to make women like the one at the ColbertNation site accept their asymmetrical and protruding genitalia and ignore the Matlocks and Alters, labiaplasty and clitoral hood reductions (call them clit and lip jobs, if you will) may yet become the staples that nose and boob jobs have metamorphosed into.

According to the California Surgical Institute, labiaplasty has become more common. In the United Kingdom, the number of labiaplasties doubled between 2000 and 2005. And in Germany, as psychologist Borken Ada Hagen and gynecologist Heribert Kentenich report in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, labiaplasty (known there as labienreduktion) has become the third leading cosmetic plastic surgery—right after face-lifts and breast augmentation.

Patient satisfaction has also been significant. A recent two-year study on 407 labiaplasty patients between the ages of 13 and 63 indicates that they appear to be happy with the procedure. Dr. Alter, the Beverly Hills plastic surgeon and urologist, performed a procedure known as the Alter V technique on all 407 women.

According to an article on the study, printed in the December 2008 issue of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, 98 percent of the patients reported they would have the surgery again. Seventy percent reported increased self-esteem, while 71 percent claimed to have improved sex lives. The study found only 4 percent of subjects reporting complications.

So where does this leave Africans who have been hounded for years by Euro-American NGOs and donor agencies to abandon “the barbaric and primitive practice” known as female circumcision?

Could it be that some ancient Africans saw flesh and blood versions of these before-and-after photos and decided, long before what is now known as cosmetic surgery came into being, that women would be better served with something close to what is now being called the “Toronto Trim.”

The term comes from Toronto plastic surgeon Robert Stubbs, by way of health reporter Krista Foss. Stubbs has done more than 205 labia minora shortenings on women aged 14 to 60. His style of trimming the hood of the clitoris as well as the lips of the vagina has been nicknamed the Toronto Trim.

The appropriately named Dr. Stubbs reports that these trims are not done on women who experience pain from their labia. Rather, they are done for cosmetic reasons. “Women don’t want to compete with men with something large between their legs. They want something small, neat and tidy and tucked up out of the way.” Again with the “neat and tidy.”

Linda, a woman in her mid-20s, said her labia minora had always bothered her. “It was physically uncomfortable, and I didn’t find it very aesthetically pleasing,” she said. She went to Stubbs and got a Toronto Trim for $4,500.

Patricia, a 32-year-old mother of two from New York City who had her labia shortened, also had worried that “it was all hanging.” So she looked for a surgeon, who fixed it, and she says “it’s nice and it’s neat now.”

Bernard Stern, the Florida doctor who performed Patricia’s labiaplasty, says he has operated on all kinds of women, including Las Vegas showgirls, exotic dancers, a Playmate of the Year, doctors, nurses, midwives, attorneys, professional athletes, marathoners, junior Olympians, equestrians, Pilates instructors and personal trainers. His patients have included an 82-year-old and a 16-year-old, as well as a 19-year-old and her 40-year-old mother.

Stern claims that most of his patients could not live with their genitals. “Quite honestly, most of the people that come in here have stuff that’s just unbelievable. There’s no doubt, I mean [the labia are] totally uneven, one side’s huge, the other’s not. ... For some of them, this is a life-changing procedure.”

According to the surgeon, “The women feel undesirable or unpretty. Even if nobody sees it, they see it.” Stern also claims that for many, a labiaplasty or vaginal tightening can “save their marriage.”

Now, my grandmother performed these “procedures” all her life. As early as 5 a.m., mothers would line up in our backyard with their baby sons and daughters to be circumcised by her expert hands. Among the Yoruba of Nigeria, circumcision is done in early infancy.

Grandma took special care and pride with female babies. She would do her job deftly and pass the screaming baby to her mother saying, “Your daughter has been beautified.” The satisfied mother would then go back home and cook a celebratory chicken feast to mark the occasion. For some reason, no such feasts were cooked to mark a male baby’s circumcision.

So, how is my grandmother different from these board-certified plastic surgeons and urologists?

I cannot defend the circumcision knives Grandma inherited from her grandmother as being sterile. I also cannot claim that the palm oil she used to soothe the circumcision wound, the lime juice she used to “sanitize” the circumcision site, and the snail slime she swore would make the wound heal properly were up to WHO standards. But when I read the reports of labiaplasty patients, I cannot help but have a proud smile on my face when I recall my grandmother’s declarations after every baby girl’s circumcision: “She has been beautified and made clean.” How could she have known that this was going to be the refrain of board-certified surgeons in Europe and America after “beautifying” their women patients?

As it turns out, the reasons given for female circumcision on the one hand and female genital cosmetic surgery on the other are not totally different. Practitioners of female circumcision couch its functions in culture and religious obligation. According to professor Aisha Samad Matias, they usually say things like “It makes you clean, beautiful, better, sweet-smelling,” or “You will be able to marry, be presentable to your husband, able to satisfy and keep your husband, able to conceive and bear children.”

These reasons are not far from those given by women in Euro-America who seek the “nice, clean and neat” ideal of vulvar beauty through labiaplasties and clitoral hood reductions.

According to Dr. Virginia Braun, a psychologist at the University of Auckland who specializes in women’s health and sexuality, the narratives of women who have undergone FGM and FGCS are similar. In both cases, Braun argues, women say, “It is important to me to have genitals that look normal, that look appropriate, that are right.”

The big difference between female circumcision and FGCS hovers around self-consent and voluntarism. A great fuss is made about the rights of female circumcision “victims” by activists who see it as a form of child abuse or gender oppression. Writer Ifeyinwa Iweriebor, however, argues that this misrepresentation totally occludes the essential truth: that circumcision is not performed on girls (or on boys) to oppress them or do them any harm. For the practitioners, the procedure is carried out for the noblest of reasons, the best of intentions and in good faith. Maybe all those taboos surrounding female circumcision in African cultures were formulated as a way of ensuring that women went through this painful process to achieve the “nice clean slit” that is now being marketed by Euro-American plastic surgeons.

At the end of the day, it looks like female circumcision and FGCS are done for very much the same reasons. According to Simone Davis, professor and gender theorist at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, among the key motivating factors raised by African women who favor female genital surgeries are beautification, transcendence of shame and the desire to conform. These clearly matter as well to American women seeking cosmetic surgery on their labia, says Davis.

And according to McNamara, although most plastic surgeons usually insist that the women they treat seek the procedure to enhance their own sexual satisfaction, some concede that many women have a consultation at the urging of their husbands, boyfriends or partners who want increased sensation for themselves.

These procedures—vaginoplasty, labiaplasty, hymenoplasty, female circumcision or genital mutilation—all have one thing in common. In McNamara’s words, they “highlight the constructedness of the sexed female subject because her body requires constant maintenance to adhere to gender requirements.”

The good news for labiaplasty patients (read victims) is that though they may regard female circumcision as foreign and incomprehensible, what they are doing is altering their genitalia to conform to a certain set of notions and expectations about what genitalia should look like if they are to be appropriately feminine and desirable.

Remember Dr. Alter? He says, “With Penthouse and all these magazines that show vaginas—I mean, they really show it—you have women, not just men, looking. And they start making aesthetic judgments.”

Such aesthetic judgments are the moving force behind the disciplinary pressures of Western beauty standards. Think of anorexia, bulimia, “a cracker a day” diets, gastric bypass surgery, lap-band surgery and other such horrors. These things are done “voluntarily” and with “self-consent” by people who have been pushed to the wall by societal ideals about what a woman’s body should look like.

So why has the West been demonizing “Africans and their barbaric culture of female circumcision” all these years? In actual fact, according to Davis, one could regard Western female consumers who consent to the procedures and even finance them to be even more oppressed and bound by normative gender than their African counterparts, because there is no actual external policing. In this case, she argues, American women are reminiscent of philosopher Michel Foucault’s “docile bodies,” who, on their own, fill the role of enforcers of their own subjection under the matrix of gender.

Davis quotes Soraya Mire, a Somali filmmaker, as saying, “In America, women pay money that is theirs, and no one else’s, to go to a doctor who cuts them up. ... Western women cut themselves up voluntarily.”

Somalia is a hotspot of infibulation and an action spot for Western anti-circumcision activists. Many Somali women and girls, as well as women and girls from other parts of Africa, have fled their homelands and gone into exile in Europe and America to escape circumcision and infibulation.

Imagine Mire’s confusion, and mine as well. Imagine the indignation of millions of Africans who have been forced to abandon this rite of passage only to wake up one day and find out that Euro-American women are sneaking, behind our backs, to circumcise themselves and their daughters. One of Florida surgeon Bernard Stern’s patients was a 19-year-old whose 40-year-old mother had her labiaplasty six months after she had hers.

This truly is a strange world!