Female Circumcision

How does it feel to be a woman in the contemporary world? Women have to combine their career with the family life and be successful in both. They need to meet the expectations of society in order to become its successful members. The expectations vary, depending on the particular culture women live in; sometimes they encourage women to become stronger, but sometimes they leave women in despair. In particular, African culture requires women to undergo the practice called female circumcision. Unfortunately, Africans force their children to experience this barbaric practice, believing they are doing the right thing. The truth is female genital mutilation has a lot of risks and negative consequences for the womans health.

To start with, female and male circumcisions are different at their core. With female circumcision, the degree of cutting is more severe and often causes damage to a womans sexual or reproductive functions. Female circumcision or female genital mutilation may imply the partial and total removal of the external genitals. The latter include the clitoris, labia, mons pubis, together with the vaginal and urethral openings. Female circumcision is a global practice. Not only it is common in half of the African countries, but it also happens in the United Arab Emirates, Yemen, India, Indonesia, and Malaysia (Magoha & Magoha, 2000).

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Children are usually the subjects of the female circumcision. The majority of them undergo female circumcision in the age of 7 to 10 years old. Still, in some African countries, parents prefer to perform circumcision at the earlier age to make this experience less traumatic (Dekkers, Hoffer, & Wils, 2005). In such a way, they also avoid resistance from their children who may object to circumcision, as they grow older. Because of that, newborn circumcision is not a rare practice in some parts of Africa. Meanwhile, some women undergo female circumcision when marrying or before or after the birth of a first child.

Those who support female circumcision are most likely to defend their position with the following arguments. First, this is a good tradition. According to Gruenbaum (2005), Discussions of the cultural context of female genital cutting, in both the academic and activist literatures, as well as in popular media, often describe the practices as an entrenched and deeplyrooted tradition, practiced for thousands of years in parts of Africa. By performing female circumcisions, Africans think they are protecting the interest and culture of their ancestors. There is a common tendency to believe that the ancestors were the generation of extremely wise humans. They knew what was better for their health and good life, so they could not create bad traditions. On the other hand, following traditions usually takes centuries. Hence, it is not easy to explain to people why they should quit the ancient practices they performed for centuries. Second, Africans perform female circumcision to meet the religious requirements. There is a correlation between the religious affiliation and perception of the female circumcision. Muslims and Catholics support the female genital mutilation as an observation of Judaist and Islamic teachings (Almroth et al., 2001). For them, female circumcision is doing a good thing, and avoiding this practice is a sin. Third, female circumcision is a part of observing a necessary rite of passage to womanhood. This indigenous ritual is the female analog of scarification as a rite of passage into manhood (Gruenbaum, 2005). Fourth, female circumcision still serves as a pledge of the successful marriage. Women who underwent the female circumcision are clean in the eyes of community. Nevertheless, it is not the cleanliness in the usual sense of the word, how Europeans or Americans see it.

Abu Daia (2000) reports the cleanliness views of the Africans as following,

To help maintain cleanliness and health; uncircumcised females are considered to be unclean and if her clitoris touches his penis this is then considered dangerous and ultimately fatal to a man. In some areas, it is believed that an infant will die if its head touches the clitoris.

Hence, female circumcision favors the good marriage prospects; the opposite is true, as well. Men often refuse to marry women who have not had the circumcision. One can explain that by the common belief that circumcision prevents promiscuity and preserves virginity. From the medical point of view, it may be true due to the following. Removal of external genitalia (especially of the clitoris) may lead to the womans hyposensitivity. In turn, it may affect the desire and, thus, both prevents promiscuity and preserves virginity.

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Interestingly enough, the supporters of the female circumcision do not mention the positive consequences of one for a womans health. Still, one should be aware of all of the risks and negative consequences of this procedure, as well as a range of physical problems, long-standing complications and psychological problems related to this terrifying practice. The instant physical problems women encounter embrace penetrating pain, bleeding, infections and urinary problems. The traditional rulers usually perform mutilation procedure without pain medications or anesthesia. Intense pains, together with hemorrhage, are the causes of shock during and after the mutilation procedure. According to data provided by Ali, Mohamud, and Reymond (2011), nearly 97% of the 269 women interviewed experienced intense pain during and after FGM, and more than 13% went into shock. Apart from that, hemorrhage may lead to anemia. Since circumcisers usually perform the procedure with unsterilized scissors or razor blades (at the best), there is a high risk of infections. Wound infections pose a great threat to womens health.

One of the common infections in Africa is tetanus, which is fatal in 50 to 60 percent of all cases (Ali, Mohamud, & Reymond, 2011). To add even more, women face the problem of urine retention from swelling or even blockage of the urethra. Besides, urinary problems may become recurrent. Sharfys study lists such urinary problems as vesico-vaginal Fistula (9.2%), tight urethral stricture (14.6%) and urinary bladder diverticulum (3.1%); and such recurrent urinary tract infections squamous cell carcinoma of the urinary bladder (1.0%) (Sharfi, Elmegboul, & Abdella, 2013). Besides, some women report later complications, which include urinary problems such as pain when urinating, urinary incontinence and poor urinary flow (Dirie & Lindmark, 1992).

Female genital mutilation does not pass without leaving a trace. Apart from the immediate physical problems, women suffer from the long term complications. First of those is painful or blocked menses. Nearly half of the women that have undergone the female circumcision report abnormal menstruation (Ali, Mohamud, & Reymond, 2011). The latter do not signify of any positive results for a womans health. They would rather remain the lifelong remainder of the horrible procedure of their childhood or adolescence. Infertility is another long-term consequence of the female circumcision. For instance, in the Sudan, 20-25% of female infertility has been linked to FGM complications (Ali, Mohamud, & Reymond, 2011). One more harmful sign of female circumcision is abscesses and hardened scars. The infibulated scars become the obstacle that prevents girls from getting pregnant within marriage (Nour, 2008). Finally, unsterilized instruments may favor the transmission of HIV or AIDS infections.

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The list of negative health consequences of the female mutilation would be incomplete without the psychological issues. The women report the problems of the psychological nature least often. Among these, one should mention anxiety and depression. To be specific, Ali, Mohamud and Reymond (2011) name such psychological effects of circumcision as anxiety, severe depression and psychosomatic illnesses. These problems are not obvious all the time because many children exhibit behavioral changes after FGM, but problems may not be evident until the child reaches adulthood (Ali, Mohamud, & Reymond, 2011). Low self-esteem is another psychological consequence of the possible mutilation of African women. This practice is sometimes done out of punishment or wickedness, leaving the vulnerable women and children to be scared for life, and sometimes suffering from feelings of incompleteness.

To conclude, female circumcision is a controversial phenomenon. There are both adherents and opponents of female genital mutilation. Those who support female circumcision insist on maintaining a good tradition; meeting religious requirements; observing a necessary rite of passage to womanhood; insurance of cleanliness or better marriage prospects; prevention of promiscuity and preservation of virginity. It appears that Africans force their children to experience this barbaric practice, believing they are doing the right thing. In fact, there are little benefits to a womans health resulting from the female circumcision. This procedure has a lot of risks and negative effects for a womans health. These include immediate and long-term somatic problems, including intense pain, hemorrhage, wound and HIV infections, urinary problems, painful menses and infertility. Among others, African women have to live with the keloid scars and abscesses for the rest of their life. Women also experience such negative psychological effects of the circumcision as anxiety, depression, psychosomatic illnesses and low self-esteem. As the negative health consequences outnumber the positive ones, female circumcision can be considered harmful to the womens health from the medical point of view.

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