Female Genital Mutilation

Instruments used in female genital mutilation

Forceps, rubber gloves and other instruments used in female genital mutilation lon a table in Hargeiysa, Somalia.

Excerpts from a book by Nawal El Saadawi: “The Hidden Face of Eve: Women in the Arab World.” She is an Egyptian novelist, MD and militant writer on Arab women’s problems and their struggle for liberation.

“I just wept, and called out to my mother for help. But the worst shock of all was when I looked around and found her standing by my side. Yes. It was her, I could not be mistaken, in flesh and blood, right in the midst of these strangers, talking to them and smiling at them as though they had not participated in slaughtering her daughter just a few minutes ago.”

“Now we know where lies our tragedy. We were born of a special sex, the female sex. We are destined in advance to taste of misery, and to have a part of our body torn away by cold unfeeling, cruel hands. …”

When I returned to school after having recovered from the operation, I asked my classmates and friends about what had happened to me, only to discover that all of them without exception, had been through the same experience, no matter what social class they came from. …”

Nawal El-Saadawi had just had her legs forcibly spread by a bunch of women, including her mother and had her clitoris and the rest of her external sex organs clipped off.

“The importance given to virginity and an intact hymen in these societies is the reason why female circumcision still remains a very widespread practice despite a growing tendency, especially in urban Egypt, to do away with it as something outdated and harmful. Behind circumcision lies the belief that, by removing parts of girls’ external genital organs, sexual desire is minimized. ”

The above quotes refers to “female circumcision” in Egypt, which is really a misnomer since the procedures applied to girls bear little resemblance to what we commonly think of when referring to male circumcision. Today the “procedure” is commonly called FGM – female genital mutilation.

I decided to write about this topic after I read criticism directed last year to an article in Foreign Policy magazine entitled “Why do They Hate Us?” written by Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian feminist. Apparently she is too radical for the taste of some Arab women.  One should read the article and make up one’s own mind.


In any case, Eltahawy was criticized for her “broad brush” approach in pointing out what she considers to be a deep seated, virulent, violent and institutionalized misogyny in middle eastern societies. No matter that she was stripped to humiliate her, sexually assaulted  and had both of her arms broken by Egyptian police when demonstrating in Tahir Square. One of the issues she discussed in the essay was genital mutilation.

When I was a young man in the early sixties I lived for several years in Eritrea where 90% plus of all women have gone through some form of FGM. It was outlawed in 2007 but still persists.  FGM is also common in Egypt although here again it has been outlawed relatively recently. Efforts to stamp it out however have been less than successful, particularly outside of Cairo and Alexandria.  One of the leaders in the fight to eliminate FGM from Egyptian society was Mrs. Mubarak.  It is doubtful that the new government is  as committed.

FGM is common in only one other Arab country – Yemen. Even in Saudi Arabia, where women cannot drive, cannot vote, cannot hold most jobs, the practice is considered abhorrent.   In sub-Saharan Africa it is still common.

In Eritrea, on the Horn of Africa, populated by a 50/50 Christian / Muslim population, the practice is common place.

For those of you with any questions or doubts, let me give you a brief synopsis of what FGM entails. These details are from “Midwives Magazine” 2010, an article entitled “Female Genital Mutilation” by Letezghi Afewerki Lhbsu (principal author), a registered midwife and nurse and a qualified midwife teacher at the College of Nursing and Health Technologies in Asmara, Eritrea.  The magazine specializes in OBGYN issues relating to child birth in the third world.

“FGM, also known as female circumcision, or female genital cutting, is classified by the World Health Organization WHO (2001) in four types, as shown in Table 1.  Zerai (2003) reports that all types have been practiced in different ethnic groups in Eritrea.

Table 1. FGM classifications

Type I Excision of prepuce, with or without excision of part or all of clitoris
Type II Excision of clitoris; partial or total excision of labia minor
Type III Excision of part or all of external genitalia; stitching of vaginal orifice to narrow it (infibulation)
Type IV Pricking, piercing or incising of clitoris and/or labia; stretching of clitoris and/or labia and cauterization (by burning) of clitoris and surrounding tissue

FGM is a painful physical and emotional experience for many women and young girls in developing countries. It persists in many African and some Asian and Middle Eastern countries, even where illegal. Considered a violation of human rights by UNICEF and the WHO (WHO, 2001), it can result in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). According to the WHO (2001), about 100 to 140 million girls and women worldwide have undergone FGM; at least two million girls are annually at risk of mutilation. Although most victims are in the countries identified above, they are also increasingly found in Europe, Australia, Canada and the US, primarily among immigrants from Africa and South Western Asia.”

In Eritrea, the Ministry of Health (MoH) reports that about 95% of women have experienced some form of FGM (National Statistics Office (NSO), 2002). Zerai’s study of Eritrean women (2003) indicates that versions of Types I, II, and III are commonly practiced. The effects range from, at minimum, clitoridectomy to the most extreme procedure, infibulation, undertaken to narrow the vaginal orifice significantly. Infibulations are more common in rural Eritrean women (65%). De-infibulation widens the vaginal opening and is performed on the wedding day by “traditional healers”; healthcare practitioners also perform de-infibulation to avoid complications before or during delivery. Re-infibulation is then undertaken by traditional healers after the birth (Eritrea MoH, 2002).

So those young women who have had a Type III infibulation, the sewing to narrow the vaginal opening, get the pleasure of having the vaginal opening enlarged with a razor on her wedding day.

Another report discusses the different cultural and religious values that are invoked to support FGM practices; these include a desire to control sexual arousal outside marriage.

“One recurring belief is that uncircumcised girls have an over-active sex drive and are likely to lose their virginity before legal marriage and become unfaithful after marriage, disgracing the family and becoming a menace to men and the community. Observance of religious practice is an important part of Eritrean culture; arguably the Christian and the Islamic values of marital fidelity and virginity at marriage reinforce the tradition of FGM, even though neither religion explicitly demands it. However, virgin brides and faithful women are respected by their communities and bring pride to their husbands.”

“The WHO (2001) reports beliefs that the clitoris or surrounding tissue generates feelings of sexual arousal and must be cut; there is also a belief that the clitoris produces a bad odor, and should be removed. Infibulation is expected to increase male sexual pleasure, thereby reducing the divorce rate. However, the WHO (2001) also identified that not all men enjoy the tight orifice which can impede penetration, causing impotence.”

Seems that true believers have no qualms about maiming God’s creation and handiwork.

Immediate physical impacts of FGM include: severe pain and excessive bleeding that may result in shock and death; injury and deformity to adjacent tissues of urethra and vagina. The circumcised tissue is sewn together to heal in an unnatural position, leaving minimal outlets for menstrual flow and urine. Although not explicitly discussed, this anatomical alteration makes bladder voiding and the discomforts of menstruation more difficult for the young woman to manage.

Feel free to read the entire article here:


When faced with such problems can a “feminist” living in countries where such barbarity is practiced be too radical? And should she be attacked by other women for being so?  This old guy thinks not.  Hey, she’s not fighting for me!  She’s risking her life for women.

Finally I will be the first to agree that cultural norms are hard to break. It was not that long ago that Chinese girls had their feet bound, seeking that ideal length, known as the Golden Lotus – 3 inches. That’s right – 3 inches, achieved by breaking the toes and the arch of a little girl’s foot, folding them underneath  and keeping them bound in yards of bandages.  She was made forever dependent on husband and family.

Walking on bound feet necessitated bending the knees slightly and swaying to maintain proper movement and balance, a “dainty” walk that was also considered “sexually enticing” to men.

The practice persisted for a thousand years through the  Qing Dynasty and the Chinese Republic.  Laws were passed by the Republic and,  outside of the major population centers, ignored.   There are still Chinese women alive today with bound feet.

It took the coming of the godless Communists to finally stamp it out.


photo: http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2012/may/04/two-arrested-female-genital-mutilation

About toritto

I was born during year four of the reign of Emperor Tiberius Claudius on the outskirts of the empire in Brooklyn. I married my high school sweetheart, the girl I took to the prom and we were together for forty years until her passing in 2004. We had four kids together and buried two together. I had a successful career in Corporate America (never got rich but made a living) and traveled the world. I am currently retired in the Tampa Bay metro area and live alone. One of my daughters is close by and one within a morning’s drive. They call their pops everyday. I try to write poetry (not very well), and about family. Occasionally I will try a historical piece relating to politics. :-)
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Female Genital Mutilation

  1. katjeffery says:

    Toritto thank you for sharing and reminding us of our liberties we take for granted. Emotionally this was an incredibly difficult post to read as I cannot even imagine the torture (physical/emotional) that is inflicted on these women. As a mother I’m horrified that another mother would mutilate and sacrifice her daughters organs and even her life. How can we change a countries norms, culture, and religious views?


  2. toritto says:

    Hi Kate. It is extremely difficult to change cultural norms. After all, it took a thousand years to abolish foot binding in China. I think the best we can do is support those ion the front line n country who are trying to change the norms and have laws forbidding this practice enforced. We can also insist that this practice be forbidden and criminalized in our own countries. Unfortunately “tours” have developed from Western countries resulting in young girls being taken back home on a “trip” where they are forcibly subjected to cutting. Such is the way of the world. I do what I can. I write about it. See my “poem” : “Cut” – https://toritto.wordpress.com/2014/02/06/cut-2/ Regards and thanks for reading and commenting.


  3. Pingback: FGM and the Demise of Foot Binding | toritto

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.