Disclaimer: This article contains some graphic content. It is intended for mature audiences only.

—–

I looked at Tatiana across our dinner bowl, scanned the face of her host mom next to us, then turned back to Kali, the ancient, sickly man asleep on the ground.

Kali no longer works and is without family or means to care for himself, so he wanders the village. He frequents the compound of Tatiana’s host family, curls up on a mat of reeds next to an equally lethargic dog and waits for a meal. Kali once held the title of village “excisioner,” the man who earned a living by performing Female Genital Cutting on the local girls.

Government laws and programs don’t necessarily make it all the way out to these guys in the village.

Broaching the topic is a struggle, even for Tatiana who is well incorporated into the village and her host family. She’s asked about it before, but she feels like people are still uncomfortable talking openly about it to her, a white person. She offered to ask her host mom again, for my sake, over dinner.

But when Tatiana casually inquired about whether or not someone had replaced Kali as village excisioner, her mom gave the expected, appropriate response:

“Of course not. That’s illegal.”

Some of the Facts

Girls grow up very fast in village life, but should FGC be part of “becoming a woman”?

True. The practice became illegal in Senegal in 1999, but just like public transportation and government schools, the law does not always reach remote villages.  And whether it’s happening or not, few people want to discuss it with an outsider. Female Genital Cutting, also referred to as Female Genital Mutilation or Female Circumcision, has traditionally been practiced in most African nations (as well as a few other countries).

FGC looks different in different cultures, but in general, the procedure involves removing some or all of a young girl’s external genitalia. This rarely occurs with any sort of pain killer, and conditions are usually less than sterile. A girl undergoes the procedure as a part of cultural initiation or to deter her from being sexually promiscuous (the idea being if sex is no longer enjoyable, then she won’t want to sleep around).

Some girls suffer from infection or hemorrhaging from the procedure itself or contract HIV through unsterilized knives and razor blades. Even if they make it through the procedure healthy, they are at greater risk of difficulty in childbirth later on, putting mother and baby in danger.

From the Outside

To be frank, just thinking about the subject induces a pretty strong gag reaction in me, a woman who has never lived in a culture where FGC (or anything close) is permissible. And I’m not alone; even the United Nations has launched strong action against the practice, looking out for the welfare of girls around the world.

FGC is perpetuated through the generations by men and women.

I couldn’t be happier about condemning FGC. I mean, it’s cruel, derogatory towards women on principle and obviously wrong…right?

Well, maybe obviously wrong isn’t so culturally sensitive. In fact, mine is the zealous stance that serves as a pitfall for many do-gooders who try to broach the subject from the outside. We jump into a village or country carrying laws and threats without acknowledging the deep-rooted significance of what we’re attacking.

For example, what happens when one village decides to abandon the practice, but the women of the village are supposed to marry men of the neighboring village where FGC is still practiced? They may be left without husbands and therefore without children—the social security system of bush life.

Moreover, how would you respond if the primary message you received from the outside was, “Stop! Your culture is barbaric,” when you were only trying to look out for the well-being of your children?

Where to Start

There’s an organization out there to promote a healthy future for girls in Senegal.

It’s a sticky situation. The risks to physical and emotional health from FGC are real, even if the people who still practice it are unaware of them, but many villages are leery about discussing such topics with those outside of their communities.

Where to start? How can anyone possibly begin to navigate the intricate fabric of culture, stigma and inaccessibility that surrounds the practice of Female Genital Cutting in remote villages in dozens of countries around the world?

Well, there’s one organization on the ground doing just that…

Enjoy this post? Get future updates sent to you for free! Join by email or RSS

Next Steps
    • Learn more about Female Genital Cutting.
    • Interested in learning more about women’s issues around the world? Read the book Half the Sky. There’s an entire chapter on FGC.
    • Ponder things in your own culture—past or present—that emphasize the expectation for women to be chaste (Ex. White wedding dresses in the U.S.)
    • Pray for communities around the world as they transition away from this dangerous practice.
    • Read Part II of this article to learn more about an organization making a difference!
    Next Steps

About the Author: Laura is a journalism fellow with World Next Door. She graduated from the University of Arizona, Tucson with a degree in Animal Sciences and a minor in Spanish. She is constantly learning, making friends, dancing, and trying to understand her role in alleviating the suffering of others. Laura also attracts a lot of awkward situations.

More posts by Follow Laura on Twitter


Comments

  1. Lisa said... 

    Reply

    January 24th, 2012 at 9:51 pm  

    Thank-you Laura for letting us all know that what may appear to the outsider as you said, as “obviously wrong” warrants at least our attempts at understanding the cultural signifigance of such a practice. If we are showing God’s love and compassion, to otherwise dismiss a people and villify them based on face value, with this topic or any other for which we have limited understanding would be disastrous. This attitude or approach, (the one I admittedly had before reading this article), would serve only to close the hearts and minds of victims, “excisioners” and loving parents, who honestly believe they are doing what they must to ensure the future livlihood and acceptance of their daughters. Troubling and disheartening yes, but now I’ll be praying for all those who are seeking to be the catalyst for permanent changes away from these practices, and remember that what we might think is an obvious “answer”…..is not an easy one! The Lord bless you! Looking forward to your next article!

    • Laura Stump said... 

      Reply

      January 25th, 2012 at 12:00 pm  

      Thanks, Lisa. My thoughts exactly! This is a REALLY tough issue to consider “the other side,” but it’s so important. Approaching something like this the wrong way can do more harm than anything else, that’s why I’m really grateful for this organization! (Read part two…)

  2. Curtis Honeycutt said... 

    Reply

    January 25th, 2012 at 9:39 am  

    Wow. Had no idea what this was. It is really unsettling. I’m not sure I want to tweet this out to the world, because I feel that would be weird, but I’ll be coming back to read where your journey with this subject goes.

    • Laura Stump said... 

      Reply

      January 25th, 2012 at 12:06 pm  

      Yeah, this is certainly an uncomfortable one to talk about, but it’s been receiving more and more attention over the past decade–thank goodness! Please read Part II–good things are happening out there!

Leave a Reply