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article imageFemale genital mutilation a Western problem too Special

By Miriam Mannak     Feb 28, 2014 in World
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) might not form part of the cultural spectrum of Europe or North America; it doesn't mean the phenomenon doesn't exist there. Both continents are home to hundreds of thousands of victims and potential victims.
In 2013, the European Parliament estimated the number of girls and women in Europe living with FGM at 500.000.
While some girls and women had only part of their clitoris removed, others lost the clitoris and inner labia. Some were infibulated: they had their outer labia removed too, after which they were closed up — leaving nothing but a little opening for the passage of blood and urine.
In the US, FGM has been classified a federal crime since 1996, but nevertheless some 200.000 women and girls remained at risk of being mutilated '. As a result, the law was amended in January 2013 to ban "vacation cutting" — sending a girl "on holiday" to her country of origin to be circumcised. Despite this, girls from countries where FGM is practiced — 29 in total, of which the bulk in Africa — remain vulnerable.
"There was no anesthetic"
Ifrah Ahmed (24), born in Somalia and currently residing in Ireland, hails what the west has done to help stomp out FGM. She was mutilated at the tender age of eight, together with 10 other girls her age. The procedure, as often is the case, didn't happen in a clinic and involved a simple razor blade. "There was no anesthetic. Afterwards, my legs were tied together for days," she remembers.
Ahmed is not alone. The United Nations estimate the number of victims worldwide at 100 to 140 million. This number could grow by 30 million in the next decade, the UN says, as that is the number of girls who are threatened by this tradition. This comes down to 8219 new victims every day for the next ten years.
From victim to activist
When Ahmed was 17, she fled to Ireland. From here, she has been fighting against FGM and for the rights of fellow victims ever since. "When I arrived in Ireland, I had to undergo various health checks, including HIV and Hepatitis tests as well as a pap smear. The nurse who attended to me, didn't understand what she saw and asked how I could have hurt myself so badly down there," Ahmed recalls. "This was very painful and embarrassing. My interpreter was a man. It felt very uncomfortable to talk to her about this via him."
Back at the asylum seekers' centre, Ahmed shared her experiences with some of the other girls, many of whom were circumcised too. "One of them was mutilated with a piece of broken glass and closed up with thorns," she says. "Most girls had the same experience. This made me think, and hence I started my campaign for more awareness for the needs of women like us — FGM victims living abroad — and against the practice anywhere in the world."
Not a religious affair
While FGM is often attributed to the Islam, the practice has no religious foundations. There is no mention of the practice in the Quran, nor the Bible, and it is not practised in Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia, which are Islam's holiest cities. In 2006 several leading Islamic scholars called for an end to female circumcision, and in the subsequent year the Al-Azhar Supreme Council of Islamic Research in Cairo ruled that female circumcision has no basis in Islamic law. FGM, instead, is rather a cultural affair.
There are a plethora of reasons why FGM is bad news for women and girls. "The circumcision and the time afterwards are extremely painful. Girls often get infections," Ahmed says. "The risk of complications later in life is massive too."
Particularly being pregnant and childbirth are risky affairs. A 2006 study by the World Health Organization (WHO) for instance shows that women who have been circumcised "are significantly more likely to experience difficulties during childbirth as a result of the practice."
Serious complications during childbirth include the need to have a cesarean section as well as dangerously heavy bleeding after the birth and prolonged hospitalization. FGM victims have on average 30 percent more cesarean sections compared to uncut women, the researcher say. "Similarly there is a 70 percent increase in numbers of women who suffer from postpartum hemorrhage."
The problem lies in the fact that scores of women in Africa, where the practice is most common, don't have access to health care and cesareans. According to the WHO, less than 50 percent of African women give birth whilst being attended by a skilled health care worker. They're chance of surviving giving birth is therefore dramatically lower than FGM victims who have access to health care facilities.
Dead babies
FGM puts babies in substantial danger too. Because their mother's vulva has been reduced to a small opening, in combination with rigid, non-flexible scar tissue, babies tend to struggle when being born. Depending on the severity of the circumcision, the need to resuscitate newborns of mutilated mothers is up to 66 percent higher compared to babies of uncut mothers. The death rate among babies of FGM mothers during and immediately after birth is 15 percent to 55 percent higher. "It is estimated that in the African context an additional 10 to 20 babies die per 1000 deliveries as a result of this practice,” the report states.
World's first FGM clinic on African soil
Some countries in Africa, where female circumcision has the largest stronghold, are starting to come to terms with the devastating impact of this ancient tradition. Take Burkina Faso. Next month, this western African nation will see the opening of the world's first clinic where women can have the physical damage of their circumcision reverse.
“The operations are free of charge and will be performed by the world's best surgeons in this field. They eventually will train local surgeons to do the operations,” says Nadine Gary, spokesperson of Clitoraid, the organization behind the clinic.
“We have over 300 women on our waiting list already. The fact we could open our clinic in Burkina Faso shows that this country, where 75 percent of girls and women are circumcised, is changing its attitude towards FGM. This is a positive sign."
More about Female genital mutilation, Female circumcision, Human Rights, transgender rights, Fgm
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