Female “Circumcision” Gains Attention
In October 1993, U.S. Representatives to Congress Patricia Schroeder and Barbara-Rose Collins introduced legislation entitled the “Federal Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act.” Congresswoman Schroeder made the following comments in her recent address to the House of Representatives:
Mr. Speaker, women around the world face daily humiliations, discriminations, hardships, subordination, and suffering. Women in Africa may win the prize. Young girls in many African countries face a traditional ritual that involves the cutting or complete removal of their sex organ — or female genital mutilation. FGM is often called female circumcision, implying a similarity to male circumcision. There is no similarity, unless male circumcision involved amputation.
FGM causes serious health problems — bleeding, chronic urinary tract and pelvic infections, build up of scar tissue, and infertility. The women that have been genitally mutilated experience severe trauma, painful intercourse, are at higher risk of AIDS, and experience the trauma again with each childbirth, and all for a practice that has no medical purpose.
The practice of FGM stems from an intricate mix of traditional African society’s perceptions of gender roles, sex, health practices, local customs, superstition and religious traditions. The net result is total control over a woman’s sexuality and reproductive system.
As communities of African immigrants from nations where FGM is practiced grow in the United States, we must make it clear — they and their rich and proud cultures are welcome in the United States, but the practice of FGM is not…This practice runs contrary to this country’s attitudes toward women’s equality and women’s place in society. There is no place for FGM here.
FGM is practiced for a variety of reasons. While some tribal and cultural groups claim that God has sanctified FGM, no religion requires FGM. In most areas FGM is a traditional ritual to prepare girls for womanhood. In some cultures, girls experience genital mutilation as early as infancy, while in others, the ceremony may not occur until the girl is of marriageable age — approximately 14 to 16 years old. FGM is also perceived as a way to safeguard virginity, prevent maternal and infant mortality, and a health practice. Regardless, FGM is about power and dominance.
FGM is practiced in Benin, Burkina Faso, Central African Republics, Chad, Ivory Coast, Djibouti, Egypt(see Habibi, Vol. 12, No. 2), Ethiopia, The Gambia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and several other African countries. While many countries, like Cameroon, Djibouti, Egypt, Ghana, and the Sudan, have legislation outlawing FGM, the practice still continues. Australia, Canada, France and the Netherlands have applied existing laws to prohibit FGM, and the United Kingdom and Sweden have passed laws specifically addressing the issue.
U.S. Immigration Judge Kendall Warren recently dropped deportation proceedings against a Nigerian woman, ruling that it was more important to spare her two little daughters from genital mutilation than respect ancient rituals (Associated Press). He called the practice “cruel, painful and dangerous.” Lydia Oluloro, 32, had claimed that her daughters would face ritual genital mutilation if she were deported to her native Nigeria because of her illegal status here. Judge Warren found that she had proven, as required by U.S. law, that her deportation would result in “extreme hardship” to her family.
Regarding the F.G.M. Bill, write Pat Schroeder, c/o Congress of U.S., Washington, D.C., 20515-0601, Tel. 202/225-4431, FAX 202/225-5842.