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The gutwrenching phrase, “female genital mutilation,” is mostly unheard of in the United States. However, many countries and cultures worldwide are very familiar with the term. Female genital mutilation refers to the partial or total removal of the external genitalia of young women and girls. This tradition is held for numerous nonmedical reasons, which can vary tremendously across different cultures. For example, some cultures use female genital mutilation to improve aesthetic appeal and hygiene, while others believe that this practice will help to increase fertility. A few cultures even go as far as performing female genital mutilation for gruesome reasons, such as attempting to keep women’s sexuality under control. Female genital mutilation holds extreme controversy regarding psychological repercussions, cultural differences, and human rights.
According to the website 28toomany.org, over two-hundred million women and girls alive today, most of which are African, have been affected by female genital mutilation. This procedure has been known to take place during different stages of development, such as right after birth, between ages two to five-years-old, just before marriage, and occasionally beyond marriage. The process of female genital mutilation allows for no anesthetic and often uses sharp objects corresponding to kitchen knives and razor blades, as well as tin lids and broken glass. Although this method sounds unbearably painful, many women today claim to be perfectly fine after having gone through such operations themselves. Regardless of what these women might be insisting, can they truly be psychologically healthy?
The social, emotional, and psychological aspects of an individual constantly affect how he or she thinks, feels, and acts. Mental health is crucial from childhood and adolescence to adulthood, and it is equally as important as physical health. Unfortunately, knowledge pertaining to the psychological effects of female genital mutilation on young girls and women is quite scarce. In 2015, a psychologist and three health researchers set out to examine the demographic, psychosocial, and mental health statuses of genitally mutilated immigrant women who have come from Africa into the United States. After selecting sixty-six individuals and assigning specific questionnaires, such as the Harvard Trauma Questionnaire-30, COPE-Easy, Hopkins Symptom Checklist-25, and Lowlands Acculturation Scale, these experts analyzed the data and came to a conclusion. The results of this study indicated that one-third of the respondents scored above the cut-off for affective or anxiety disorders, with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) present in almost eighteen percent of the women tested. In addition, women who either had a vivid recollection of mutilation, had used the avoidance coping style or had a low-income rate were linked very highly with psychopathology.
Some may argue that a single questionnaire with only sixty-six participants is not enough to come to a completely accurate conclusion on the psychological repercussions of female genital mutilation. It is true that one test cannot account for every single possibility or answer in an experiment. However, if a sample is very carefully interviewed and made up of all types of people, the sample of individuals selected will reflect the whole population within a three to five percent difference. Others might argue that some of these psychological issues may have already been pre-existing in any of the women who were tested. This assumption could be true, as well, but the PTSD found in many of the women questioned had to have stemmed from a traumatic or life-changing event.
Another controversial subject of female genital mutilation discusses cultural reasonings, factors, and differences concerning the procedure. Out of Eastern Europe, South America, twenty-nine African countries, and the many other western countries that practice female genital mutilation, the main factor that compels participation is because of social pressure. The fear of being rejected in their community urges many women to go through with this practice unquestioned. In some cultures, female genital mutilation is also associated with hygiene, modesty, and femininity. This notion suggests that girls are beautiful and clean once they have this “dirty” and “unfeminine” part of their body removed. Furthermore the article, “Female Genital Mutilation,” states that a great deal of cultures even go as far as believing that female genital mutilation reduces a woman’s libido, helping her resist the temptation of premerital sex.
People might argue that female genital mutilation is no different than any other cultural activity; it might as well be compared to male circumcision practiced in the United States. Despite the fact that this procedure is carried out for cultural reasons, it isn’t even remotely similar to male circumcision. Male circumcision involves removing the foreskin of the penis for a number of valid reasons, such as a decreased risk of urinary tract infections, the prevention of foreskin dysfunctions, and protection against penile cancer. Female genital mutilation, however, includes cutting off either part of or the whole clitoris for no sincere health benefit. In fact, female genital mutilation fits within the description of an “unjust or corrupt practice,” also known as abuse.
A further debate of female genital mutilation converses about an individual’s basic human rights. Human rights are rights believed to justifiably belong to every person, such as the rights to life, liberty, and freedom, the right to live a life free of discrimination, and an individual’s right to control what happens to his or her body. According to the report “Q&A on Female Genital Mutilation,” female genital mutilation violates an abundance of women’s and children’s human rights, including the rights to live a life free of violence, to have non-discrimination and physical integrity, and to be free from inhumane and cruel treatment. It is also inferred that female genital mutilation is a form of trying to control the female body. As stated by the online blog “Female Genital Mutilation,” when a cultural tradition is forced upon a girl at such a young age, it becomes a “powerless cycle.” Once the procedure is fully understood by an adolescent girl, is often times too late for anything to be done (Letti, 2008).
Some people may argue that female genital mutilation does not fall under the category of violating human rights. Many women who have undergone female genital mutilation do believe this statement to be true, but further research suggests that these individuals are just attempting to banish feelings of inferiority. For example, the online page known as “NOHARMM” states that many women have given testimonies claiming that female genital mutilation did not harm them at all, and, in fact, it has benefited them. These proclamations, such as, “Our mothers, aunts and sisters have been doing this for years and no one was complaining,” and “They (parents) do not want her to suffer the stigma of being different from other girls. She…comes to accept that what has been done is in her best interest,” are perfect models of this belief. However, the same page says that, in truth, “…’Most African women have still not developed the sensitivity to feel deprived or to see in many cultural practices a violation of their human rights’”.
Female genital mutilation is a detrimental issue in today’s society. This nearly universal practice has caused countless amount of disruption and controversy, yet it has gone virtually unchecked since its origin. Reflecting on the psychological repercussions, cultural differences and downfalls, and violations of human rights all presented in this female genital mutilation discussion, it is safe to deduce that action needs to be taken. With new information increasingly being discovered on this delicate subject, little girls and young women are actively being saved from a tradition that should have never taken place. Hopefully in years to come, the phrase “female genital mutilation” will be extinct.
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