A quick disclaimer: this blog gets really heavy, really fast. As we talk about gender inequality, female genital mutilation (FGM) must be a part of the conversation because it is a huge issue affecting millions of girls. For their sake, we must not shy away from uncomfortable conversations, but rather, endure through discussions so that we can work together to address the issue of FGM.
Female genital mutilation is a “procedure that intentionally alters or causes injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons” (WHO, 2014). More than 125 million girls and women have endured genital mutilation in 29 different countries, many of those countries located in Africa and the Middle East (WHO, 2014). Often times, shards of glass or any available metals are used to cut young girls – girls anywhere between infancy to around 15 years old. So what is going on behind this practice and why should we care? Behind the practice of female genital mutilation are deep societal implications and views about women. FGM is more than an issue of multiculturalism – the view that cultural differences should be respected – but rather an issue of gender inequality.
There are some major reasons why young girls in these countries undergo FGM. FGM is often carried out for the perceived social benefits, like increasing marriageability and cleanliness. Such beliefs turned actions, illustrate a society’s control over women.
Here are some examples of what FGM perpetuates:
Controlling female sexuality: In societies that carry out FGM, virginity equates to honor and cutting off a woman’s genitals is thought to keep her from promiscuity. FGM is a way of preserving a girl’s honor and also acts as insurance for her marriageability. If she is believed to not be a virgin on her wedding day, she is deemed unclean or unworthy of marriage and cut off from her community.
Enforcing gender roles: A woman’s acceptable place in many of these societies is within the home. Period. FGM is perceived to be a way to prepare her for her suitable role in society, of which is to please her husband and be a dutiful housewife. It is believed that if a girl is not cut, she will neglect her household duties. Should the woman fight against FGM and expectations to remain confined to the home, she, again, is often ostracized from the community.
Feminization of women: A girl is only considered marriageable after she has undergone circumcision. Female genitalia are viewed as dirty and unsightly, so women are regarded as unclean until the parts are removed. Specifically the labia and clitoris are considered male body parts and ridding of such parts is believed to increase the femininity of the women, as well as insure beauty. Femininity in these cultures equate to docility and obedience.
Feminization of poverty: FGM is usually associated with poverty, illiteracy, and low status of women. Since women are confined to the home, education and the ability to earn money are unattainable. Without the opportunity to attend school or pursue careers outside the home, women are left completely dependent on men and are limited in skills that could help them earn a living wage.
Thankfully, there has been an increased awareness of FGM in recent years. In 2008, WHO made an interagency statement on FGM, proclaiming FGM to be an international violation of human rights. There are also campaigns taking place through The Guardian, Equality Now, END FGM, and Stop FGM Now. Such organizations are working on the behalf of millions of women and girls to end the cutting.
FGM plays a major role in the continuing gender inequality we see throughout the world. In too many places, women are only accepted and valued (if at all) according to a society’s ideal of femininity. Women ought to be viewed as unique individuals, created in the image of God, with inherent dignity, value, and worth. It is time we stand up for women throughout the world, stand against FGM, and ensure they know they are valued and worthy of love and opportunity.
So, what can you do to help see an end to FGM?
Pray: Intercede for these girls and women by praying that FGM will be abolished. That hearts and ideologies will be transformed by Kingdom values in the societies where it is carried out - for women to be viewed as beautiful and made in the image of Christ just as they are. Pray for the worth and value that God addresses to women to be restored.
Get involved: Check out the organizations and campaigns that were mentioned above (Equality Now, END FGM, Stop FGM Now, The Guardian) and find out ways to get involved in the movement.
Advocate: A huge block to ending FGM is the lack of education as it relates to the procedure as well as the availability of education for girls. Start conversations emphasizing the importance of educating women and girls, but also become educated on the matter of FGM. Use your voice to speak out for the injustice endured by millions of girls.