Reproductive and sexual ‘freedom’….?

Alice Walker's book, The Temple of My Familiar, is one of the most moving fictionalised accounts of FGM.

It must have been 1992 or so when I first heard about the practice known as ‘female genital mutilation’, or simply, FGM. Sadly, it was not through a text or lecture on practices in a faraway land, but as a part of a public health debate in the greater Atlanta area.

The case was particularly troubling not merely because of the desire of a parent to have their young girl undergo a particularly severe form of the painful practice, but because it was being driven by the young girl’s mother. This was a fierce slap across the face to my young feminist leanings.

For those unfamiliar with the practice, the roughly 100 to 140 million girls and women who have been subjected to FGM have received no health benefit of any kind from the practice. It involves the partial or complete removal of the external female genitalia, and may result in severe bleeding, problems urinating, and potentially complications during childbirth. In its worst incarnation, known as ‘infibulation’, the vaginal opening is narrowed to such an extent that it needs to be cut open later to allow for sexual intercourse and/or childbirth’. Sexual pleasure is unsurprisingly limited if not altogether impossible for those who have been ‘circumcised’.

FGM is internationally recognised as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. While it is largely carried out in developing countries, it is not uncommon in the United States.

What’s more troubling is that it is becoming more common.

The practice in the US and in the UK is known as ‘clitoroplasty’. The procedure is increasingly on girls, young women and women when  the clitoris is deemed ‘too large’ or ‘unattractive’. For more on  the practice in the UK, try to find a programme entitled, ‘The Perfect Vagina‘.

Part of the concern and outrage surrounding FGM in general is that it is not merely the physical harm that are worrying, but also the psycho-social damage which lasts far beyond the physical wounds that make it so reprehensible. How then can we not be outraged by a physician at Cornell University in New York who takes that harm to an altogether different level?

Tell me, why is this a medically ‘necessary’ procedure? Who decides that a young girl, one who has not even enjoyed that right of passage known as puberty, has ‘abnormal’ genitals? And, by determining that a particular girl’s genitalia are ‘unattractive’ or ‘abnormal’, are we not then causing the very psychological harm we condemn for more ‘traditional’ brands of FGM? Finally, what sort of harm comes from ‘testing’ the ‘success’ of the procedure by using stimulators such as vibrators on girls as young as 6?!

And, how then can we ever attempt to advocate for reproductive rights or sexual freedom beyond our own borders ever again?

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