|This Ethiopian little girl does not have a choice or a voice.|
Female circumcision, aka female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), is a relatively recent debate. The practice was hardly spoken of in Africa and little was known in the West until the 1950s and 1960s. At this time activists and medical practitioners tabled the health consequences of female circumcision to the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations. It was not until 1979 that any formal statement was made urging governments to eliminate the practice in their respective countries. The following decade, the widespread silence surrounding female circumcision was broken.
Type I - defined as partial or total removal of the clitoris (clitoridectomy) and/or the prepuce (clitorial hood.
Type II - defined as partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora.
Type III: Infibulation with excision - defined as narrowing of the vaginal orifice with creation of a covering seal by cutting and repositioning the labia minora and/or the labia majora, with or without excision of the clitoris (infibulation).
Type IV: Other types - defined as all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g., pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterization.
Female circumcision is an integral part of patriarchal societies where the male authority and control of female sexuality and fertility are givens.
Efforts to eliminate female circumcision have often been unsuccessful because opponents of the practices ignored to mention its social and economic context. They were out to bash the practice without seeking practical solutions. Many African women have perceived many of these efforts as condescending and derogatory toward their culture. It is offensive to those who believe in the practice to be "ordered" to stop it. They do not mind the good advise but they recent the tone and condescending arrogance of the West.
The strong reactions against depictions of cultures practicing female circumcision as savage, violent and abusive of women and children have led to new ways of approaching the issue. Some amiable approaches include community education, reaching out to community health workers and educating them on the harmful effects of female circumcision. Another approach used in Kenya by the Maendeleo Ya Wanawake organization, was working with communities to come up with alternative rites of passage (rituals). In Burkina Faso the director of a local theatre produced a play, based on the experience of his niece, on the consequences of female circumcision. The play was aimed particularly at men.
Most of the countries where female circumcision occurs have signed international treaties that condemn gender-based violence. Many have laws against female circumcision. Given the lack of enforcement of most laws against this practice, it unclear whether a purely legal approach is effective in itself.
Significant change is likely to take place only with improvements in the status of women in society.