Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 16:35 p.m. EDT, 19 April 2010
AFRICA - The practice of female genital mutilation entails the partial or total cutting away of external female genitalia. Traditional healers, birth attendants, or elderly woman usually carry out the procedure, usually in septic environments.
The clitoris is excised with crude instruments such as knives, razor blades and broken glass without anesthesia. During post surgical healing the girls are at greatest risk of infection, and the agony they suffer is exacerbated by the lack of access to pain medication. In lieu of this herbal solutions or poultices are applied to check the bleeding and lessen the pain.
This crude and hazardous procedure is grounded in and surrounded by various myths, misconceptions, and superstition nonsense. For instance, the ritual is performed as a rite of passage to prepare young girls for womanhood and marriage. The belief that it prevents a woman from giving birth to a stillborn child is also quite prevalent. In some parts of western Nigeria it is regarded as a taboo for the head of a child to touch the mother's clitoris during delivery. Some of the proverbs that support and underscore these mythical postulations include:
- "The clitoris is a cap of prostitution which the vagina wears from heaven."
- "If we don't clip the clitoris, it is going to be asking great sacrifices of the penis when it grows."
- "The fortune gathered by the penis is taken up by the vagina."
Even though these beliefs predate the coming and spread of Islam, traditional African practices have subsequently become closely related and allied with radical Islamic teachings, traditions, and customs. Africa is a deeply patriarchal society. Men dominate the socioeconomic and political machinery and organizations. Men are regarded as natural leaders who are superior and born to rule over women.
Women are considered weaker vessels who are merely extensions of men and secondary human beings. The pride and dignity that women feel in these societies is derived from and dependent upon men. Hence, African societies attach more value and importance to a male child than to a female child. Ten daughters are not worth a son. No woman is regarded as complete or real until she gives birth to a male. Delivering a son gives a woman pride and a place at her husband's home.
It is said that every married woman stands with one leg in her husband's house until she gives birth to a male child. Like the many traditional societies in China, India and the Middle East, the traditional African value system is fundamentally biased against women and is gender insensitive. Thus, in many parts of Africa, girls as young as seven are married to men old enough to be their fathers, and in some cases their grandfathers. Parents often marry their daughters off before they are old enough to decide for themselves. When the issue of dowry comes into play, the girls are literally treated as chattel that can bought and sold, thereby becoming the property of the purchaser who can then use her as he deems fit. This usually culminates in rape, physical abuse, abandonment, or murder.
Women are further diminished through the practice of Polygamy which is another traditional custom that prevails in Africa. Men are licensed to marry as many women as "they can afford" to support. Therefore, theoretically the number of wives a man has can infer his level of wealth or business acumen. However, as with any "status" symbol, many women are acquired as wives by men who are ill-equipped to care for them or the offspring that are borne to him. As part of this tradition, upon the death of a woman's husband, the eldest man in the family inherits the woman and she is evicted from her husband's house while her children and property are confiscated. Source: Excerpted from text written by Leo Igwe. Mr. Igwe is director of the Centre for Inquiry in Nigeria. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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