FGM secretly happening in South Africa
By Hassan Isilow
For nearly 17 years, migrants from all over the world have been flocking to South Africa, bringing with them their cultural practices. Some of these practices violate the dignity and human rights of women and children. An Africa witness investigation has found that one such practice is Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), which is secretly taking place in some migrant communities in South Africa.
“My hands were tied with a rope and two strong women held my legs apart. Then an elderly woman sat straight facing me, with a sharp knife in her hands. In just two minutes, the elderly woman had cut off my entire clitoris,” Habiba, a traumatized 16-year-old Sudanese migrant related with tears welling up in her eyes.
It will take a long time for Habiba to forget the events of the day she was brutally mutilated. Today she clearly remembers every detail. “Blood was all over my legs and thighs. The elderly woman then put some herbs on my wound, while the others wiped off the blood. It was so painful, I felt like dying,” the terrified teenager recalled.
During the procedure, she remembered screaming at the top of her lungs, but no one in the room would pay the slightest attention to her pain. “I remember screaming loudly, but no one listened; not even my biological mother who was present in the room,” she said, the agony still evident.
Six years earlier, Habiba was very excited when her parents moved from Sudan to find a new home in South Africa. To her this meant that she would be able to survive the brutal practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGN) which is commonly practiced in Sudan.
In South Africa, she was enrolled in an expensive school, but while in grade 11, she was rudely made to realise that she had not escaped the cruel practice. “Four women visited our home during the December holidays. The next thing they started teaching me was about womanhood. Later that night the women took me into a separate room and tightly held me till they cut off my clitoris,” she narrates with a clot in her throat.
Habiba is just one of the many girls who have undergone this brutal practice conducted on South African soils. Many young girls are not willing to speak about their experiences of FGM. They fear this would make their culture seem barbaric. Instead, they choose to keep quiet and protect their cultures, just like their mothers did…and the practice continues.
Reasons for FGM
The main reasons advanced for FGM is that it promotes premarital virginity and marital infidelity because it reduces the woman’s sexual desires. This practice is internationally considered as a violation of women’s rights since the clitoris is viewed as a God given gift whose sole purpose is to generate sexual pleasure.
FGM is most common in Western, Eastern, and North eastern regions of Africa. The practice is also common in Asia and the Middle East. However, among the migrant communities in South Africa, it is most common among Egyptians, Sudanese, Somalis, Ethiopians, Eritreans, some Kenyan tribes, Senegalese and people from the Middle East and a few Asians.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are approximately 140 million women living worldwide with consequences of FGM. This practice is mostly carried out on young girls between infancy and the age of 16 years. It comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
The practice is mostly carried out by traditional circumcisers, but in recent times, there have been reports that some health providers have also been secretly performing the inhumane practice. The WHO considers FMG as a reflection of deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women.
According to the WHO, FGM is classified into four major types. The first type is called Clitoridectomy which involves either partial or total removal of the clitoris which are a small, sensitive and erectile part of the female genitals. The second common type of procedure is medically known as excision, which involves partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (the labia are “the lips” that surround the vagina).
The third type is called infibulations, involves vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the inner, or outer, labia, with or without removal of the clitoris. Lastly, other harmful procedures may include, pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area. According to the WHO, all the above mentioned procedures have no health benefits, and are harmful to girls and women.
The most immediate complications of FGM include severe pain, shock, hemorrhage (bleeding), tetanus or sepsis (bacterial infection), urine retention, open sores in the genital region and injury to nearby genital tissues. In the long-term the victim could experience recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections; cysts; infertility; an increased risk of childbirth complications and newborn deaths; the need for later surgeries. For example, the FGM procedure that seals or narrows a vaginal opening needs to be cut open later to allow for sexual intercourse and childbirth. Sometimes it is stitched again several times, including after childbirth, hence the woman goes through repeated opening and closing procedures, further increasing and repeated both immediate and long-term risks.