Female Circumcision Is Happening in America

The horrific crime that’s inflicted on young girls in the states and abroad—and the uphill battle to stop it.

| April 30th, 2014
genital mutilation

Soraya Miré was 13 years old and living in Somalia with her family when the moment that would forever change her life happened: Miré was taken to a local doctor to have her clitoris and labia surgically removed—a form of female genital mutilation that’s a rite of passage predominantly practiced on young girls in certain parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

“My mother said, ‘I’m going to give you a gift,’ ” recalls the now 52-year-old activist and author of “The Girl With Three Legs.” “I thought I was getting a dress, and she took me to a doctor.”

When Miré realized what was about to happen to her, she felt like she wanted to die. “It was so shocking because you were not expecting it,” she says. “The pain is so unbearable. You leave your body. But what was more painful was having your mother watch as you suffer, and she’s saying this is okay.”

After the procedure, Miré was sewn up using the remaining tissue from her outer labia, leaving only a tiny opening to allow urine and menstrual blood to pass through. Once sewn up, women remain that way until their wedding day.

The inhumane practice of female genital mutilation, also known as female circumcision, usually occurs between birth and 8 years of age. It’s considered a coming-of-age ritual that ushers girls from childhood to womanhood, notes Miré, who chronicled what had happened to her in her 1994 documentary, “Fire Eyes.” The procedure is meant to ensure virginity and reduce libido. “It’s to make sure you’re property to a man who will be marrying you,” she says.

In some cases, the practice is the execution of the belief that girls are born with something wrong with them and that FGM is actually fixing an error in the girl’s anatomy. “You feel like a woman’s private part is ugly,” says Miré. “It’s seen almost as an accident, a mistake that women were given a clitoris.”

Adds Marianne Sarkis, assistant professor of international development and social change at Clark University and a medical anthropologist: “[The clitoris] is seen as the girl [being] born with a penis so it’s up to the community to ensure that foreign element is removed. The thought is if you don’t remove it, it will continue to grow.” After the procedure, girls are viewed as “clean” and "beautiful."

The Types of Surgery and Its Consequences
The World Health Organization classifies FGM into four categories: Type 1, which is the most commonly practiced, according to Sarkis, is a clitoridectomy in which part or all of the clitoris is removed. Type 2 is called excision, which involves partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora (inner lips), with or without removing the labia majora (outer lips). Type 3, infibulation, is the most severe and may involve removing the clitoris, labia minora and labia majora and creating a small hole for the vaginal opening. Type 4 is made up of all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical reasons, including pricking, piercing, scraping and cauterization.

Less than 20 percent of FGM procedures are performed by health care providers, as in Miré’s case. The rest are carried out by traditional circumcisers, who use a razor blade or in some cases broken glass as a cutting instrument in the procedure. With the latter, “none of this happens with anesthesia,” notes Sarkis. “The girl is usually held down by her mother or aunt. While struggling, the [person performing the procedure] can be very precise or may end up removing a lot more. They’re sewn closed with things like thorns or cat gut, very rarely with thread.”

Not surprisingly, there can be serious and immediate health consequences, including hemorrhaging, wound infections, sepsis (bacterial infection) and shock, as well as chronic problems including urinary tract infections, incontinence, infertility, menstruation problems and pain, including painful intercourse.

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