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TAlKING POINT : FEMALE CIRCUMCISION: WOMEN IN AFFLICTION
TAKING POINT BY
M.M. AFRAH
Toronto (Canada)

05, April 2003

FEMALE CIRCUMCISION: WOMEN IN AFFLICTION
Email: afrah95@hotmail.com
M. M. Afrah

Let's cut the politicking, the "Shock and Awe", the military Goliath against the military David of the desert, Smart Bombs, the so-called Chemical Ali, the monotonous Somali Peace Talks, and try to examine some social problem that has been taboo in many African countries, including Somalia, and continued to dog health workers for decades.

Perhaps what has helped to light the flame of indignation under the Western world is the fact that Africans who migrated to Europe and North America continued their social practices in what they believed is the privacy of their new homes performed by old ladies who believe what they were doing was right according to the teaching of Islam. But many Islamic groups say the association of female genital mutilation with Islam is incorrect.

That's when it hit me, because according to these respected Islamic scholars there is no such thing as female genital mutilation in the Holy Qura'aan. Medically and morally there is no good in female circumcision. It's an invasive procedure usually carried out on girls before they reach the age of puberty

Old traditional midwives wielding rusty knives, needles from thorn trees and dirty rugs, and of course, without anesthesia perform the ghastly operation.

What is correct is that the practice is primarily a social practice in many African and some Asian countries such as Indonesia. Many of us male populations have been kept in the dark about the agony the girls undergo during this rite of passage. We were told it was unhealthy and unmanly to discuss the subject in public. It is a woman's department, we were told. But as I got older I began to question the need to mutilate our womenfolk.

Many African women groan whenever you mention words like female genital mutilation, circumcision or infibulation (Gudniika gabdhaha). So I wondered why these words are very sensitive or taboo for many people in the Horn of Africa (Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti), Egypt, Sudan, parts of Kenya and West Africa.

There are three forms of female circumcision:

1
) Sunna removes the tip of the clitoris and/or it's covering (prepuce).

2) Clitoridectomy cuts away the entire clitoris, prepuce and labia minora.

3) Infibulation requires a clitoridectomy followed by the sewing up of the vulva. A small opening is left to allow urine and menstrual blood to pass. This is called Pharaonic. With these procedures, some cultures allow the women to be cut open by husband on their wedding night. In some cases the husband may allow old ladies to open it up for him before jumping into the bed.

Years ago I gasped when I read this mind-numbing account by a Somali woman in her book "SISTERS IN AFFLICTION" published in the 1980s when tempers of the ritual was high in Somalia.

A nation-wide survey jointly conducted by the defunct Somali Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization (WHO) revealed that nearly half of the victims died of blood infection or hemorrhage, while 30 per cent died at childbirth.

The survey also noted that fewer married couples were living up to their vows, because the bridegroom discovered that his pride was not "properly" circumcised according to the Pharaonic tradition. (The deadly virus that leads to Aides was then unknown).

It transpired during litigation that most of the operations were performed by qualified doctors in hospitals in what was described as Sunna, which is less painful than the Pharaonic way.

General Mohamed Siyad Barre tried to discourage people from what he described as un-Islamic in his Xeerka Qoyska decree, and as was expected, there was a surge of opinions and at times heated debates that eventually let to fist fights in mosques throughout the country about the ritual.

Opponents argued that the practice is cruel, un-Islamic and damaging to the woman's sexual and reproductive health, while the traditionalists claimed the practice protected women from what they consider as "excessive sexual desire and also guarantees virginity."

"I went through three painful moments in my life (a) during the actual operation (d) during intercourse, and (c) during childbirth," said an old woman currently living in Toronto's Regent Park.

She blames men in their desire to have a "completely sewed package," or money back as if the girl was merchandize. She said the overwhelming majority of the Somali males view uncircumcised girl as "unclean", but that was in Africa, where some vocal religious fanatics have strong grip on the society, she added.

"But why anyone wants to continue this barbaric acts in North America?" she asked.

To get an answer to that question I turned to a very knowledgeable Somali lady community worker who serves ethnic groups from the Horn of Africa.
"Old habits dies hard, especially with the elderly people who frown whenever they hear girls should not be circumcised," she said. She said she warns newcomers that it is against the Canadian and U.S. laws to mutilate genitals, which many of these elderly people enduringly believed were religious injunction.

Whenever parents refused or even questioned the need for the operation they are stigmatized and are banned or isolated from the rest of the community as "outcasts" and non-Muslims, the Community Worker said.

A case in point is a father in Windsor who refused to have his two daughters circumcised. "Islam does not sanction female genital mutilation. It is Pharaonic and therefore unlawful," he said with conviction.

And here is Ismahaan, a university student who put me in the defensive. Her parents brought her to North America when she was eight years old, already circumcised in Somalia. She said it hurts her feeling when I do put it in public things that are taboo in Somalia. I told her it is open season. Ask any European or American and they will tell you more than we know about female genital mutilation in a jiffy.

"It seems to me they have no way to protect their girls from rape. It's to help ensure they're not having sex before marriage. If you don't do that to your daughter could be at risk and then you will be hurting her," she concluded her little lecture and continued to listen to Madonna singing "Don't Cry for me, Argentina," from the movie "Evita" in her Walkman.

Next day Ismahaan phoned me and said: "I think if you need to educate the women, you need to educate the men, because it (circumcision) benefits men. It's up to the men to understand it's not a choice a child can make."
After a brief pause, "Why isn't plastic surgery in the West considered mutilation? Or male circumcision? Why isn't that criminal? She asked.


Though she had a point, her questions are tinged with a little hostility but as one who is accustomed to journalist bashing I was not pissed off.


M.M. Afrah 2003
Email: afrah95@hotmail.com

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Mr. Afrah is an outspoken Author/Journalist and a member of the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) and the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). He contributes hard-hitting articles to Canadian and international newspapers and magazines on the Somalia situation "through the eyes of a man who covered the country for more than two decades".

Many of us remember his critical articles in his weekly English language HEEGAN newspaper, despite a mandatory self-censorship introduced by Guddiga Baarista Hisbiga Xisbiga Hantiwadaagga Somaaliyeed in 1984 and the dreaded NSS. I am very proud to know that Mr. Afrah openly defied the draconian censorship laws and went ahead to write what he thought was wrong in the country. He received several death threats from the warlords and was briefly held hostage by gunmen in 1993. But he remained defiant and continued to send his stories of carnage and destruction to Reuters news agency. He still is!
info@banadir.com

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