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Bessie A. Winn-Afeku Headshot

Female Genital Mutilation: Who Has the Right to Name It a Crime?

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FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION
AP

Violence against women has no political, social or cultural barriers, and whether it takes form of rape, domestic violence, or sexual violence, it drains women's energies and undermines all women's efforts to further their own and their communities' development. Many of the issues mentioned above are forms of violence perpetuated by men on women. Female genital mutilation or FGM, may, at least in some cases be a bit different as it is regarded as a practice carried through and even initiated by some women on other women: Woman on woman oppression. Therefore by its very nature, FGM is controversial.

Those like me who oppose Female Genital Mutilation/Female Circumcision believe that it is another form of torture meted out to women that is used for the benefit of patriarchal systems that are just plain wrong, inhuman and violent. What basically also emerges here is a deep-rooted system of male domination. The man aids and abets FGM by the values he was brought up with and some of the power to do this comes from men's greater access to resources and structures of authority both outside and inside the home. "Father" did not interfere, claiming that it was a woman's affair, yet it was done wholly to benefit the men.

Usually the pressure to abolish FGM comes mainly from outside the culture that is practicing FGM, or is perceived to derive its inspiration from some source that is foreign or even hostile to that culture. No amount of outside pressuring or lobbying of a government is going to succeed or convince people to change forms of behavior, which some of these members of a culture see as perfectly acceptable and even desirable.

Proponents and some of those who practice FGM make a claim that it is their right to culture, and a cultural right to self-determination. Their argument is that they are not trying to impose the practice on other people cultures, so they are not interfering with anyone else. There is a bit of truth in this view and Western feminist opponents can easily be accused of cultural domination and imperialism. Cultural self-determination is a deeper right in their view, than the Western feminist conceptions of rights, which remains for most Arabs and Africans at grassroots levels. For things to change, the people who have to be convinced that FGM should no longer be practiced are not primarily governments and legislature, but rather women themselves, at village and township levels.

A few years back, when I was in undergrad at Georgia State University, I read an article written by Oyeronke Oyewumi, that challenged the writings and the activism done by writer Alice Walker. Her challenges are based on his opinion that Western feminists have no type of understanding to which they will be able to liberate African and Arab women from FGM. She claims that Alice Walker's approach to FGM is "an assault in the guise of an evangelizing mission to eradicate female circumcision in Africa." He also goes on to say that Alice Walker's writing is best read within the context of Western imperialism in relation to Africa. Oyewumi is not alone in her analysis of Western activism towards FGM. Many African and Arabic feminist have these views as well. They also hold the belief that while they have a certain type of knowledge and understanding of the culture they have more of a right to stop the act of FGM.

True, in order for FGM to be effectively abolished in these societies, it will be necessary for actual members of these societies to reject it, and to do so with conviction, as with any societal "issue". Eradication will only actually happen when they themselves condemn or reject FGM as a harmful practice. This means a further or new development taking place in the perception of people's rights, responsibilities and the obligations in these same African and Arab societies. The further or new development does not have to be based on a mere imitation of contemporary Western secular or feminist ideologies. It will not be the result of African or Arab societies capitulating to the domination of values or ideas arising in the course of Western history and culture. It may have its own bases developed from human nature or society that are found in these Arab and African cultures.

So what do you think? Do you think that when it comes to us taking a stand in humanitarian issues do we just leave certain issues up to the people themselves can define then as a problem or as something harmful and wrong, and only they can change it not governments, or international NGOs or laws or Westerners? I think not. Because of my belief in the true meaning of universal rights and the rights of all women, I would dare not to ignore these types of issues and think, "Oh, they will take care of it". Because sometimes they don't.

Around the Web

WHO | Female genital mutilation

Female Genital Mutilation | FGM

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting - UNICEF - UNICEF Home

Female 'cut' still widespread

Senegal, Mali villages to ban female circumcision

Circumcision: Beneficial or genital mutilation?

Female circumcision prevention post abolished by government

Making female circumcision, history

African elders ban female circumcision