My first stop in the morning is Racialicious. This morning there was a post regarding an advertising campaign in Spain. In an effort to raise awareness, women who have been circumcised are depicted as toys.
The post specifically questions the desire of Western feminists to impose their ideas of female emancipation upon others. It is theorized that female circumcision is decried in the West, because it may reduce the ability of a woman to experience sexual fulfillment, whereas in cultures were it is practiced women experience a bond. It is used as a right of passage, or a declaration of womanhood and community. Wade asserts that, “many women say they’d much rather have clean drinking water and freedom from penalizing economic policies imposed by the U.S., than sexual pleasure.”
If we are to accept that statement as factual, then western feminists are imposing cultural norms upon women from different geographical areas. Living in an area where all have access to clean drinking water and food, subsistence needs have become secondary considerations to most Western peoples, whereas a daily struggle for survival must be of pressing concern in the regions where the practice of FGM is dominant.
While I will acknowledge that subsistence needs are extremely important, it cannot stand as a defense of this procedure as it is currently performed. This is not a question of womens autonomy, it is a question of child abuse. According to WHO, infant girls are being circumcised. A child cannot possibly give informed consent to FGM, much less an infant. The authoritarian nature of the child/parent relationship is what allows such disrespect of bodily integrity. While I hear the voices of the women talking about cultural imperialism of western feminists, I also hear the cries of pain from the young girls who are being mutilated in unsanitary conditions, without anesthesia. It is the elephant in the room that is left out of this article. Does an adult sentient female have the right to decide what is appropriate for her body…absolutely. If FGM were being performed by choice on women, as much as I disagree with the practice I would stand in defense of it. This as we know is not the case, it is performed on children. According to WHO, it is most often performed on girls under the age of 10.
As she lies there with her legs tied together, is she aware that she might be undergoing shock that could lead to her death? Think about that, someone who has just begun to live, has unknowingly risked death. Is she aware that in years to come she risks urinary and reproductive tract infections, caused by obstructed flow of urine and menstrual blood, various forms of scarring and infertility? Is she aware that a 2006 study by WHO has shown that women who have had Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) are significantly more likely to experience difficulties during childbirth and that their babies are more likely to die as a result of the practice? Is she aware that, serious complications during childbirth include the need to have a caesarean section, dangerously heavy bleeding after the birth of the baby and prolonged hospitalization following the birth? Is she aware that, the study showed that the degree of complications increased according to the extent and severity of the FGM.
FGM cannot be reduced to an argument about cultural imperialism. Someone has to speak for the children who have no voices of their own. If as feminists we hold womens bodies inviolable then the same should apply to infant girls. As parents we have the power to make life or death decisions for a child, however children are the responsibility of us all. Tears will not wash away the needless bloodshed or return the lives that have been been given in the name of patriarchy and social cohesion. It is simply callous to claim we cannot judge because of western privilege, when each day infant girls are subject to such abject torture.
We do not deem it cultural imperialism when we encourage the use of condoms to halt the spread of aids, so why should stopping such an inhumane practice fall into that category? A womans body means something, her future children are worth something. Just as once we believed the earth was flat, until through science and reason we lifted the veil of ignorance, so to can education bring a halt to this. Educating mothers on the risks of FGM is a testimony to how we are able to love and cherish ourselves as women. Indeed I am more than my vagina, but that does not mean that it is not a significant part of my being. I demand the right of each woman, and or child to the unassailability of their bodies. To justify FGM in the name of maintaining cultural norms is to be party to a river of blood. I am unwilling to live with this stain to “own” my western privilege.