We, as Americans, are coddled cradle to grave as members of that precious “1%.” We Americans, regardless of social class, have by birthright access to the most resources, the most advantages, and the most money in the world. When we do not eat all our food at dinner, we hear “Children are starving in Africa!” as a deterrent from scraping leftover green beans into the garbage. But, if we Americans took a moment to gaze out from our ivory tower in reflection instead of condescension to the 99% of the world who lives in squalor, bless their hearts, we would see that we share a lot of the same problems with those “starving Africans.” We just don’t talk about them.
While 98% of Americans have internet access, 98% of Somalian women are victim to female genital mutilation (FGM). But, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, between 150,000 and 200,000 girls in America are at risk of undergoing the same damaging infringement on women’s rights. This number is inexact because the most recent data collected on the issue is from 1997, one year after FGM was finally made illegal in America.
Although there are no exact numbers, it is clear that FGM is on the rise in America. According to a 2013 report released by New York City’s planning department, immigration from Africa to the US has quadrupled from 360,000 in 1990 to 1.6 million in 2011. Dr. Crista Johnson of the Refugee Women’s Health Clinic in Phoenix, AZ adds, “The number has easily quadrupled because of migration patterns.”
For the plus 130 million girls across 29 states in Africa and the Middle East, and for the quite literally innumerable amount in America, conversation regarding FGM is crucial. It is crucial on a legislative level so that data collection is encouraged. But, it is also crucial on a private level.
FGM is a deep-rooted cultural ritual, often organized by a child’s grandmother, that has stretched a span of over 1,000 years. The perpetuation of FGM as a practice naturally does not come from a culture’s universal desire to hurt its young women. The perpetuation comes from a 1,000 year sense of social obligation that is difficult to break. According to a recent report from UNICEF, “Even in countries in which most girls and women are cut, a significant proportion of the population opposes the practice.”
The problem is that individuals who do not support the practice do not know that their friends do not support it either. UNICEF Senior Child Protection Specialist Francesca Moneti explains, “I do what I do [practicing FGM] because I know that you expect me to do it, and vice versa. The clear programmatic insight from the report is you have to make visible the fact that people in their private sphere don’t support the practice. So, I may not support cutting, and you may not support it, but I see you cutting your girl, and you see me cutting my girl, and you think I support it because you see me cutting my girl – but we don’t talk.” Opening conversation about FGM is key to stopping FGM on both legislative and familial levels.
FGM, as previously stated, is not a cultural ritual with malicious intent. Rather, It is believed to be a ritual ensuring purity of young girls. Many of the local terminologies for FGM are derived from phrases meaning to “have your bath” or “wash your hands.” However, there is nothing sanitary about FGM.
FGM is commonly performed without use of any type of anaesthesia. Sanitized or even sharp instruments are rare. As reported by NBC News, a 34 year old New York FGM victim says, “I have so many problems, with my husband, with sex, with childbirth…The consequences on my life are all negative, both physically and psychologically.” The victim quoted was cut when she was two. 32 years later, the procedure still causes her great pain.
FGM, a procedure which often leaves a hole the size of a matchstick for both urination and menstrual flow, is a human rights infringement which is indiscriminately tearing the flesh of both Africans and Americans. One thousand years is enough. We, as Americans, need to take the first step in descension from our ivory tower. Let’s mend what is torn.
Let’s talk about it.