According to the World Health Organization (WHO), as of now, 140 million girls and women are living with the consequences of the cultural practice termed female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). The WHO defines FGM/C as the “partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs whether for cultural, religious, or other non-therapeutic reasons.” It is usually carried out on girls ranging from a few days old to 15 years old. It is most prominent in Africa where an estimated 92 million girls, 10 years of age and older have been subjected to FGM/C. It is not only practiced in 28 African countries, but also in the Middle and South East Asia. (1)
In most countries, including Sudan, where FGM/C is performed it is viewed as a way to protect the woman’s virginity, and to discourage “female promiscuity” thus ultimately preserving and protecting the family’s reputation or honor. Some other cultural reasons are aimed towards promoting femininity. For example, if the clitoris is not removed via FGM/C t is believed that it will grow longer between the legs to resemble a penis. Therefore, by removing the clitoris which is viewed as a feature of masculinity the woman is ultimately achieving femininity; this is also why this procedure is viewed as a rite of passage into womanhood for the women in these cultures. Many of the pro FGM/C groups have stated that there are also religious regions backing this procedure, but as of now one common statement from the religious leaders in Sudan has still not been attained. (1)
Some of the attempts of advocacy for the women who suffer physically and psychologically have come from NGOS or other national organizations. Some of the different advocacy efforts have involved “the combination of health-based approach and behavioral change strategies; including peer education, use of positive deviants, and community conversation” (1). After evaluation of the success of the different approaches taken to reduce FGM/C, one of the most successful approaches seemed to be introducing alternative rights of passages, while the least successful approach was the traditional medicalization of FGM/C. (1)
One major national attempt to end FGM/C came from the National Council of Child Welfare (NCCW) which included the coordination of different groups at a local level such as Sudanese Network for Abolition of FGM/C (SUNAF) which is made up of NGOs and academic institutions, line ministries, and legal experts. One of the major successes of this advocacy movement was the passing of the Child Act Bill in 2009 which includes an article to make FGM/C illegal based on health and social reasons. So far in Sudan, this law has been ratified in the State of South Kordofan in 2008 and in Gadaref State in 2009(1).
Not everyone views this procedure as an unnecessary act of torture both physically and socially. Some people really do feel this is an act of empowerment of woman, a launch into her femininity. One of these individuals is an anthropologist from Sierra Leonean, Dr. Ahmadu, who actually underwent this cultural procedure herself. She aims to break down the surrounding negative perceptions about FGM/C by sharing her own experience. As illustrated in one of her articles, Dr. Ahmadu feels that countries of the West look at this African cultural practice with an ethnocentric point of view. She also demonstrates how in the U.S. state of California women are choosing to undergo a similar type of procedure as a form plastic surgery to enhance the physical appearance of the vagina (2). Which brings forward some critical anthropological questions. Why is this procedure viewed as inhumane in some countries, but not in others?” Is it really only a matter of cultural perception?
( 1.) Bedri, Nafisa M. “Ending FGM/C through Evidence Based Advocacy in Sudan .” (March 2012). http://unstats.un.org/unsd/gender/Jordan_Mar2012/Presentations/Panel 3/Panel 3_6_paper_Sudan_Ending FGM.pdf (accessed).
(2.) Ahmadu, Fuambai. “Rites and Wrongs: An Insider/Outsider Reflects on Power and Excision.” African Holocaust. (2000). http://www.africanholocaust.net/fgm.html (accessed).