The same thing cannot be said about female genital mutilation (FGM). For years now, the native governments of affected areas and the international community have both been aware and yet unwilling to act against one of the greatest threats facing women, young and old, around the world. The procedure is carried out to varying degrees across large areas of sub-Saharan Africa particularly in association with religious groups including Muslim and Christian communities. This does not mean however that the practice is not present in modern day Britain and is, incredibly, more prevalent than you might think with approximately 135,000 FGM survivors in the UK according to a 2014 study. FGM involves the mutilation through the cutting and often removal of the female clitoris, labia and other sensitive parts of the female genitalia. In much the same way as the world publicly decries the decisions of IS ‘soldiers’ to decapitate their opponents, it is time to stand as one in our total opposition to FGM.
With crushing predictability, the UK’s July conference on FGM produced a renewed resolve to “discuss the issue”. With this the British government takes the decision to ignore and indeed protect a brutal and dangerous part of a minority group’s culture at the cost of the health and wellbeing of thousands of women. It is never an easy decision to impose western values on a minority culture simply because we have a different conception of morality. This is however, without a doubt, an exception to any of these worries. The reasons for this are best understood by an examination of why FGM is undertaken. It is often said by those who attempt to defend cultural integrity that FGM is an inseparable part of sub-Saharan African culture and as a result should not be the target of western ‘cultural imperialism’. The argument continues that the practice of FGM reinforces community values and ethnic boundaries such that to remove it would be to irreparably damage the culture of the region. It is interesting to note that a very similar argument was used in opposition to the legalisation of homosexuality in Britain, due to the fear that it would lead to the downfall of society, as we knew it. Homosexuals were after all excluded from social activities in the same way as ‘uncut women’ in certain tribes are excluded today, leading to both groups taking extreme measures to blend in.
The routinely given reasons of ‘social acceptance, hygiene, preservation of virginity and religion’ almost appear acceptable until each is examined in turn. All medical reasons for such a surgery are entirely based in lies including that the procedure reduces the chances of contracting HIV and are often furthered through rumours spread by the surgeons who carry out the procedure in order to maintain their livelihood. The question of religion is dealt with very quickly given that FGM has no basis in either the Bible or the Quran and is widely criticised by missionaries of both faiths. While there are some who claim that FGM is praised in several hadith (proverbs and sayings attributed to Muhammad) it is not hailed as necessary and more importantly these claims were found to be untrue in themselves according to the Al-Azhar Supreme Council of Islamic Research. The belief that such a procedure is more likely to preserve a female’s virginity is frankly entirely irrelevant. The fact that a procedure must be undertaken to ensure this is not only a sign of the infantilization of women within these societies but perhaps more importantly the cultural and sexual domination of men. This in turn deals with the idea of social exception given that the culture that encourages women to undergo FGM is the same that systematically discriminates against these women from a young age. It is the fact that so many women are mutilated at a young age that they will insist on their daughters and grand children having it done, given that they are normalised to the procedure and view all alternatives as scary and unacceptable.
Collecting these ideas together we have arguments based on lies about health and hygiene, spread purely out of monetary self-interest and a lack of education, arguments based on a complete misinterpretation of religion and finally arguments that entirely characterise a misogynistic society.
Putting all of these issues aside, female genital mutilation is objectively a force for evil simply due to the age at which it is applied and the forced way in which it is carried out on minors. You do not have to agree that women deserve equal treatment to men, nor do you have to hold the idea that western culture is always superior, but any clear thinking individual must be driven to take action against what plainly amounts to sexual abuse against young girls.
There are those who argue that we should wait for these underdeveloped countries to succumb to the force of education brought on by the information age, ultimately leading to the literacy of women and the natural end of these barbaric practices. I firmly believe however that this is not a change that will happen quickly, fairly self evident given that women are barely treated as human let alone worthy of an education in many ultra conservative societies. Is it worth subjecting thousands of women to the horrors of FGM and ignoring the problems caused in the interests of preserving cultural sovereignty when such a culture preaches and protects misogyny as an integral part of itself? When put in terms this simple, personal opinion does not venture into it.
It is time to take action, to take a stand and to not hold back.