A seven-year-old girl is screaming hysterically in a secluded room. She has just had her clitoris cut off, her vagina sewn together and the surrounding areas of her genitalia burnt with corrosives. Her legs have been tied together and for months she will not be able to walk. Furthermore she will have no choice but to urinate through her fleshy wounds. The physical pain and psychological trauma will haunt her until the day she dies, unless she bleeds to death first.
Although types of cutting may vary, this is the uncomfortable truth behind Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Practicing communities believe that FGM preserves virginity until marriage, enhances male sexual pleasure, is part of custom or tradition and finally (false) belief that it a religious requirement. According to the World Health Organization, Female Genital Mutilation is practiced in 28 African countries, Israel, Iraqi Kurdistan, Oman, Yemen, and now occurs within migrant communities in the United Kingdom and America. It is estimated that as many as 100-150 million women around the world have been subjected to FGM.
During the two years that I spent researching and developing a play based on Female Genital Mutilation, I met a number of agencies that work in preventative capacities, including Project Azure (The Metropolitan Police Child Protection Unit), the NHS and Forward U.K. Aside from the physical violation, it became clear to me that Female Genital Mutilation was designed to destroy the spirit and self-worth of young girls before they developed into women.
At a young age, the girls are schooled into believing that they exist, purely for male gratification and that their bodies are just vessels to facilitate that pleasure. Some will never have been educated and some will also be forced into marriage under the age of 16. When they marry, the husbands decide how they will be re-opened. If he is 'kind' he will have her cut open, though most men from practicing communities feel as though it compromises their masculinity and prefer to force them open through penetrative sex. After they are impregnated a process of de-infibulation occurs when the genitalia is re-opened for childbirth. During the course of their lives, they can look forward to extensive problems during childbirth, menstrual difficulties, recurring infections and endless trauma.
Under all of these circumstances it is nigh-on impossible for women to reach their full potential and that is the real reason that they are subjected to Female Genital Mutilation. Denying them their basic human rights to bodily integrity is psychological manipulation. When those rights are taken away and handed over to men or the community, women can subsequently believe that they are insignificant members of society and become resigned to roles as second class citizens.
Female Genital Mutilation is a crime in the U.K and many other countries around the world, but despite this it is still widely practiced. The only way it can be stopped is by educating practicing communities about the disastrous effects that is has on women and children and ensuring that they are treated as autonomous human beings that have a right to their dignity and integrity.
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