The global battle against FGM

Cultural beliefs do not justify the barbarity of female genital mutilation.

In a significant moment in the global battle for women’s rights, Eritrea has banned female genital mutilation, a life-threatening practice that is estimated to have been inflicted upon 90 percent of Eritrean women. The existence of FGM has long been a battle of human rights versus culture, one between the rights of women and tradition. Even though this ban will not immediately eradicate the use of FGM, it will play a significant role in influencing the practices of surrounding countries who continue to endorse the practice.

FGM has deep cultural roots and is practiced today in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, Egypt and many other parts of the world such as Oman and Yemen. No longer just a “foreign” procedure, there has been controversial cases regarding FGM right here in Minnesota. In fact, in 1994, Minnesota passed legislation against the practice of FGM. Those who practice the procedure believe it tames a young girl’s sexual desires, preserves her honor and increases her chances of marriage.

It is estimated that there are about 140 million women worldwide who have experienced this invasive and painful procedure, which can cause painful urination, shock and hemorrhage during birth, the blocking of menstrual blood, infection and, in some cases, death. The procedure, which is mostly performed on young girls before puberty, usually involves removal of the clitoris with crude, unsanitary instruments without any anesthesia. Furthermore, it is usually carried out by untrained professionals, sometimes even family members.

The rationalizations used to support the practice of FGM within different cultural and religious settings do not justify the barbarity of the practice. Human rights protections take precedence over cultural sensitivity when the abuses inflicted upon women is so grave. FGM is an inexcusable violation of a woman’s human rights, one that cannot be justified by any cultural argument.

Despite long-standing global and local campaigns to end FGM, the practice has continued to persist throughout many parts of the world. The ban in Eritrea is an auspicious sign that perhaps we are reaching the end of this despicable practice.