In most societies, FGM is considered a cultural tradition, which is often used as an argument for its continuation.
Though a tremendous range of practices fall under the title of female genital mutilation, understanding what is involved in the process really helps one understand why it is internationally condemned as a violation of human rights. The most drastic type of female genital mutilation is infibulation. A standard infibulation process is as follows:
The amount of tissue removed is extensive. The most extreme form involves the complete removal of the clitoris and labia minora, together with the inner surface of the labia majora. The raw edges of the labia majora are brought together to fuse, using thorns, poultices or stitching to hold them in place, and the legs are tied together for 2-6 weeks. The healed scar creates a hood of skin which covers the urethra and part or most of the vagina, and which acts as a physical barrier to intercourse. A small opening is left at the back to allow for the flow of urine and menstrual blood. The opening is surrounded by skin and scar tissue and is usually 2-3 cm in diameter but may be as small as the head of a matchstick.
If after infibulation the posterior opening is large enough, sexual intercourse can take place after gradual dilatation, which may take weeks, months or, in some recorded cases, as long as two years. If the opening is too small to start the dilatation, recutting (defibulation) before intercourse is traditionally undertaken by the husband or one of his female relatives using a sharp knife or a piece of glass. Modern couples may seek the assistance of a trained health professional, although this is done in secrecy, possibly because it might undermine the social image of the man's virility.
Furthermore, because infibulations can make penetration and intercourse so painful for a woman, especially after additional scarring caused by deinfibulation and childbirth, the practice can actually lead to a higher divorce rate.
While most Westerners find the prospect of sexual mutilations horrifying, the reality is that Westerners, specifically Americans, regularly engage in a variety of sexual mutilations. The most widespread of them may be the practice of male circumcision. Circumcision involves the removal of the male foreskin from the penis, usually within a few hours of days of the birth of a newborn male:
At birth, the penis is covered with a continuous layer of skin extending from the pubis to the tip of the penis where the foreskin (prepuce) folds inward upon itself, creating a double protective layer of skin over the glans penis. The inner lining of the prepuce is mucous membrane and serves to keep the surface of the glans penis (also mucous membrane) soft, moist, and sensitive. The prepuce is often erroneously referred to as "redundant" tissue, which allows the medical community and society-at-large to consider the foreskin an optional part of the male sex organ and, therefore, to condone its routine removal in a variety of procedures collectively known as "circumcision."
Although the majority of males in the world are not circumcised, the practice is considered so routine in the Western world that it is considered a routine part of the birth process, and its horrifying aspects may not be understandable unless one realizes what actually occurs during the practice:
Usually, the procedure for circumcision in America involves the baby being strapped spread-eagle to a plastic board, with his arms and legs immobilized by Velcro straps. A nurse scrubs his genitals with an antiseptic solution and places a surgical drape - with a hole in it to expose his penis - across his body. The doctor grasps the tip of the foreskin with one hemostat and inserts another hemostat between the foreskin and the glans. (in 96% of newborns, these two structures are attached to one another by a continuous layer of epithelium, which protects the sensitive glans from urine and feces in infancy and childhood.) the foreskin is then torn from the glans. The hemostat is used to crush an area of the foreskin lengthwise, which prevents bleeding when the doctor cuts through the tissue to enlarge the foreskin opening. This allows insertion of the circumcision instrument. The foreskin is crushed against this device circumferentially and amputated.
Though there are cultural reasons for infant circumcision, there do not appear to be any valid health benefits for circumcised infants. Proponents of male circumcision often cite hygiene as a cause for circumcision, but an uncircumcised penis is easy to keep clean as long as a child or caregiver takes basic and easy steps to ensure its cleanliness and prevent infection. However, the reality is that "Circumcision is not a medical decision. Preventing an improbable future infection is a spurious indication. The standard of care is antibiotics, not amputation." Moreover, although recent evidence has suggested that circumcised males are less likely to contract HIV / AIDS than non-circumcised males, the reality is that male infants are not engaging in sexual behavior that places them at risk for contracting those diseases.
Furthermore, even for adult males, condoms are much more effective at curbing the spread of HIV / AIDS than circumcision.
While female genital mutilation is prohibited in much of the Western world, male genital mutilation is routinely accepted. However, people have recently begun to challenge those laws, alleging that they discriminate on the basis of sex. In addition, these opponents allege that the behavior is a violation of a child's indelible human rights. Despite these concerns, the practice remains legal within the United States.
While the majority of sexual mutilations are justified by the idea that they discourage sexual behavior or disease transmission, in Western cultures, a number of people undergo voluntary sexual mutilations. Those mutilations are oftentimes referred to as enhancements or augmentations. Breast augmentation surgery is a frequently-performed surgery with the goal of making breasts larger, and, thus, increasing one's sexual attractiveness. "Breast cutting is epidemic among popular female performers and celebrities, leading young women to believe that surgical alteration is necessary to achieve their dreams."
Although these surgeries are performed on consenting adults, the similarities between them and other forms of sexual mutilation bear some consideration. Breast implants surgeries carry the risks of additional surgeries, capsular contracture, breast pain, changes in nipple and breast sensation, rupture, and migration of silicone gel for silicone implants. However, it must be noted that there is a significant difference between breast implants and other forms of sexual mutilation, since breast implants are chosen by consenting adults. They may face tremendous cultural pressure to conform to societal norms of beauty, but there are some feminists who adamantly argue that a woman should have the right to choose to have breast implants.
The bare definition of breast ironing makes it clear that the goal of breast ironing is to suppress or reverse breast development. However, that definition does not help explain the cultural support for breast ironing. In order to understand that, one must understand that breast ironing is a semi-secret practice. "Breast ironing is a well-kept secret between the young girl and her mother. Often the father remains completely unaware. The girl believes that what her mother is doing is for her own good and keeps silent." Theoretically, mothers do this to prevent their daughters from exhibiting the outward displays of puberty, with the goal of preventing early sexual activity. Mothers and other female relatives support the practice, despite the fact that it is technically illegal. It is important to realize that mothers are not only trying to discourage early sexual activity.
In Cameroon, breasts indicate that a girl is ready for marriage, regardless of her actual age or maturity. Once married, she is pulled from school, leaving her uneducated and weak. The longer she can keep her breasts from showing, the longer she can stay in school, and the better chance she will have for a healthy and happy life." In fact, it is not only mothers who engage in the breast ironing. On the contrary, Emilia, a woman from southwest Cameroon "ironed her own breasts as a girl so that she would not be forced into early marriage as is the practice in her village." Therefore, breast ironing is an attempt to provide daughters with greater opportunities, even if the attempt is misguided.
If mothers are trying to prevent early marriages, the logical solution would be for them to simply object to their daughters being married. However, in Cameroon, a man has legal control over his family, including the decision of whether or not to marry off his daughters. As a result, mothers have been engaged in this practice to prevent people, including the girls' fathers, from realizing that puberty has on-set early. In fact, the practice is so secretive that it was practically unknown to the Western world until a recent campaign to…