According to Amnesty International, the practice of FGM is performed on more than 2,000,000 women out of whom 600,000 are in Africa. (Kalev, 2004, p. 339) Rarely does FGM simply involve a symbolic small cut on the hood of the clitoris, as it misnomer Female Circuscision would imply. More often it involves clitoridectomy. This is anatomically equivalent to amputation of the penis. Clitoridectomy is often followed by a more drastic procedure termed infibulation, in which the external genitals are completely excised and the labia is sewn together, leaving only a small opening for drainage of menstrual blood and urine. This is later cut open after marriage for sex and birth. (Brant, 1995, p. 284)
FGM is often performed on girls under age 12 without anesthesia using crude tools. There are frequent medical complications, including infection, hemorrhage, and even death. In contrast to male ritual circumcision, two of the consequences of female genital surgery are the diminishment of a woman's sexual pleasure and the drastic alteration of her sexual functioning so that she remains chaste before marriage. In addition, should a woman become pregnant, genital surgery may result in severe complications during vaginal delivery (Brant, 1995) Women who have undergone female genital mutilation have a higher risk for adverse obstetric outcomes than women who have not, and the risks seem to be greater with more severe mutilation, according to the first large-scale prospective study of the effects of female genital mutilation on maternal and neonatal outcomes. (Melhado, 2006)
Female genital surgery is practiced in a cultural context and has complex social, political, and religious significance. Justifications and explanations for the practice include ensuring the virginity of a woman before marriage, inducing chastity for divorced women or women whose husbands are away, birth control, initiation into and celebration of womanhood, hygienic reasons, and religious requirements (Brant, 1995, p. 284)
These and other beliefs will be discussed in grater detail later in this report, however it is necessary to note that culture and its habit over time override what many may feel, who do not have such an inheritance, any understanding of its ethical implications. Furthermore, the implication of not having this preformed are dire if one remains in the culture. Women who refuse or escape the process are relegate to the lowest class of female citizens and fall under other rules. For instance inn some parts of India, sexual abuse is institutionalized in the practice of offering teenage girls as Devdasis; girls who are then sexually exploited; most of them end up as prostitutes.
Thus, the war against women starts in the womb. Females who survive against the odds are relegated to second-class status, where they endure human rights violations through domestic violence, sexual abuse, and dowry deaths. Bride burning persists in India despite laws against many of these practices, which are committed on cultural and religious grounds. (Kawewe & Dibie, 1999, p. 382)
Female genital mutilation has been occurring in cultures worldwide for many centuries, however it is only in the past decade or so that it is being discussed more publicly and chastised mostly by those in the Western world. Cultural norms such as sexual slavery, where even religion often mandates it -- especially in India and West Africa -- also has been occurring for centuries.
Yet only recently are these customs being brought into the light of a global community. But even those in Western Cultures have their issues. Andrea Parrot is an expert in cultural practices and the risks encountered in attempting to change them and feels it is important to recognize the demon within each of our cultures:
The United States is not immune from cultural abuses, which include rape and domestic violence. "Violence against women happens all over the world," Parrot says. "But it is manifested differently and in part determined by cultural issues: what is considered acceptable, what is not considered acceptable, how women are viewed, what men can get away with, and whether men are militarized or not." (Wilensky, 2003, p. 12)
In fact she recounts a story of missionaries in Uganda who had discovered the practice of FGM and in an attempt to stop it approached the elders of the community and pleaded with them to desist. Instead, the elders were so outraged that outsiders telling them what to do that, the following years the FGM ritual was preformed three fold as many times. "Parrot describes this response as a community's reaction to outsiders' aggressive attempts to change their culture." (Wilensky, 2003, p.14)
In this light it is important to remember that those who practice FGM feel themselves as honorable, upright, moral people who love their children and want the best for them, just as those who oppose it. That is why they practice the ritual. (Mackie, 2000) This is the full part of the dilemma between global human rights and individual cultures. Mangan poses it as the following set of questions:
If cultures are to be allowed to dictate the terms of their own self-determination, to what extent must individual rights be compromised? Conversely, human rights should provide 'a recognized vocabulary to frame political and social wrongs' -- but at what expense to the vitality and expression of the culture?.... To what extent are women's rights recognized or rendered accessible within a human rights framework in their own culture? (Mangan, 2006, p. 61)
There has certainly been headway made and the work of the global community has not been in vain. There has been growing criticism within those cultures where it has been prevalent. Many governments have now officially banned it, such as the Sudan as early as1945 and then Kenya in 1982.
There have also been consciousness-raising programs coordinated with the help of nongovernmental organizations and the United Nations. Even where the custom persists, it may be performed among the same people in certain areas and not in others. Though it remains widespread, there is growing opposition to it. (Renteln, 2004, p. 52)
However it is relevant to note again that the negative attitude toward these practices has always come from outside the cultures of these people and it will always pose a tremendous obstacle to change. "Many practices and cultural norms around the world, such as female genital mutilation, sexual slavery, and feticide/infanticide of female babies, are perceived as wrong by outside cultures," (Wilensky, 2003, p.12) but within the cultures they are the norms.
In the United Nations1995 annual assessment of social and economic progress around the world, the Human Development Report noted that "Gender-specific violence is almost a cultural constant, both emerging from and reinforcing the social relationships that give men power over women." (Nelson, 1996, p. 33). At that time surveys in ten countries, which included Colombia, Canada, and the United States estimated that as much as thirty percent of women have been "physically assaulted by an intimate male partner. More limited studies report that rates of physical abuse among some groups in Latin America, Asia, and Africa may reach 60% or more." (Nelson, 1996) So this misogynistic tendency has been present in all cultures and not just those of emerging nations.
There are also gender preferences in all cultures that manifest in one form or another. In many of the emerging nations it is a simple fact that men are more highly prized than women,.
The preference for sons, common in many cultures, can lead to violence against female infants and even against female fetuses. In India, for example, a 1990 study of amniocentesis in a large Bombay hospital found that 95.5% of fetuses identified as female were aborted, compared with only a small percentage of male fetuses. (Nelson, 1996, p. 34)
So you see that even before they are born, violence against women is perpetrated by the culture.
Furthermore there are purely economic reasons behind this "value" difference between girls and boys. A woman without living sons has almost no economic status or value and a woman who cannot produce sons may be divorced, cast out, and have no means of feeding herself except begging and prostitution. Or she may simply be killed. "Only by increasing the value of females as something more than merely the bearer of sons, through enhanced social, political, and economic power for women, can we effectively and efficiently address the problem of human population expansion" (Spahn, 1997, p. 1310).
Some believe that cultural practices have their beginnings in some Darwinian Evolutionary behavior. That somehow this is tied to a biological fact of existence rather than simply a cultural or political issue:
But for a cultural behavior, presumably not genetically transmitted, which is enforced by the group through a system of rewards and punishments, it becomes fairly clear why individuals choose to conform and how a new generation would acquire the behavior. Can the evolutionary success of such a behavior be judged by the differential rates of population growth of groups that do it and groups that do not? (Gruenbaum, 2000, p. 42)