Somewhere in Nigeria, a girl will be pinned down and a part of her flesh will be cut off, while she is conscious, in pain and wailing. This would be done to her by older women who have likely gone through the same process, they would claim it is for her own good, it would ensure that she is not promiscuous, she would not have an “itch” down there. She would bleed and endure this pain between her legs, because God made her female.
Some might wonder what all the fuss about female circumcision is, after all baby boys also get circumcised and nobody is complaining about it (at least not in Nigeria). But circumcision in men is different from what is done to women and it is certainly for different reasons.
In male circumcision, the prepuce or hood of the penis is what is cut, the clitoris also has a hood or prepuce, there’s a surgical procedure called clitorial hood reduction or hoodectomy, it involves the removal of the clitorial hood or prepuce, the point of which is to allow women have increased sexual stimulation or orgasm. INCREASED SEXUAL PLEASURE FOR WOMEN? I understand that this may be unthinkable for some who believe this could make women promiscuous. And promiscuity in women is very unacceptable. You know, sexual pleasure is a thing reserved only for men and promiscuity in men is acceptable and should not be questioned.
Before this practice became known as a form of mutilation, it was called female circumcision and it still is called female circumcision by some. Some people believe that we let western ideas define us and we only take up activism for western ideals. Someone even opined that Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) not be called FGM because it is a name coined by the west to denigrate African practices. To mutilate means to deprive a person of an organ, or destroy the use of an organ. Women who have undergone FGM have been deprived the use of an organ, an organ meant for pleasure, but is it so unacceptable for women to enjoy sexual pleasure, enjoy pleasure like their male counterparts?
The WHO defines FGM as all surgical procedures involving partial or total removal of the external genitalia or other injuries to the female genital organs for cultural or other non-therapeutic reasons. It is classified into four types:
• Type 1(clitoridectomy)- this is the partial or total removal of the clitoris
• Type 2 (excision)- this is the partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora (the inner folds of the vulva),
• Type 3 (infibulation)- excision of the clitoris, the labia minora and the labia majora. The vaginal opening is then narrowed through stitching for the passage of urine and menstrual flow.
• Type 4: This includes all other harmful procedures like pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the female genitalia for non-medical purposes.
I was shocked to find out that someone I know had been cut. I had imagined that this was the kind of practice only people in very secluded rural settlements undergo. But that is not the case. With about 180 million people, about 20 million Nigerian women and girls have undergone FGM. Nigeria accounts for approximately 10% of women who have been cut.
In May 2015, the Federal Government finally outlawed FGM but this does not mean that FGM is illegal in all states. Each state still has to adopt and enforce it. Unfortunately, most states have not.
We live in a society where promiscuity is only judged in women but not in men, who are needed in order for it to happen. A society that tries to control women’s sexuality in a bid to curb immorality. We have a society where women are shamed for their “body count” and men are praised for it. Through FGM, they try to alter the biology of women to correct an imbalance the society has created.
You see, our society is patriarchal and so the man is superior, superior means more power- more sexual power too. And so it makes sense to some that men should be entitled to more sexual pleasure. The problem with the clitoris is that it dared to give women this high power reserved for men. So it has to be faulty, for how dare you try to rival and claim a right in sexual pleasure, and so they tried to correct this ‘fault’, and they alter it or cut it entirely off (good riddance!), and it is for the good of the woman.
As long as we have a society that continues to see women as sexual tools needed for a man’s pleasure, who continue to look down on women and try to mould them psychologically and biologically into what they are not, we will continue to have women’s rights violated, and the right to sexual pleasure is one of such violations.
I recently watched Khadija Gbla’s TedX talk titled: Born a girl in the wrong place. Khadija calls herself the lucky one, after the trauma of being cut, the psychological effect, the painful menstruation and painful sex, the fibroid, and the struggle to conceive. This is the sad reality for a lot of FGM victims, because they were born female.
The clitoris is not a dirty organ, it is not something that women need to be cleansed of or rid of. It is a God-given organ of sexual pleasure and it is not a fault in women’s anatomy that needs to be corrected.
I’ll conclude with Khadija Gbla’s words: “Dammit!” Every child [girl] has a right to a clitoris.”
28 Too Many (2016). Country Profile: FGM in Nigeria. Available at <http://28toomany.org/countries/nigeria/>
TEDx Talks (2014). Khadija Gbla: Born a girl in the wrong place [Video File]. Available at <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a4n0zcsdoN0>
WHO (2017). Female genital mutilation Factsheet. Available at <http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs241/en/>