Couple of weeks ago I was challenged on my beliefs on why women are circumcised?
Before I get into the details, I realized that pure universal knowledge includes all levels of consciousness. What we choose to accept or judge is up to us.
When we cling to one pattern of thinking, one idea structure, and reject all others, we limit our knowledge, our experiences and begin to judge everything we don’t understand.
Recently, I was in a deep conversation with two women, one from Indonesia and the other from Northern Kenya.
Our hot topic was on female circumcision, because both women had been circumcised.
The Indonesian woman was 4 years old and the Kenyan woman was 19.
Before even getting into the conversation of “why”, – I got flustered and said, “it’s one of humanities most cruel inventions.
What is the point of mutilating a sexual organ that is solely there to provide pleasure?
Why can’t we learn to love and honor our bodies instead of shaming or cutting certain pleasure centers because of cultural, religious, and tribal belief systems that have been practiced for thousands of years and some don’t even understand its origin.
After watching the movie Desert flower, I thought all girls in African were held down and forced against their will to have this procedure as a young child.
But after talking to the woman from northern Kenya, I had a very different outlook on this topic and she challenged many beliefs I previously had on this subject.
First, she said “some women voluntarily partake in the ritual because it’s a sign of maturity and becoming a woman.
In the west you think that men force or expect women to get this procedure, instead it’s the women in the community who encourage girls to do it because it’s part of becoming a woman and being accepted by the community.
Traditionally, an older woman usually performs the procedure. For the girls getting circumcised it’s part of becoming initiated into the female network and to them that’s really important.
A circumcised woman is allowed to be part of the elder women network that maintain power in their communities.
If she doesn’t get circumcised her status remains as an outsider.”
I also learned about the different variations of female circumcision.
According to the World Health Organization there are three main types.
- Type 1: Clitoridectomy – partial or total removal of the clitoris.
- Type 2: Excision – partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora (the inner lips of the vulva).
- Type 3: Infibulation, this is the narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal.
I asked her about the excruciating pain among other complications that may take place during such a procedure (i.e. bleeding, urination issues, infections, complications)?
She replied, “many women often think of the benefits and not focus too much on the pain or anything else.
Think of it this way – it’s a similar pain to giving birth, when you are in labor for so many hours, you say I am never doing this again until you see your baby, then the pain subsides and you feel so much joy and love.
It becomes good pain.
Also with many tribes in Africa, a woman can’t get married or give birth without first being circumcised.”
Some people throughout Africa believe that their bodies are intersexual and that all male and female bodies contain male and female parts.
So the men consider their foreskin as a female part of their body.
And for a female, the covering of the clitoris is a male part of the body.
The idea of becoming a fully formed woman includes being circumcised and having that part of the male like body removed from her body.”
I then asked the Indonesian woman if circumcision is a common practice in Indonesia?
She said it’s definitely done, especially in places like Java, but wasn’t sure of other places in the country. I asked what was the reason behind their decision to circumcise women?
She said – “it’s an Islamic practice, and a religious duty. If you are not circumcised then you are not Muslim – when you are circumcised you are clean and to pray to Allah you need to be clean. ”
In many developed countries a woman gives consent to have any surgical procedure.
But what would it take for countries like Africa, Indonesia and some Arabic countries for a woman to give consent without social pressures?
In some countries and communities social pressures are so strong that unless she wants to be an outcast she doesn’t have a choice of opting out.
Most of the time it’s not a choice that only a mother gets to make, it’s the entire family and community which are involved in the decision making process.
It’s very difficult to change the mind of elders who are set in their ways, – no one wants to be the ‘black sheep’ of their community and lose face.
There are currently many NGO’s, campaigns and laws that are being put in place to ban this practice claiming that it’s no longer a medical issue, but a human – rights issue.
It’s easy for us in the west to say that love, kindness and compassion always trump religious dogma, but how much do we really understand the bond of tribal communities?
Having traveled to so many parts of the world, I get to see first hand how many people around the world find happiness.
Their happiness often comes from maintaining close contact with those whom they love most – their tribe and their communities.
I am still not convinced that this procedure should continue to be practiced, but what would it take to change the minds of elders whose attitude toward sexuality come from centuries of ignorance, and misinformation?