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Monday, 17 December, 2001, 22:43 GMT
Female circumcision: Tradition or mutilation?
Campaigners in Kenya are up in arms about the forced circumcision last week of a young female teacher in the town of Marakwet.

Although she appealed for help, saying she did not want to be circumcised, the operation was performed against her will.

Earlier this month, a Kenyan MP enraged the anti-circumcision lobby by saying the practice was good for women, and that he was ready to finance the circumcision of girls from his constituency.

Was he right to defend this tradition? Should Kenya follow the example of Senegal by banning female circumcision?

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HAVE YOUR SAY This is the reason why female circumcision became a custom: Man has always been an insecure creature simply because he can never be sure if he is the real father of his children. Whereas a woman always knows if she is the real mother of her children. In order to be more certain that he is, in fact, the father of his children, he oppressed his woman. Restricted her movements, put her inside the house, made her wear a veil and covered her face so that no other man would see her. He almost enslaved her. And then, just to be positive that she will never go to another man, he cicumcised her by cutting off her clitoris and labia minora to kill her sexual desires, and declared it a symbol of purity. A big majority of men in Africa and Arab do not have any regard for a woman's sexual desires anyway, and the proof is that they do not even indulge in any foreplay before the intercourse. Female circumcision is a babaric practice, and should never be allowed even if a woman agrees to have it done to her.
Agha Ata, USA

Circumcision must not be imposed on anyone, young or old. However, if an adult woman voluntarily wants to have this procedure done, then by all means, she should. One thing is most important, please have qualified medical personnel carry this out as most complications arise from botched-up procedures by ill-trained native people.
Mohamed Amin, Kenyan in USA


Horrendous torture

John V, Liberia
At a very young age my mother was circumcised. Her father's explanation for putting her through such horrendous torture was simply, "The gods require it." The deprivation of sexual satisfaction that went along with this inhumane act of circumcision caused my mother no small pain in her later years.
John V, Liberia

If a 20-year-old woman wants to undergo circumcision, fine that's her choice. But NOBODY has any right to forcibly mutilate a child aged anything below voting age (0 to 18 yrs). Those who do this are criminals who should be treated as such!
Julius M. Jere, Zambia

It is wrong for those who don't know anything about the issue to take the moral high ground and condemn the cultural practise of others as barbaric. Experience shows that certain traditions can only be overcome by civil education and social guidance rather than through penal laws or public demonisation. We must first understand the role of circumcision in those African societies that practise it before we come out with outright conclusions and condemnation.
Aron, Kenya

I suspect that the comments posted here are from people in a position of relative privilege compared with those whose unfortunate lot it is to be forcibly subjected to this barbaric and reprehensible practice. Real change will come only slowly and not before the affected women are able to get the support they need.
Kevin Santamaria, USA


What will it take for these women to be heard?

Chinyere Williams, USA
While I understand that female circumcision is a tradition, I do believe that forced circumcision is absolutely barbaric. It's unfortunate that the voices of the women who are being forced through the procedure are not being heard. It took a war to get people to pay attention to the treatment of women in Afghanistan... What will it take for these women to be heard?
Chinyere Williams, USA

The main purpose of this practice in Africa is to continue the subjugation of women and girls. After circumcision, most girls drop out of school to get married because in the eyes of the community they are ready for marriage, effectively derailing the possibility of these girls becoming educated and hence economically independent in the future. An uneducated girl/woman in Africa is completely at the mercy of her husband or male relatives, hence the cycle of male dominance continues.
Ana, Kenyan living in the USA

I think female circumcision is a tradition that should be maintained amongst the ethnic groups who practise it. However, it should not be made compulsory. It should be left to the girl/woman to decide whether she wants to be initiated or not.
Sigismond Wilson, Sierra Leone

Pain is a universal feeling. It does not matter whether someone is an African, an Asian, American, etc. How then, can tradition ever be used to justify pain? We are living in the year 2001 and debating whether young girls should be subjugated to horrific pain for the sake of tradition?! I find this repulsive, and am only comforted by the fact that the practice will inevitably end. As we have seen in history before, women will demand the right to choose how to use their own bodies and nothing will stop them from achieving this. Time is on the side of good. Women in Africa deserve the rights of women anywhere else in the world. Such a force cannot be stopped!
Peter Novick, USA


I cannot support those who want to stop it by force of law or otherwise. It must be voluntary.

Douglass Moenga Michoma, USA
I originally hail from Kenya. The Kisii Community where I come from has practised both male and female circumcision from time immemorial. The reasons formerly advanced for female circumcision are twofold. First, it was a rite of passage. Secondly that circumcised women had less sexual desire and thus would hold themselves when men went to war. Both reasons are no longer valid. Female circumcision is therefore archaic and not desirable. I personally do not support the practice. But if my sister or my daughter desired to be circumcised, I would not stop her. If someone forcefully circumcised her, it is assault and legally actionable.

Although, I do not support female circumcision, I detest the term "female genital mutilation" as it is practised in my community. Mr. Angwenyi, the Kenyan MP that you mentioned is right to say that female circumcision in our community is just a small incision that can not be termed mutilation.

Lastly, I have noted that in the Kenyan case, the campaign against female circumcision is spearheaded by women who originate from communities that traditionally do not practise it. This holier than thou attitude can not succeed. Secondly, there is the argument that the practice lowers women's fertility. But fertility is high in my community that practises female circumcision. If the practice of female circumcision is to be ended, then good reasons must be advanced as to why. In as much as I oppose female circumcision, I cannot support those who want to stop it by force of law or otherwise. It must be voluntary.
Douglass Moenga Michoma, United States of America


It is wrong for us to take the moral high ground and condemn the cultural practise of others as barbaric

Mungai, James, Finland
It is wrong for us to take the moral high ground and condemn the cultural practise of others as barbaric. Experience shows that certain traditions can only be overcome by civil education and social guidance rather than through penal laws or public demonisation. We must first understand the role of circumcision in those African societies that practise it before we result in outright conclutions and condemnation. At this age of gender equality, one can not argue that male circumcision is alright as a right of passage while female circumcision is not. That said, it is a criminal act to force someone to take circumcision against their will and this is how we should view this sad case.
Mungai, James, Finland

Female circumcision is not only practiced in Africa. Saddly many other regions of the world experience the same barbaric tradition. Young girls in parts of Pakistan, India and Bangladesh also suffer from what should be labelled a crime against humanity.
G.T., Switzerland


Whoever carries out circumcision on any woman should be jailed for life.

Joy Ogbonnaya, Nigeria
It is unfortunate that in this time and age our men, and of course mothers, are still talking about a thing as barbaric and retrogressive as the so-called female circumcision. Whoever advocates this or carries out circumcision on any woman should be jailed for life.
Joy Ogbonnaya, Nigeria

A lot of people are really yet in the dark as regard circumcision. I feel sad when we Africans term it as barbaric. It is a tradition done not only to female but also to male. With education, we have come to realize it is not a good practice especially to female. On that basis, one can wisely argured that we should stop it. We must not follow the people who are ignorant about this practice and condemn it foolishly. Our ancestors had thier reasons for this practice. Personally, I think circicumcision for both male and female should be eradicated because, medically, it is not good. If those who circumcise people are barbaric, those who manufacture arms for mass human distruction are what? The answer is blowing in the wind.
Peter Emusa, Canada.

Why should men in some parts of Africa decide what should be done to a woman's body? If the women themselves don't wish to undergo some barbaric act in the guise of tradition, why should a man be involved? I think men in those parts of Africa who insist on this tradition should undergo a similar operation to remove the equivalent on their genitals.
Jo, Zambia


What about our beliefs and needs?

Rose Thuo, Kenya, East Africa
I think it's the right of every individual, especially women, to have a say in what happens to them. There may be some of us who would want to be circumcised yet we keep hearing these ideas that it's not right and other medical reasons. What about our beliefs and needs?
Rose Thuo, Kenya, East Africa

The root of this problem lies in the belief system of African societies that practice female circumcision. No matter what outsiders say, they strongly believe that:

1. They would be failing in their duty to uphold their traditions if they were to abandon the practice;

2. Women who are circumcised will be less prone to sexual flirtation since they do not derive pleasure from sex.

Rather than castigate these communities, they should be educated and exposed to the facts regarding the great harm that this practice causes to girls and women. Sadly, it is a fact of life that because some beliefs are extremely difficult to change, the practice of female circumcision can only be reduced, not eliminated completely.
Segun Oyedele, South Africa

I am a Kenyan living in Germany. I am so thankful that my parents did not force me to have this female genital mutilation. I nearly lost my girlfriend who almost bled to death after that barbaric operation. I am appealing to all mothers to prove love to their daughters by not having them suffer for the rest of their lives.
Ruth Mwelu, Germany


Away with female circumcision!

Ernest Cole, The Gambia/Sierra Leone
Africa should be thinking of plans to empower the female sex in order to make them better equipped and better placed to confront the challenges of the new millennium rather than exposing them to the cruel and barbarous knife of a backward custom. Away with female circumcision!
Ernest Cole, The Gambia/Sierra Leone

No, he is absolutely wrong. In fact, my 68 year old aunt, who lives in Somalia, recently went to the trouble of calling every young woman whose circumcision she took part in, to ask them for forgiveness. She said to me, "we violated those girls". If this woman, with limited knowledge of public health and human rights, came to renounce this unnecessary victimisation of young African girls, surely a Kenyan MP ought to know better.
A. Mohamud, Canada

A young girl should have the choice of circumcision and not be forced into it. She should be well informed of the procedure and outcome as well as having the choice to reject this misogynistic practice that has continued without the consent of so many unfortunate girls and young women.
Ms Tiki Lawson, Greece

Get rid of this inhuman and barbaric tradition. Africa has better traditions to keep than this one. Female circumcision should be banned once and for all!
Rodney Lobo, Norway

I personally think it's horrible and I vehemently oppose it being performed on children but if an adult, for cultural reasons wants it done, so be it. Let it be a voluntary thing, not enforced. I mean, people pierce their ears, tongues, noses, and various "unmentionables", huh?
Morgan O'Conner, USA

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See also:

23 Dec 98 | Medical notes
Female circumcision
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