I just finished up a group project concerning FGC in Mali. I feel like, since starting school, I've made a 90 degree change in my attitude about how FGC should be dealt with. Upon hearing about FGC, most Western women are usually outraged that this happens at all. Most feel immediate eradication is imperative, without exception.
But with that outrage we bring a lot of cultural baggage. For example: many of us think that loss of sexual pleasure would be devastating, we see FGC as violence against women driven mainly by men, we see it as mutilation. But we don't see that, for African women, loss of orgasm isn't nearly as devastating as never marrying or social ostracism, or that mothers and grandmothers (not men) do this to their daughters because they love them, or that some cultures might see certain Western norms, such as plastic surgery, as mutilation. Look at how the WHO presents FGC in it's latest document. A weeping women. Insisting on using FGM. By using such emotion in the discourse, the WHO risks alienating the very women it seeks to protect. Are all circumcised women mutilated? If they don't see themselves as mutilated, what right does the WHO have to say they are?
This is an interesting video-clip, interviewing a traditional cutter in Ethiopia. She lays out the reasons why she believes FGC cannot stop. There seems to be a pervasive idea in countries that perform FGC that the clitoris is poisonous to infants and men. I wonder what these women think happens to Western infants? It is possible that they don't realize Western women aren't circumcised.
I don't want anyone to mistake my beliefs: I think FGC should end and that we should do everything to stop it. But we must be careful in how we approach such an ancient and complicated tradition. Slowly, slowly. The project I just finished wrote up a plan to teach hygiene, not even mentioning FGC. The idea is that slowly, communities will piece together germ theory, wounds, the wounds created by FGC, the fevers and infections experienced by young girls. Slowly, one day, they will realize FGC is not more hygienic. It is not mandated by Islam, it does not increase anyone's pleasure. The clitoris is not poisonous. Slowly, slowly.