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Why We Need To Talk More About Infibulation: A Practice That Many Women Are Still Subjected To

People always talk about the advanced world in which we live, and it seems almost impossible to believe that there was a moment in history when people had nothing to survive with, or at least to be able to live with the same type of comfort as today. Technology and human thinking have gone so far, that we’re now discussing the possibility of including robots in our daily lives, or healing illnesses that only a decade ago were mortal. 


However, even though we are living in the so-called ‘advanced’ 21st century, women still struggle to fight for their basic human rights. Real discussions for gender equality and respect for women began a few years ago, and it’s just now that we can begin to feel that a few improvements have been made. And still, there’s a portion of the female population that is fighting for something even more important than that, which is their bodies and freedom. No, we’re not talking about Iraq women who have to wear veils and hide their bodies to not call other people’s attention; and no, we’re not talking about Pakistan women who are not allowed to study or educate themselves; just to name a few examples. 


We’re talking about the young girls and women who are subjected to infibulation. And what is infibulation? It’s a very common practice that takes place mostly in the northeast of Africa, which can include countries like Djibouti, Eritrea, Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia, among others. This practice can also be known as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).


This practice is usually done in women, who don’t have a choice and are forced to undergo this horrific procedure that can be classified into 4 different types. Type 1 involves the partial or total removal of the clitoris. Type 2 is the removal of the clitoris as well as certain parts of the vulva. Type 3, also known as infibulation, consists of narrowing the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal, which can be formed by the same skin of the labia. It can also involve the removal of the clitoris. Finally, Type 4 includes any type of harmful action taken against the female genitalia. 


According to the World Health Organization, FGM is practised in more than 30 African countries, and even though it’s considered a girls' and women's human rights violation, more than 200 million women around the world have undergone this procedure, ranging from infancy to 15 years old. 


In many countries, infibulation is performed by a healer or midwife, and women are not given any type of anaesthetic. Of course, this has been condemned around the world, and it’s considered an illegal practice. However, in most of the countries that still carry it out, is linked to social convention, as well as tribal or religious purposes. The main goal is to stop women from feeling pleasure, and it’s also done to ensure a woman’s chastity, as well as her loyalty and fidelity to her husband.


In the case of infibulation, women are usually left with a wall of skin and flesh across their vagina and pubic areas, leaving them only with a small hole meant for the passage of urine and menstrual blood. The healing process, which in many cases is unsuccessful, consists of bounding the woman’s legs for two to four weeks to allow the healing. If it doesn’t heal properly, the procedure is done again.


Given the fact that many of the countries that practice this torture for women live under poor conditions, in most cases, women end up getting infections, severe pain and major consequences for their reproductive and urinary systems, as well as mental health issues, shocks, haemorrhages and even death. 


Whenever sexual intercourse is needed, usually from the man’s side, the skin wall is cut with a knife or just by the man’s member. The same thing happens for childbirth, and in both cases, after it’s finished, the wall is closed again. This process is known as defibulation or deinfibulation.


Although many countries and health organizations have issued their worries and reasons to forbid this practice, still many girls and women are subjected to it. In most cases, and because it’s linked to social beliefs, many women subdue their daughters to this procedure to guarantee their eligibility for marriage in the future, as well as to avoid any type of social exclusion. It’s considered a type of control over women’s sexuality and proof of gender inequality in certain countries. 


In some cases, there has been an improvement in educating the people in charge of conducting these practices, who have changed their minds on the topic and begun advocating to stop this procedure. However, it has become such an important tradition in some cultures, that still millions of girls and women are likely to be subjected to Female Genital Mutilation.


We might live in the 21st Century, but many countries still live in the past far from technology and good health conditions. Even though governments are trying to stop this horrible violation of human rights, there’s a cultural and economic situation that’s far from being solved. 


Photo Credit: Time


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