FGM Makes Women Less of a Human Being; This Is Wrong An OpEd by Juliana T. Noah-Johnson, a female, Liberian Journalist

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Without mincing my words, I think all of what Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) does to any woman who has been through it, is that it dehumanizes and makes her less of a human being.

This is so wrong that a human being, who had been created in the “expressed image” of God, would have to be treated in such a dehumanizing manner by fellow humans in the name of honoring a tradition.  In Liberia, FGM is an essential part of one of the two main known secret, traditional practices in several regions of the country. In this secret, traditional society, which is referred to as the ‘Sande Society’ or ‘Sande Bush’, young women and girls are taken there and are initiated through some corporal ways. Their private parts are mutilated and for most of the Liberian women, who have been through the practice, their backs are also cut. Huge visible marks are left on their backs and some parts of their bodies, leaving these women scarred for life. For you who probably don’t know what FGM is and maybe hearing or reading about it for the first time, this is how the World Health Organization (WHO) defines it: “Female genital mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” The WHO clearly states that FGM has no health benefits, and it harms girls and women in many ways. It involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue, and it interferes with the natural functions of girls’ and women’s bodies. Although all forms of FGM are associated with increased risk of health complications, the risk is greater with more severe forms of FGM. Immediate complications of FGM can include severe pain, excessive bleeding (haemorrhage), genital tissue swelling, fever, infections e.g., tetanus, urinary problems, wound healing problems, injury to surrounding genital tissue, shock, death, etc. The WHO has also listed some of the long-term complications and they can include urinary problems (painful urination, urinary tract infections); vaginal problems (discharge, itching, bacterial vaginosis and other infections); menstrual problems (painful menstruations, difficulty in passing menstrual blood, etc.); scar tissue and keloid; sexual problems (pain during intercourse, decreased satisfaction, etc.); increased risk of childbirth complications (difficult delivery, excessive bleeding, caesarean section, need to resuscitate the baby, etc.) and newborn deaths; need for later surgeries: for example, the sealing or narrowing of the vaginal opening (type 3) may lead to the practice of cutting open the sealed vagina later to allow for sexual intercourse and childbirth (deinfibulation). Sometimes genital tissue is stitched again several times, including after childbirth, hence the woman goes through repeated opening and closing procedures, further increasing both immediate and long-term risks; and psychological problems (depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, low self-esteem, etc.). This is a human rights abuse of these Liberian women. There have been several reports that most of these women, who are initiated, are forced or conscripted into it. They don’t get to agree to be initiated. Even some of them are conscripted when they are still minors and are unable to have any say in what happens to their bodies. These kids grow up with these everlasting scars on their bodies. For some, when they come to know their bodies, are ashamed to associate with their colleagues who have not been through such an inhuman practice, because they are mocked, teased and made to become the laughing stocks of the gatherings.  To our mothers who are involved and are the main ones who are used to inflict such cruelties on younger women and girls, you need to NOW heed the call for abolishing this ancient practice that has never helped women but all it has and continues to do, is to continually make your fellow women and girls appear less of human beings. All of the “good” things that you people have associated with this practice are all myths. One of the common and foolish things that we hear is that, those women who undergo these cruel procedures, become very less promiscuous or not promiscuous at all and that they tend to stick to one sexual partner. This belief has no scientific backing and it is far from the reality. They only say so as a justification to continue their dehumanization of women. This is wrong and has got to stop. Liberian women and girls are created in a unique way and should stay as their Creator made them. They should not be made to undergo or be initiated into society that degrades their human personalities.  The Liberian Government needs to stand up for these women and needs to honor its obligations in honoring their commitments to international protocols that call for ban against such practices on all human beings. 

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