Female Genital Mutilation Debate

Women are subjected to female genital mutilation because they are likely to bring shame to their families, said a Muslim prayer leader Friday during an awareness conference.

But Imam Farooq Aboelzahab does not personally condone the act of circumcision on women because he believes the procedure hurts them and takes away a part of their dignity.

"This is a very touching and hard issue," he said. "The concept of shame has deprived us of a vital knowledge."

Female genital mutilation (FGM) dates back as early as 450 BC and is considered a cross societal, cultural and religious practice, affecting more than 130 million women worldwide. Typically the procedure occurs on girls 4 to 12 years of age and is very popular in parts of Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and Asia.

The conference, "Female Circumcision: Rite of Passage or Violation of Rights?" was presented by Somali Women of Today (SWOT) and Unplugging Society in Kottman Hall. With more than 200 people in the audience, the groups presented a mock debate over the issue, followed by remarks from Imam Aboelzahab from the Greater Toledo mosque, and Dr. Walter B. Hull, an OB/GYN who showed the medical complications of the procedure through a series of photos.

Fartun Farah, a member of SWOT, said FGM is seen as a necessary rite of passage to womanhood and a prerequisite to quality for wifehood. She said in parts of Africa it is seen as a test of bravery - to mark one's preparation for childbirth.

Farah said people engage in FGM mainly because it curbs sexual desires in women so that they won't engage in premarital sex. She said that this is a popular practice among Muslims, Christians and Jews.

During the mock debate, members from SWOT and Unplugging Society were pre-assigned positions to either be in favor of or oppose FGM.

Those in favor of the procedure said Western countries have pushed their paternal ideologies onto underdeveloped countries and that these countries should be able to regulate the procedure on their own.

"Societies and states should choose to practice it if they wish to, not to do so would exclude women in stature," said Elaine Householder, of Unplugging Society. "It should not be oppressed but it needs to be understood better."

Debaters in opposition of FGM fired back and said societies no longer have trust in women to remain virginal and that it is a rite of passage only for men because they seem to benefit from the practice in terms of sexual gratification.

Patricia Cunningham II is the adviser for Unplugging Society and acted as the mediator of the debate.

She said the point of the debate was to allow the audience to understand both sides of FGM. She said it is vital for Western societies to embrace the rest of the world and not come off as authoritative, with respect to the sovereignty and governance of other countries.

"One of my favorite points, which was later echoed by the Dr. [Hull], was that America does its own version with such elective surgeries as "vagina rejuvenation," she said. "By definition this is FGM, yet we say it's cosmetic. The debate was to offer a balanced argument related to the topic and involve men in the discussion."

She said FGM is important because the health integrity of women is being compromised by the millions. Those who say it is for religious reasons, as echoed by the Imam at the conference, have been "mislead."

"It is by education and petition and conversation that the global community can communicate openly," she said. "For too long this process has been done in the dark. If more people knew about the process, masked as a rite of passage and understand how unhealthy it really is for the female body, then the cultural shift that needs to happen can take place."

In terms of the pictures Dr. Hull shared with the audience, Cunningham said they were very graphic, but necessary to be seen.

"It was scalding to my brain. I am happy that I have the freedom to have my vagina to be free and whole," she said.

SOURCE: The Lantern

AUTHOR: Mariam Khan

URL: Click here

DATE: 28/04/2009

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