Re: African female genital infibulation

Kevin Hendrickson (hndrcksn@MUSEUM.CL.MSU.EDU)
Thu, 5 May 1994 19:59:28 -0500

I knew this topic would come up in the course of discussing
ethical/cultural relativism. It was just a matter of time. I seem to have a
statistic floating around in my head that about 95 million women are
affected by this phenomenon. I'm not sure if this is just in Africa or
world wide. Perhaps someone more up on this research can correct/enlighten
me. In an undergraduate class on "Birth in Four Cultures" given here by
Brigitte Jordan (author of a book by the same title) many years back, a few
health related issues were brought up in relation to this practice. I
present them here incompletely, in no particular order of importance and
with out the benefit of notes or other hard facts on the topic.

1. There are severe problems introduced into the birthing process. Scar
tissue does not stretch therefore infibulated women must be cut open to
allow delivery of each child born. This restriction in the birth canal
results in an increase in morbidity and mortality rates due to the pressure
put on the spine and skull of babies who must wait to be released.

2. Women must be sown up after each birth so that they once again fit the
penis of the husband. The constant cutting and resewing is a problem for
women who have several children.

3. As has already been mentioned very few of the mutilations (might as well
be up front with my bias) take place in the sterile conditions that such an
operation would warrant. This puts the girl (usually 4 to 8 years old) at
great risk of infection. Typical implements described as being used in the
more rural areas include broken glass, knives and razors dulled with
constant use. I seem to remember from my limited research years ago that
Somalia was one of the few countries in Africa that had regular clinical
facilities made available for performing this operation. In most other
countries only the wealthy and those very well off had such access. This
was sometimes practiced in the U.S. and European health facilities in

4. Sometimes female genital mutilation results in mistakes that
sever/damage nerves or muscles that control the sphincter. This results in
an inability of these women to control urination throughout their lives.
The constant smell of urine renders these women outcasts in their

5. The practice may also result in scarification that restricts or stop
mentrual flow at the onset of puberty causing incredible pain and usually
requiring medical intervention.

There is doubtless much more that others may add to this. One can't help
but reflect on what might be considered hypocrisy on the part of
international organizations (and perhaps we anthropologists) who feel no
compunction about involving themselves in economic, political, agricultural
arenas of a society, but somehow regard the area of female genital
(infibulation, modification, mutilation - take your pick) as somehow
culturally sacred and untouchable.

| Kevin Hendrickson / "Nyabinghi Warrior" |
| / / |