Infibulation

Infibulation

I come from a place where a woman’s vagina is cut and sewn before she bleeds for the first time. Her legs are tied for two weeks so that the process becomes successful; so she heals. The vagina orifice is left as the size of a pencil to let menstrual blood and urine flow. Her husband has the singular honour of cutting the stitches before he lies with her for the very first time. Infibulation is her proof of chastity.

Infibulation is the practice of narrowing the vagina by cutting the inner and outer labia and or the clitoris and sewing the edges of the vulva. It is done to ensure virginity, chastity and to prevent premarital sexual intercourse. The vagina is not almost sewn shut for life; it is defibulated (reopened) later in life for two purposes. Initially, the vagina is partially defibulated by her husband’s penis or by the knife of a circumciser for coitus. Secondly, it is further opened for the passage of her child during childbirth.

After, the first defibulation, both parties have to continuously engage in coitus despite the bleeding, wound or risk of infection in order to prevent the vagina from closing and healing again. Infibulation is not just considered the most extreme form of Female Genital Mutilation/cutting, FMG, because it is mostly done on prepubescent girls but because of the infections and diseases; tetanus, urinary infection, blood poisoning sometimes, death and continuous pain it predisposes the human female to. Yes, continuous pain. The whole process is repeated with each child she has. She is to be cut before the delivery of her child and sewn after delivery. EVERY.SINGLE.TIME.A.CHILD.PASSES.THROUGH.HER

This demeaning practice is carried out in regions like Northeast Africa primarily in Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan, Southeast Asia and some parts of South America. According to the World Health Organisation, WHO, current surveys from women older than 15 shows that about 10% (over 8 million women) have undergone Type III Female Genital Mutilation, FGM, or Infibulation. Though the genital mutilation of females may have reduced from 100-140 million women in 2000, the practice has to be abolished. There is no health or cosmetic benefit tied to the practice, just pure trauma.

Some might argue that the word infibulation is not peculiar to females. And they are right, it is not. In men, the practice is referred to as kynodesmē. Unlike the barbaric practice done to women, nothing is to be cut or sewn. In ancient Greece and Etruria, it was considered shameful and dishonourable for the glans penis of men to be exposed in public. Male athletes, actors and those that were going to be naked in public were required to wear the kynodesme which could be taken off and worn at will. Men were and are not required to prove their virginity. Same word, different experience. 

Though the origin of Infibulation cannot be traced to a particular event, it is believed that it was once associated with slavery. João dos Santos, a Portuguese missionary, wrote of a group in Mogadishu(Somalia), that loved to sew up their females especially their slaves, in order to make them unsuitable for conception, the act later became a sign of honour among slave owners. In 1799, Browne reported that in Egypt, infibulation was done to prevent pregnancy among black female slaves. Among the Bambara people of Mali, the clitoris is cut off because it is believed that the man would die when his penis touches it during intercourse. While in some parts of Nigeria, the clitoris is cut off because it is believed that the child would die once the head of the child comes in contact with it during delivery. In the last two, examples, the fear of the perceived consequence binds genital mutilation to the people.

Perhaps, infibulation could end as quickly as foot binding ended in a single generation in China if there was a collective desire to end the societal induced pressure. For example, the population of those that were foot bound in a conservative rural area in Tinghsien, china went from 99% bound in 1889 to 94% in 1899 to zero in 1919. This feat was achieved through the formation of an indigenous foot association; the members emphasized the disadvantages of foot binding and the international disapproval that came with foot binding, prevented their daughters from being foot bound and forbade their sons from marrying foot bound women. They did more than campaign for natural feet. Without the collective decision to end infibulation and any form of genital mutilation, the female gender would continuously be bound by rules passed down through generations by dead people.

 Infibulation and other forms of mutilations are done with seemingly good intentions; it is erroneously backed up by the fact that it promotes female fertility. We simply cannot pretend to ignore its violation of the female body, the mental torture women are subjected to and the risk of various health issues that could result from mutilation on the account of misinformation. We must collectively raise our voices against such practices. Baby steps are being taken towards the eradication of all forms of Female genital mutilation, 18 African countries and countries that receive immigrant women have criminalized the harmful act. Perpetrators can now choose to either spend three months or a lifetime in prison. Though, three months is too short of a time to spend for mutilating another person. Infibulation has no benefit; it births all forms of psychological trauma and diseases. Unrepentant perpetrators should be lynched.

Dini

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