FGM and Cosmetic Genital Surgery: The Two Faces of the Same Misogynist Coin
Mayar Mohamed Mousa was only 17, and she probably died because of a blood clotting after she underwent a medical operation. But Mousa didn’t need that surgery because she had nothing wrong. The operation she underwent was not a medical treatment, it was FGM/C; according to the definition of WHO, the “partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons”.
In the past 30 years, the UN and all the major international organisations, which all strongly condemn these practices, have been campaigning to put an end to FGM/C. In Egypt, where Mousa underwent the procedure in a hospital a couple of weeks ago, FGM/C has been declared illegal since 2008. Despite all the effort, FGM/C is still widely practised in about 30 countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East (though, it’s also practised in many western countries by people coming from countries where these practices are seen as essential to the “wellbeing” of women).
Although it is almost universally recognised that some of the practices comprised in the term “FGM/C” have severe consequences on the health of women, there are scholars or women who underwent FGM/C themselves (the so-called “victims”), who argue that practices such as circumcision are not as severe as Infibulation; and they claim the right to make their decisions as far as concern their bodies.
Thus, many scholars have expressed their concern about the “narrative” surrounding FGM/C, which is seen, at least, as ethnocentric. Western women campaigning against FGM/C are probably not aware of their “arrogant perception” when debating about this issue. They take the distance from the “other” women who are both victims and perpetrators of the practices, and they often blame the other’s women culture and its rooted barbarism and misogyny.
What many of these campaigners are not considering is that, maybe, the focus on the “others” seen as victims, besides being not always true, it may also be counter-productive. The women who underwent FGM are, in the first instance, women; then yes, maybe the majority of them are victims of a practice they didn’t choose as they were children when their families decided to respect this old tradition for what they think was their daughters’ good.
Moreover, what many people don’t seem to be aware of is the worrying tendency of western women to undergo female surgery for non-medical reasons. Recently, a paper from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists released data on the percentage of teenage girls who “received” (not “underwent”) cosmetic genital surgery. According to this paper, 400 girls chose this procedure last year, and despite this is a small number compared to the millions of girls who undergo FGM/C, these types of procedures are increasingly popular among western girls. One of the reasons for the increasing number of labia surgery is that the only images of female genitalia that girls have access to come from the porn industry. So girls find themselves inadequate as they don’t see any resemblance between their absolutely normal genitals and the airbrushed pictures of porn actresses.
And it is peculiar that amid the reasons to perpetrate FGM/C, esthetical and hygienical reasons are quite common. This may suggest that being victims of a misogynist culture at the point of choosing to undergo (or forcing one’s own daughter to undergo) a useless and/or potentially harmful practice is not just an African’s women prerogative.
Maybe the anti-FGM/C campaigns don’t work because they fail African women representing them mostly as voiceless victims. On the other hand, the severe health consequences of some of these practices, and the unimaginable pain that girls faced cannot be ignored. Thus, failing to recognise that western women can also be victims of their sex-obsessed culture may end up having dangerous consequences, and it means failing women as well.
FGM/C and cosmetic genital surgery are the two faces of the same misogynist coin, and we need campaigns that address these issues in a most comprehensive, transnational, and unbiased way.
Valentina Demarzo is Advocacy and Communications Intern at MEWC
Valentina is a feminist who always wanted to give her contribute to empowering women and challenging the traditions which are used to keep women down. After a Master’s Degree in International Relations with a focus on African History, Valentina decided to use the power of social media to fight against all the misconception on Africa, women, and, of course, on feminism.