A Deeper Cut

by Vernadette Barnes*

A mother in Western society can not conceive taking her five year old daughter to a doctor to have her vagina sewn in a manner where there is only a small space for her to urinate or to have specific portions removed. In many cultures this procedure is normal. Instead of a sterile doctors office with the luxury of anesthesia, the procedure is usually performed by a local midwife who forgoes all surgical instruments and simply uses a knife or razor. Anesthesia is never thought of when there are other young women around to hold the patient down. I personally know a number of women who have never heard of nor have the faintest idea of what Female Genital Mutilation is. Those who are knowledgeable of the practice tend to shun most public discussion of it unless they are directly affected by it. We all know that it is never proper to discuss a woman’s genitalia in public above a whisper no matter if there is an injustice or mutilation surrounding it. This proper “politically correct” mindset only assists the perpetrators of this practice. 

Source: osmanart
They want the public as well as the victims of FGM to remain silent. Cloaked in the guise of standard religious, cultural, and social practice FGM can be presented to a young woman as a honourable rite of passage. Why should a five year old or a fifteen year old be ashamed of her fully developed vagina? If one of these young women takes a stand and forcefully objects to the procedure the consequences can be dire. The cutting will be forced or they could be deemed unclean, immodest, or threatened with never being able to marry. I understand that as outsiders we all must be careful how they scrutinise the parties involved due to the sensitive physical and mental nature of this practice. Obviously, there are no benefits to this brutality outside of mere social and cultural acceptance. The medical consequences on the other hand can be horrendous.

What concerns me most outside of these young women suffering with the visible physical scars, are the emotional scars that they will have to carry or try to cope with for a lifetime. I cannot even fathom the psychological torment of those who yield to or reject FGM. Memories of painful childhood events often have a way of resurfacing throughout our lifetimes. FGM victims carry a daily reminder that they can not simply cover up or get rid of which can trigger painful memories with a routine bathroom visit, shower, or bath. I would dare say that if these young women were examined for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder the statistics would be staggering.

After experiencing such a traumatic procedure, at an early age, I am only sure how these women function in future relationships will be affected. Once the cut has been made how does that five, seven, or fifteen year old girl now view her mother? Is the experience a bond or a wedge between them? If the family has conditioned the young woman to feel as if this practice preserves her purity and makes her more desirable for marriage her relationship with the family matriarch(s) may or may not be affected. If the victim marries how does she now manage sexual intercourse which has been widely reported as being painful after FGM. Does she abhor the intimacy and the very act that is suppose to bring forth both passionate and love because it causes her so much physical pain? Should one of these young women escape the knife for whatever reason how does she now deal with the rejection from her family, community, or religious sect? There is much to consider in the area of how a FGM victim approaches and functions in various relationships as she moves forward after the procedure.

I became aware of FGM during my junior year of college in 1998. I had never remotely heard of it prior but even now in the age of Google and the height of social media FGM is still taboo. The silence is saving no one. It is not going to disappear because we do not want to say “vagina” in public unless it is in a monologue. FGM is mainly practiced on that “other” continent therefore it is considered none of our business and we should not get involved. Since these are not our daughters who are being held down and disfigured it is easy to turn our backs. Well it is apart of their religious freedoms and we should not judge. Such thoughts and statements only sharpens the perpetrator’s knife. When we turn our backs, do not get involved, and whisper instead of scream we allow the perpetrators to metaphorically sew our mouths shut while they stitch another victim.



Vernadette Barnes is a social justice and book blogger. A graduate of the University of Mississippi with a B.A. in History, she enjoys writing about and having discussions on black consciousness and racial injustice. She resides in Mississippi, in the United States, with her two cats Wellington and Devereaux.


Readers are encouraged to quote, reproduce and share this content for educational, non-profit purposes, provided the source is acknowledged. The views expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the HR&D team.

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