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THE DAILY AZTEC | 02.02.2005

United States should not turn blind eye to female genital mutilation

By Gaia Veenis, Staff Writer

Across the globe, there are a multitude of humanitarian issues for the conscious American to be concerned about. It is hard enough for us to digest the horrors we see on the news every night, but some things we don't hear enough about. A tragic custom is disfiguring women and girls in many parts of the world and is not spoken of often enough. Women are suffering in many parts of northern Iraq as our armed forces work to re-build this nation, and I feel this issue must become a top priority in the global fight for human rights.

The issue is female genital mutilation, or FGM. It is a brutal procedure practiced in 28 African countries, the Middle East and parts of Asia, according to Amnesty International. The procedure varies by cultural region, but basically involves the removal of a girl's clitoris, sometimes followed by stitching to allow only a small hole for bodily functions. FGM is performed on girls sometimes when they are babies, but is also performed on girls as old as 10; there is usually no anesthetic involved.

This practice is believed to have started in Africa approximately 2,000 years ago, according to Amnesty International. There are an estimated 135 million women and girls who have undergone this procedure, and 2 million girls are currently at risk of the same fate. Aside from the obvious psychological effects, the dangerous health effects of mutilation of a woman's sexual organs are numerous and include increased death during childbirth.

A recent study by the German non-governmental organization - WADI - surveyed 40 villages in the Germian region of northern Iraq in regard to this issue, according to The Female Genital Cutting Education and Networking Project. Sadly, the study found as many as 70 percent of women and girls in this area have undergone genital mutilation.

As our troops are busy with the "re-building" effort in Iraq, little is being done to address this human rights offense. Groups such as WADI are trying to educate women about the effects of this dangerous custom, and women's organizations such as the National Organization of Women are trying to inform western people about this practice. Yet, the subject is usually left untouched.

Those who support the continuation of this practice give a multitude of reasons. The Foundation for Women's Health, Research and Development, or FORWARD, found most communities say religion, tradition and custom are why they continue to practice female circumcisions. Others explain keeping females chaste and faithful to their husbands is the reason for the procedure, since a woman who has had her clitoris removed will experience pain during sex.

Some argue Western nations shouldn't get involved in the religious practices of other cultures we don't understand. However, no religious text mandates genital mutilation on females. Girls are often told this is some sort of Islamic tradition or rite of passage. The Qur'an teaches the value of human life, but female circumcision is physical and emotional torture. Obviously, this practice does not coincide with any belief in the value of life.

The United States, as a civilized nation, should not be turning a blind eye to this barbaric practice. We still do business with many nations where this torturous procedure takes place. Amnesty International reports the mutilation is also taking place in North America, South America and Europe - mostly on women who have emigrated from countries where it is widely practiced.

It is not easy to talk about a topic as horrific as this, but talk is necessary for change to be possible. With the re-building effort in Iraq moving forth, I believe we must make it clear with its new government that this so-called tradition will not be tolerated. A priority of our worldwide humanitarian effort must be to educate women and girls in regions where FGM persists, while offering effective family planning. We've made great strides toward women's freedom at home, but so many have not been so lucky.