“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” ~ Margaret Mead
The deep abiding mistrust of female sexuality makes the world go round. For us in the West, we know this space as an inability to orgasm, the loss of desire and the fear of getting too close. But in the cultures that make up Africa and the Middle East this mistrust holds a razors edge over the genitalia of millions of young girls. In these cultures, just retaining the physiological capacity for pleasure makes one unclean, unmarriageable, and unable to take their place in their community. This required and brutal rite of passage, sometimes referred to as female circumcision, or more simply “cutting,” has been performed on more than 140 million women living on the planet.
Each year three million more young girls are subjected to a blade; usually one that has been reused and not cleaned on dozens of girls before them, all with no anesthesia.
This cutting is done on girls from birth through adolescence, frequently between the ages of six and eight. Many girls die from hemorrhaging or infection from the procedure itself. In its most extreme form, vaginal circumcision cuts away all the outer vaginal structures completely. The vaginal cavity that is left is sewn together and the girl’s legs are bound for five days to create scarring. Although this most extreme version of mutilation makes up only 15 percent all the procedures, even the more moderate and recently medicalized versions of this ritual eliminates the possibility of pleasurable intimacy for life. In addition, the scarring and shock to the vagina impacts the overall elasticity and healthy function of the vagina, resulting in much higher rates of lifetime infection and mortality in childbirth.
Like most westerners, what I thought I knew about female genital mutilation was miniscule in light of both the intense brutality ritualized on young girls and the overwhelming enormity of the population affected.
I try to imagine the willingness of mothers to turn their innocent daughters over to the village “midwives” who perform the cutting. They know the horror first hand, as did their mothers and grandmothers before them. They have never known pleasure in intimacy. This is their lot and so it goes for their daughters. Do the mothers believe that their daughter’s sexuality would be uncontrollable and that their daughters could only learn chastity through the complete loss of sensation?
Just recently in December of 2012, after 10 years of organizing and education, a United Nations resolution to end female circumcision worldwide was adopted by consensus of more than 100 nations, including 54 from Africa.
Yet, even with the global support to cease this practice, it is clear that a top down approach of enacting and enforcing legislation to prohibit Female Genital Mutilation will not be successful to combat the deeply held traditional values and beliefs about women’s sexuality. Education is the only reliable process to reshape cultural norms and this has proven effective in Senegal where a former Peace Corps volunteer Molly Melching has developed a rural education program, which re-trains circumcision midwives with health care skills and awareness of human rights. Her group, Tostan, which means “breakthrough,” have begun to turn the tide on female cutting with entire villages agreeing to stop the ritual.
Re-educating villages takes two to three years at the cost of about $20,000 per village. This is a labor of love that I want to get behind. When millions of girls are forbidden their own God given physiology as a solution to the fear and mistrust of what it is to be a sexual human being, the terror that is wreaked is an energy that exerts its force the world over. As a force of love and healing sexuality in the world, it seems only right that we at Good Clean Love organize a campaign that makes it easy for us all to contribute to ending this archaic and senseless violence against girls, women and the healing power of loving sexuality. Look for an announcement soon about how a percentage of your purchases will be donated directly to expanding Tostan’s efforts to stop the cutting.
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Ed: Kate Bartolotta