Female genital mutilation (female circumcision)
Article first published online: 19 AUG 2005
BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology
Volume 101, Issue 9, page 832, September 1994
How to Cite
Meniru, G. I. (1994), Female genital mutilation (female circumcision). BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, 101: 832. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-0528.1994.tb11967.x
- Issue published online: 19 AUG 2005
- Article first published online: 19 AUG 2005
The commentary on female circumcision by Jordan (February 1994) addresses a custom which has for long been a source of distress to health workers and many others in developing countries. This subject is of such fundamental importance that some of his points need further review.
He called female circumcision an “age-old Muslim ritual” but available evidence does not support this assertion. Female circumcision transcends all religious, social and racial boundaries (Hathout 1963) and has never had a consistent relation with any of them. Mustafa (1966) wrote in some detail on the origins and practice of female circumcision, and the relevant points are that the widespread nature of this ritual makes a single origin unlikely. It was performed before the advent of Islam and was performed subsequently in areas which the religion did not reach. The custom does not exist in many Islamic countries and even in countries where it is found, infibulation, rather than the Sunnatype procedure ostensibly recommended by Islam, is mainly done. The Holy Koran does not mention female circumcision but, from the works of Islamic scholars like Ibn Awas and Sheik Mohammad Eisa (Mustafa 1966), one can infer that the practice is not an obligation in Islam. It is of interest to note that in the past, a Christian sect, the Russian Skoptozy, quoted passages from the Holy Bible (Matthew, Chapter 19, verse 12) to support the ritual.
The practice of female circumcision has disappeared in many societies, while in others there has been a reduction in incidence. The latter trend has been observed among the Igbos who constitute one of the major ethnic groups in Nigeria (Iregbulem 1980; Megafu 1983). In a survey of an urban population of Igbo women (Meniru 1991), I found that whilst virtually all women over 45 years of age were circumcised, the incidence fell to 16.5% among women younger than six years of age. There was an unacceptably high incidence of complications (20% morbidity) which might have been higher if deaths were added. The educational status of the parents correlated closely with the incidence of circumcision of the female offspring in an inverse manner. An important finding in this study was the strong influence women had on the continuation, or otherwise, of the custom.
Nothing less than a total eradication of this barbaric custom will do. Legislation has not been successful for the simple reason that it cannot be enforced, especially in developing countries. Public health education and, most importantly, improving access to formal education for women will lead to the eventual abolition of this custom. The international bodies mentioned by Jordan will achieve greater success in their campaign if they devote a substantial part of their effort towards laying the foundations for mass literacy and social emancipation of women. It is a thing of sorrow that in this day and age much social injustice is still meted out in one form or the other on women.
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