Because I Am A Woman
by Sara Gil
"I'm a woman. I was born in Somalia. I had part of my genitalia removed at the age of 10. In my country, this operation is regarded as a rite of passage that transforms young girls into virgins." These could be the words of any Somali woman today, right at the turn of a new century that has been referred to as one of innovation and technological advance.
Infibulation, the most radical and brutal form of genital mutilation, is primarily practiced in some Muslim and West African societies. It basically consists of the removal of the clitoris and labia minora and the subsequent removal of some flesh of the labia majora that is sewn together to form a hood over the opening of the vagina.
This operation might seem unjustifiable and even barbaric to many people. It definitely seems unjustifiable and barbaric to me. One has to keep in mind, however, the social standpoint of members from cultures that practice infibulation. They provide a reasonable justification for this rite, which constitutes a major social event in the lives of women from those cultures. To me, no justification is enough.
I believe that we have to acknowledge religious and cultural traditions which uphold the practice of altering female genitalia. I can try to understand why they do it and why is it so important to them. Nonetheless, I will still think about infibulation as a denigrating and brutal practice. Women are human beings, not lab rats. Why, then, torture them and preclude their sexual pleasure?
The justification that these cultures provide is that women should be sexually pure. In the particular case of Somali women, they have to have their genitalia removed in order to acquire certain social status. If they don't undergo genitalia surgery, they are laughed at, outcast, and made to feel unclean. The rest of the women will not touch or will not want to be touched by a woman who has not gone through infibulation just because, theoretically, she is not a virgin.
This is the part of the story that I don't understand at all. Why does a woman have to have her anatomy altered in order to acquire certain status, but a man doesn't? Even in cultures in which men suffer certain alterations of their genitalia, they don't suffer as women do. Women who have undergone infibulation have no ability to experience sexual pleasure. Circumcised men do feel that pleasure. Infibulation causes a great deal of pain and sometimes even hemorrhages, gangrene, or fractured bones. Circumcision doesn't involve anything like that.
Therefore, the main questions are: Why do women have to be tortured to become someone in their society? And, how does the absence of sexual pleasure transform them into someone? Infibulation would be acceptable if it were used for a reasonable medical purpose. Torturing a human being for the sake of tradition, however, makes no sense. Tradition is important for a culture, but when it reaches the point where it means suffering, brutality, and degradation, it has to be revisited and probably discarded.
I wish we could make everyone realize that this practice doesn't have anything to do with virginity. I wish we could make them understand how this operation is nothing but a primitive procedure that directly attacks women for the sole reason that they are women. If we could enlighten them on this, we would probably be able to put an end to this aberration. Maybe education could be the solution.
Meanwhile, I feel really sad, because I don't want to be a Somali woman. I'm a woman. She's a woman. I don't suffer. Then, why should she suffer?
Bio: Sara Gil comes from the island of Majorca in Spain. She earned a B.A. in Communications and International Studies and is currently a graduate student in Communication at Saint Louis University in Saint Louis, MO. In her free time she enjoys playing the violin and reading, both in Spanish and English.
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