HUMANITY MATTERS The Cruelest Cut of All

The empowerment of women in Africa can only happen when we stop the horrendous crime of female genital mutilation.

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Some people might dismiss what is euphemistically called 'female circumcision' as a custom of other cultures that we in the UK should accept as their right; a 'social norm' we should not judge or condemn.

However if a sweet, innocent, adorable little toddler was wandering down the street, laughing and playing and was suddenly grabbed by a gang of thugs, dragged into the bushes, held down, and had her legs forced apart and her genitals sliced up, you would consider this a crime, the worst possible crime imaginable.

This violence against children is legislated as a crime in most countries.

Yet this is what is happening to 8000 little girls every day, almost three million girls a year, justified as a custom, a tradition, in the name of religion, which outsiders must not interfere in!

The United Nations (UN) and World Health Organisation (WHO) estimate that worldwide 150 million women and girls are currently living with the consequences of Female Genital Mutilation. A further 30 million girls are at risk of being cut in the next decade across Africa, the Middle East, Asia and other countries. However, this figure underestimates the real number of girls affected. Even in the UK, a new report estimates that 170,000 women are living with FGM and 65,000 girls are at risk of being mutilated right here in the 'civilised' UK when migrants and refugees bring this entrenched custom with them.

This atrocity, this unspeakable brutality, is not done by Whites to Blacks. It is done by Blacks to Blacks; specifically by black women on behalf of black men against little black girls, their own daughters. These mothers do not hate their daughters. They believe the cutting is an "act of love" to ensure their daughters are "clean" and marriageable.

It is the mother who holds down the toddler while an old woman with a rusty razor blade, a knife, scissors or piece of glass cuts into the delicate flesh of the terrified, screaming child, with no anaesthetic, causing agonising pain and emotional trauma.

Many girls die of blood loss, shock and infection. If she survives, the traumatised child will be left with a raw wound where the clitoris and lips of her vagina have been cut off and in the case of 'infibulation', she has been sewn up leaving only a tiny hole.

The reason for this barbarous cruelty? To preserve her virginity for marriage and to obliterate her sexual desires and the risk of infidelity to her future husband; to keep her pure, to ensure she experiences not pleasure, but abject pain with sexual intercourse, after she is cut open by the groom on her wedding night.

In many poor communities circumcised daughters command a high 'bride price' as mutilation and infibulation is meant to ensure virginity.

Ultimately FGM is about power and control over female sexuality, which has become entrenched as a social norm in countless communities for generations.

For this enforced control, she will suffer health problems and pain her whole life, and emotional and psychological damage.

The African woman is condemned to a lifetime of suffering every time she urinates and during menstruation, sexual intercourse and childbirth.

The mutilation of her genitals means she has a high risk of complications when giving birth and is likely to suffer obstetric fistula. This horrendous condition occurs during childbirth when the narrow birth canal is torn leaving a hole in the wall of the vagina between the bladder or rectum which means the woman will suffer leakage, leading to a life of shame and ostracism from her community.

Unlike male circumcision, which cuts off loose skin on the penis, female circumcision cuts off flesh and removes part of the clitoris, a vital body organ, filled with highly sensitive nerve endings. Female circumcision is really female castration. And castration is disempowering in every way.

How can African women ever be empowered to pursue education and work to transform communities alongside men, if they are maimed and suffer incapacitating pain their whole lives?

How can women enjoy satisfying, loving sex lives with their husbands if they suffer pain, fear and shame with intercourse? How can she feel self-esteem and pride in being a sexual woman?

The brilliant movie Long Walk To Freedom documents the extraordinary life of revered leader, Nelson Mandela and the struggle of the South African people for freedom, equality and democracy. And yet for all the freedom fighting, sacrifice of lives and ultimate political victory, the atrocity of FGM against innocent children continues in the continent of Africa, (and other countries), tacitly sanctioned as a generational custom, with authorities turning a blind eye, even in countries where it is illegal.

In these days of easy access to information through the global reach of the internet, people around the world must be informed and take a stand against this widespread crime against children.

FGM is a specialised form of child abuse, a human rights abuse, a violation of humanity of the worst kind, and must be stopped urgently. Caring women and men around the world must help save the lives of millions of girls and stop the cruelest cut of all; stop Female Genital Mutilation NOW. We must also offer help to the 150 million victims of FGM - reparative surgery and emotional support to reclaim their empowerment.

Take action. Read Waris Dirie’s inspirational books Desert Flower, Desert Dawn and Desert Children and watch the movies Desert Flower, My Daughter, Dry Your Tearsand Africa Rising. Support the Desert Flower Foundation, The Girl Generation, Equality Now, Forward, The Orchid Project.

February 6 is International Day against FGM. On this day and every day let's join minds, hearts and hands around the world with wisdom, compassion and courage to stop the cruelest cut of all.

Diane Priestley

Engaging storyteller, Prolific Journalist, Empowering People Matters

Hello Psychologies Tribe, Let me introduce myself! I'm an experienced journalist with a career spanning more than 30 years writing for newspapers, magazines and online publications in Australia and the UK. I write about relationships, health and humanitarian issues. I'm a qualified Counsellor and Workshop Facilitator. I moved from Australia to the UK in 2009 and now live near the beach in Folkestone, Kent and part of the year in Kenya doing community work.