Talk Africa: “Mutilated Dreamers”
FGM. The first time I heard those letters was in a courtroom. My immigration attorney was providing a status report to the presiding judge on the forms of relief my mother would be seeking. In the next few months I would learn that those three letters were the basis for my mother’s asylum claim because my mother was the victim of an old Nigerian tradition that people of my tribe, and many other tribes, in many other nations still practice today.
Female genital mutilation, or FGM, refers to various traditional procedures used to alter or severely injure female genitalia for non-medical reasons. These procedures are typically performed on young girls anytime between infancy and 15 years of age with life changing, and permanently deforming consequences. In the African continent alone, the World Health Organization estimates that about 101 million girls ages 10 and older have undergone FGM.
The more popular reasons cited for performing this procedure include ensuring female chastity for her husband, alleged religious reasons, and removing exterior genitalia seen (by men) as unsightly and unclean. None of the justifications for these procedures have anything to do with the young girls’ desires, needs, or wants. Ultimately, the patriarchal standards set by the elders of that culture are imposed on her at a time when the girl is most vulnerable, most susceptible to cultural pressures, and least equipped to make decisions for herself, let alone fight back. The potential inability to bear children, the pain and suffering, let alone the loss of sexual pleasure are all sacrificed at the alter of masculinity, and tradition.