Wednesday, October 07, 2009


I was shocked in the 1980s when I first read of the practice of "female circumcision" , now better known as what it really is, "female genital mutilation" or FGM [mutilazioni genitali femminili - mgf]. In The Hidden Face of Eve - Women in the Arab World , Nawal El Saadawi writes:

"I felt that the rasping knife or blade was heading straight down towards my throat. Then suddenly the sharp metallic edge seemed to drop between my thighs and there cut off a piece of flesh from my body.

I screamed with pain despite the tight hand held over my mouth, for the pain was not just a pain, it was like a searing flame that went through my whole body. After a few moments, I saw a red pool of blood around my hips."

This happened when she was six years old and she was from an educated family by the standards of the time.

It is always difficult to criticise the practices and traditions of other cultures and western governments are often afraid to do so, but there is nothing "cultural" about this: it is violence against women and perhaps the worst aspect of it is that other women are complicit in the practice. Nawal El Saaadawi again:

"I did not know what they had cut off from my body, and I did not try to find out. I just wept, and called out to my mother for help. But the worst shock of all was when I looked around and saw her standing by my side. Yes, it was her, I could not be mistaken, in flesh and blood, right in the midst of these strangers, talking to them and smiling at them, as though they had not participated in slaughtering her daughter just a few moments ago."

Here we have a woman so frightened of what will happen if she protests, and of her daughter's reputation if the "procedure" is refused, that she goes along with the mutilation of her own child. This reminds me of a recent "honour" killing in Italy after which the mother forgave her husband for murdering their daughter. Is the woman brainwashed or terrified?

If you have not read much about the practice of FGM, you should. Can you imagine the implications for hygiene, the pain later on of intercourse, the psychological damage and the horror of childbirth, after which the woman's genitals are sewn up again? Not to mention the number of women and girls who die [3 million on the continent of Africa] every year after undergoing this type of violence.

So why am I writing about this on a blog about Italy? It's hardly the usual "Sicily Scene" type of topic, is it? Because, dear reader, a recent Istituo Piepoli survey commissioned by the Italian Department for Equal Opportunities estimated that 35,000 immigrant women here have undergone the "procedure". "Estimated" because it is difficult, in the first place, to ask the question and "estimated" because it is impossible to know how many of the women questioned were telling the truth. Approximately 1,100 of those who admitted to having undergone the "procedure" were under the age of 17.

Now, the question is, had these women already had the "operations" in their own countries or did they have them in Italy? It is thought that many lied when asked this question. Some were under 15 so is it possible that their parents spent hundreds of euros on taking them back to their countries of origin for the "procedure"?

The practice is, of course, forbidden by Italian law and Italy, with the support of 15 African countries, is hoping to secure a UN Security Council Resolution on the matter before the end of this year. I am proud of my adopted country for taking the lead in this. The European Parliament, too, adopted a text on "Combating female genital mutilation in the EU" in March this year.

We have, then, a "text" and we nearly have a UN Resolution. Fine. But how about some action? Italy, I have to say, is doing all it can, with a government campaign in Lazio, which has a large immigrant population, the government-backed Io no campaign and the Bikaloro campaign in Lecce, among others. At least here the issue is being brought out into the open and all the campaigns focus on education. The Io no campaign involves the children's fathers, too. A hopeful sign is that many immigrant girls joined a recent demonstration against the practice in Rome.

I'm not usually of the "String 'em up" persuasion when it comes to crime and punishment though I am tempted to be with regard to this. However, I can see that the only answer is education and information: educate the daughters, their mothers, their fathers and, as Minister Frattini says, we need to educate the practitioners and integrate them into our society.

The western governments, acting together, could wipe out this practice on their own territory if they really wanted to. Come on, politicians of Europe! How about diverting some of that cash you so readily use to pay yourselves for ending a barbarous abomination on your own soil?


Whispering Walls said...

How ghastly

Minnie said...

Wonderful post, Pat - well-informed, well-written and passionate.
I share your views and feelings, and was shocked and enraged to discover in the 1980s that 'infibulation' - the euphemism du jour - was carried out on female children in certain 'communities' in the UK. As you say, if the child survives (and, given the incidence of septicaemia in such cases, mortality rates are high), then that is merely the beginning of a lifetime of pain.
As for 'honour' killings, Clive James says it so much better than I ever could:
Cultural 'relativity' has very strict limits, and some things are simply wrong. Time we said so. Loudly. No: louder!
Thank you, dear Pat.

jojofromvictoria said...

Welshcakes: I am sitting here in absolute horror! Tears are streaming down my face as I type. I cannot imagine the beastiality of the persons involved in mutilation of this type! It needs to be brought to the attention of the world, and harsh punishments rendered to those who still practice this barbaric ritual!

Peter @ italyMONDO! said...

Wow... thank you for opening up my eyes to the honor killing situation... That slipped by me.

Regarding the true subject of the post, though, I first learned about this about three years ago on a 60 minutes (news show in the states) expose' on the issue. My jaw dropped, to saw the least...

Unknown said...

Excellent post, Pat! I'm adding that logo to my side bar with a link to this post.

Unknown said...

It's on my sidebar & I just tested the link, which brought me back here.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Yes, indeed, WW. Thank you, Phidelm. Thanks for the CJ link too. I agree with you on cultural relativity. Hello, liqueriazia and welcome. I cried when I herad about it, too. I think most of all I cry for thr ignorance that allows this practice to continue. Hi, Peter. I can imagine your shock when you found out about this custom. I couldn't believe it when the mother of the murdered girl said that. Thanks, SSN. Yes, I put the link to my own post because I did a lot of research through ,aterial in English and Italian vefore writing it and I wanted people to know about the situstion here.

James Higham said...

Completely with you on this. An appalling thing and one very good reason never to subscribe to that so-called religion.

jams o donnell said...

There is no excuse for this vile practice, Full stop. I have nothing more to add but to say that I agree with everything you have written here

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, James. Glad you agree. I don't think this has anything to do with religion. Hi, jams. Absolutely no excuse.

Sean Jeating said...

Good on you, Welsh!
Although not a friend of "logoitis", I shall add the logo to my sidebar.
FGM, so-called honour-killings and (religiously embellished) machoism are some of those terrible traditions that need get overcome.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, Sean. Yes, they are terrible practices causing untold misery and death. I'm glad you're going to add this one to your sidebar.

I think I have got the "logoitis"!


View My Stats