Female Genital Mutilation in Africa

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There are a plethora of reasons for the persistency and prevalence of female circumcision, popularly referred to as female genital mutilation (FGM). Scholars and FGM activists maintain that the practice has persisted despite campaigns designed to eradicate the practice, not only because of popular perceptions of it as a rite of passage and cultural ritual, but as a direct consequence of its association, however, erroneous, with religious belief and its place in mythology (Hayes, 1975; Obermeyer and Reynolds, 1999, Saadawi, 2002) Hence, as this essay will argue, the persistency and prevalence of FGM in Africa can be traced to its cultural, mythological and religious origins.


By definition a rite of passage is "a ritual associated with a crisis or a change of status (as marriage, illness, or death) for an individual" (Agnes, 1990, p. 1018). Although the excisions do not occur because of a crisis, they do, in fact, occur in preparation of a change of status, as in marriage, and the woman or young girl often takes on new roles after the operation is performed. Those operations that are performed on infants cannot by definition be considered a rite of passage since the change in status is not in the near future. Thus, FGM can be considered a rite of passage when it is performed in preparation for the new roles the girl will assume in her future marriage. Indeed, the ritualistic components of FGM are evidenced by the preparations that are made for the operation. Girls are often given new jewellery, clothing, and gifts as part of the operation. ...
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