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Female Genital Mutilation in Africa - Article Example

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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.
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Female Genital Mutilation in Africa

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. In some cases, a great feast will occur in celebration of the operation. From the definition, it can be concluded that FGM qualifies as a ritual.
Another reason often cited for FGM is that it is a fertility rite. Saadwai (2002) comments that if FGM were intended to be a fertility rite, the excision would be partial and symbolic: However, in the Sudan, after the girls are circumcised, they are then washed in the Nile as a fertility offering to the god of the Nile. There certainly are many aspects of FGM that make the connection with fertility rites a plausible one (Lowenstein, 1978; Salama, 1980; Saadawi, 2002).
Sociologists and anthropologists have tended towards concurrence with the perception of FGM as a traditional ritual and rite of passage. Campbell (2006), most noted for his work on male circumcision, maintains that FGM is a direct offshoot of male circumcision rites among the ancient totemistic hunting groups. In these societies, there is an abundance of large game which led to the development of the art of hunting. Emphasis in the social structure was placed on the men as they were the providers. Wile the rite of circumcision in these societies reflected "a bias in favour of the males and therewith an emphasis on the sexual aspect of the rites and particularly on circumcision," female circumcision evolved in complementarily to the male fertility dimension of this practice. (Campell, 2006, 320).
Some sociologists have argued an alternative theory, suggesting that FGM is an outcome of the desire of some primitive societies to control female sexuality and, thereby, ensure the paternity of children (Morris, 2003). This argument is inextricably linked to the mother's premarital chastity and fidelity during marriage, not the father's per se. This line of thinking can be taken to its logical conclusion: perform a physical operation to keep the woman from having sexual relations outside of marriage. This will be viewed as necessary for societies that see the constraint of female sexuality as the necessary condition for continued propagation of the human race (Sanderson, 2001; Morris, ... Read More
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