Female genital mutilation and gender-based crimes against women in Africa

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Often in many African countries, for a great number of women, being born a woman seems sometimes not only like a crime; it can be a great misfortune as well. Even though, being seen as a sex object can itself be a bitter traumatic experience, justifying such perception with the violent treatment of women and in some cases, being killed for not living up to that patriarchal sex-role stereotype and expectations, can indeed be a nightmare no sane woman would aspire to.

Ironically, the situation can be increasingly terrible, especially, when such a sexist ideology is being enacted and violently promoted and forcefully enforced by no other group than those who portray themselves as morally righteous and religiously pious. If one could differentiate between a religious pious and zealotry. Amongst numerous crimes committed against women in Africa, perhaps female genital mutilation (FGM ) leaves a more irreversible mark – psychically, emotionally and health-wise – in the life of a woman than any other. Traditionally, one could defend genital mutilation with many arguments, however, the main purpose of this sadistic practice seems, simply to exercise male dominance and control over women. This can be achieved through control of women’s sexuality, and, as some would argue, the preservation of their “sexual honor” before marriage. Ironically, little or no thought is given to the sexual pleasure of these victims after the marriage. Regardless, the rights of a woman, in this case, are irrelevant and the mutilation, which is usually done to young girls mostly with no sterile and anesthetics, is irreversible and extremely painful. As if the terror of war and genital mutilation is not enough, Africa faces yet another widespread terror: excessive and violent rapes and sexual abuse of innocent women and girls who are already psychologically abused enough by the cultural realities they are born into.

There is a clear relationship between the stereotypical views of women and gender-based violence against women. This negative perception of women vividly explains why many women are victims of organized crimes.

The statistics available has shown that women form a bulk of victims of gender-based crimes. From forced prostitution to physical abuses, sexual harassment, and human trafficking, to mention just a few examples, women form about 80 percent of the victims, while 70 percent of the victims of this villainous crime are innocent girls.

Even though one might rightly argue that the rights of women are far more protected in our present 21st century than they were some centuries ago, it becomes a matter of utmost concern and dehumanization to learn that female circumcision, a cruel cultural practice of the past years, against women, is still, sadly, predominant in the cultures of our present societies.
Suffice to say that the practice is indeed an epitome of barbarism, one might be forced to ask why this old tradition is still the order of the day – even in this modern age. Apart from the cultural attachments to the cruel practice, there are some latent commercial reasons why this sadistic element of African society is still prevalent on the continent. When one adds the systematic fragmentation and enslavement of women through genital mutilation, the danger it poses to the society becomes clear and intimidating. With this in mind, when one hears such sexist comment like the genital mutilation “makes a woman un-promiscuous or faithful to her husband,” one wonders whose dominant ideology is being represented at the expense of women’s suppression.

Yes, the woman might be “tamed” to become faithful to her husband” through genital mutilation, but who even cares whether she enjoys sex with him. Few really care. She definitely, hardly does enjoy sex. From the statistics available, many women who are victims of genital mutilation experience trauma whenever they want to have sex. They do not enjoy sex, not only because of the past experience but the unbearable pain whenever they have sex. The situation became worse during the childbirth. In most cases, the pain and loss of blood become so much that many of the women are scared to have a child again after their painful traumatic experience. Sadly, these women live in cultures where they do not have any right over their body – including, if and when they will have children. Unfortunately, in many typical African patriarchial societies, where victims of the FGM find themselves, those decisions are unfairly made solely by men without consultation from their female partners.

Luckily, efforts by Human Rights organizations to stop female genital mutilation (FGM), have started yielding some dividends, albeit slowly. Through campaigns, enlightenment, pressure and other useful means, these organizations try to educate and highlight the evil of female circumcision. Reports by various agencies and human rights groups show that female genital mutilation is difficult to eradicate not only because it is a cultural practice. Promoters of the practice adhere to the cultural practice, as well as benefit economically from it. From monthly monetary gains reaching up to $200 (a huge amount in many African countries, where the majority of the population lives below $1 per month) plus other gifts like a chicken, yam, cocoyam etc. many genital mutilators in Africa are not in a hurry to give up the lucrative business.

Yet, the economic gains of the FGM practices should not discourage the government and other right groups from fighting against the practice. Since most of the said female genital mutilators depend on the activity for their economic livelihood, the best way to discourage the practice is for the government and other human right groups, fighting against the harmful practice, to not just increase campaign and enlightenment on the danger of FGM. Perhaps providing the mutilators with an alternative source of income could go a long way in persuading them to give up the business and hence, stopping female genital mutilation. That would mean an end to one of the gender-based crimes against women. Are African governments listening?