1.20.2008

Not graphic, definitely horrifying

The New York Times presents a heartbreaking slideshow of images from a female circumcision ritual for young Indonesian girls, one as young as nine months old. The accompanying article says that as many as 140 million women worldwide have had some version of genital cutting. Indonesia's version is less extreme, but it is in the minority:
The most common form of female genital cutting, representing about 80 percent of cases around the world, includes the excision of the clitoris and the labia minora. A more extreme version of the practice, known as Pharaonic circumcision or infibulation, accounts for 15 percent of cases globally and involves the removal of all external genitalia and a stitching up of the vaginal opening.
The Times piece concludes that, "as Western awareness of female genital cutting has grown, anthropologists, policy makers and health officials have warned against blindly judging those who practice it, saying that progress is best made by working with local leaders and opinion-makers to gradually shift the public discussion of female circumcision from what it’s believed to bestow upon a girl toward what it takes away."

That bit is hard to swallow, especially as I feel outrage at the pain and fear I see in these girl's eyes. But a World Health Organization rep says, "For our culture that is not easily understandable. To judge them harshly is to isolate them. You cannot make change that way."

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I would like to know the names of the "anthropologists, policy makers and health officials" whom the author cited as having equated outrage of this practice as "blindly judging" it.

Further, the author of this piece should be made to apologize for her inability to recognize that slicing the genitals of young girls is abuse.

Sara Corbett - shame on you!

Anonymous said...

i completely agree with what they say.
if this is something they believe to be right.. it's their belief. to show them our outrage will get us nowhere. have we learnt nothing from our dealings with the muslim world
gradually trying to shift the public decision is the only way.
and to the person that posted before me.. that is exactly what blindly judging equates to... you saying it is abuse without knowing anything about it. seeing a picture of a man in torture could be horrifying till you realise maybe someone is trying to remove a dagger from his leg or sthng [i know this doesnt actually help but u get the point].
if these people -believe- this is going to help.. then they do not mean to abuse. it is the same as western doctors trying to help... except we are not as misguided as them. [in my opinion obviously]

what the end of the article states is completely true..
a change of heart and understanding is [always] the only way.
otherwise u might aswell just bomb them till they stop. which they wont

vettekaas said...

The Senegalese film Moolaadé opened up my eyes about this practice: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0416991/ Watch it.

Paul Schmelzer said...

Thanks for the comments. Vettekaas, tell us more about the film!

(Roger Ebert calls it "the kind of film that can only be made by a director whose heart is in harmony with his mind. It is a film of politics and anger, and also a film of beauty, humor, and a deep affection for human nature." Sounds like a nuanced and thoughtful approach to the subject rager than a rage- or tear-fest.)

vettekaas said...

What is most striking about "Moolaadé" is that you feel like you are being immersed in the life of a real village. It goes beyond simply demonizing those who are following their traditions, without understating the grave dangers and emotional trauma involved in the practice of female circumcision. A woman protects girls who do not want to be cut. When other women in the village begin to support her, the village elders interpret it as a problem that comes from Western influences such as radios and thus ban the use of radios in the village. So, it is not only a story about female circumcision but about the complex relationship among power, traditions and Westernization in Africa today.