The World Health Organization defines FGM as : “partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (excision). When it is important to distinguish between the major variations that have been documented, the following subdivisions are proposed: Type IIa, removal of the labia minora only; Type IIb, partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora; Type IIc, partial or total removal of the clitoris, the labia minora and the labia majora. The WHO defines Type IV FGC as “all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, for example, pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterization.” This includes a diverse range of practices, such as pricking the clitoris with needles, burning or scarring the genitals as well as ripping or tearing of the vagina.”
FGM is often examined through a lens of male oppression though its practitioners are female, a crime against women committed by women in collusion with patriarchy. The aforementioned is only one aspect of the mutilation of women. Sierra Leone is an impoverished country with few avenues for financial independence for women. Struggling under adjustment programs designed by the IMF, mutilation of women has become big business. According to the US state department 80-90% of all women are circumcised. The average cost is 150-200 dollars per procedure, and this amounts to an exorbitant figure when one considers that the average income is 1USD per day.
Not only does performing the mutilation provide a guaranteed income, it creates a social hierarchy among women. The initiators wield a large amount of social power. A woman that is not circumcised is stigmatized socially, thus reinforcing this cruel practice. To encourage this ritual as a form of female bonding, girls that are mutilated on the same day are sworn into a secret society, for on this day, they became women together in the eyes of society.
Until the economic factors are negotiated FGM will never be eradicated. Though the initiators hold social power, they are dependent on this income for subsistence. If they stop in solidarity, who will they feed their families, and who will pay their children’s school fees? FGM in Sierra Leone is a combination of gender and economics.
Those of us that live in western nations cannot imagine the kind of back breaking poverty created in part by the IMF. Destitution leads to desperation and the entrenchment of practices that are harmful for the soul. The “choice” of becoming an initiator is not solely an autonomous decision because of economic factors that must be considered. When we support unfair trading practices in the name of western privilege, we are unknowingly supporting the mutilation of women. It is not enough to educate on the harmful nature of this practice. The initiators must be given another source of income not based in mutilation.
Womens bodies must not continue to be laid waste in the name of a social construction – money. At some point who we value, must outweigh what we value.