Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Who gains from female circumcision? (1999)

From the October 1999 issue of the SocialistStandard

Female circumcision, like male circumcision, is a practice that dates back to the remotest of times in history. Today, however, the former has come under fire by feminists and other concerned groups and individuals. Why male circumcision is not touched is not clear. Perhaps the whole issue is still part of the male chauvinistic nature of contemporary society since it may not be plausible to claim that male circumcision is harmful as there are no statistics regarding the casualties the practice has caused or how it has affected fertility.

I am not holding any brief for this custom but some of those against it fail to situate the practice in its right perspective and thus fail to find the right solution. This myopic attitude is reminiscent of similar haughty attempts to characterise traditional African religion as “barbaric” and “uncivilised” (when in fact all religions are the same).

Like other customary practices, female circumcision is a tool in the control and manipulation of society by the elders and leaders who in traditional society were the owners of wealth. In the case of female circumcision, a group of individuals (including vocal and influential women) soon emerged who specialised in the art of operation. In many areas, these “doctors and paramedical staff” introduced mysticism into the act in order to gain a monopoly over their “profession”. As religion and spiritualism are part and parcel of their life, it is always easy to weave the supernatural element into anything that is done. This mystification is usually intensified if there are some material gains attached.

It is common knowledge that not all those who are involved in collecting girls for the ritual nor those who carry out the operation do so for a fee. Yet they get more than if they were charging fees. It is the same with traditional healers. They charge no fees but you give what you feel like giving—and the gift/payment is usually more than a mouthful.

Those who organise female circumcision get a lot of material gains from the parents, relatives and well-wishers of the girls. For instance, the food requirements, drinks, kola nuts, tobacco, etc., of both girls and organisers are provided for by the girls’ parents. And here we are talking about a period which could last as long as six months though these days the period may be just about two months in some areas. But the organisers actually make their money during the “passing out” of the circumcised girls. In most cases, each chief organiser (who is always an influential woman) becomes a social, political and spiritual “mother” to all girls circumcised under her authority—they all join her camp. Such women constitute the ideologues of the practice of female circumcision and they concoct all myths to perpetuate the custom. Those girls who do not go through it are stigmatised and derided and may even find it difficult getting a husband.

Perhaps started by men to control family property relations, female circumcision is strongly encouraged today by some females for the sake of material gains.

One other prominent feature in the whole affair is the intervention of non-governmental organisations. Needless to say, much credit goes to these NGOs for “sensitising the international community” to this “evil custom”. But it is equally important to point out that, far from helping solve problems, NGOs are themselves an offshoot of the profit system. In fact, the ideology of NGOs enhances the money system and perpetuates its evil practices through the half-baked and inadequate measures they put forward in solving the world’s problems.

I know very well that there are genuine individuals who are doing their best to ameliorate the deplorable state of mankind. However, I do not think they can make any meaningful headway by targeting isolated issues like discrimination against women or, to be specific, here female circumcision.

What I, therefore, put forth as a lasting solution to these undesired customary practices and to the gender problem is a holistic and all-round approach. This entails a complete rejection of the status quo. Production of goods and services should be organised for the sake of satisfying needs and not for profits. Therefore money in all its forms (cheques, treasury bills, tickets, etc) should go. But as this cannot be wished away, people will have to come together and through concerted effort push towards the realisation of the objective in a world socialist movement.

Suhuyibi Nbang-Ba (Gambia)

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