My chapter of Half The Sky was one of the more terrifying things I had ever learned that could happen to women. Once every ten seconds a girl somewhere in the world is pinned down and a local woman with no medical training pulls out a knife and slices off some or all of the girl’s genitals. In most cases, there is no anesthetic.
Today, female genital cutting is practiced mostly by Muslims in Africa, though it is also found in many Christian families in Africa. Genital cutting, according to Soranos of Ephesus, a Greek physician who wrote a pioneering book on gynecology in the second century, stated that women strive to have their own flesh simulated just like men and to obtain sexual intercourse as it were. Amputating these parts were regular occurences in England until the 1860’s and even occasionally after that in Europe and America.
Worldwide, 130 million women have been cut, and after new research, the UN now estimates that 3 million girls are cut annually in Africa alone. The custom occurs on a smaller scale in Yemen, Oman, Indonesia, and Malaysia; among some Bedouin Arabs in Saudi Arabia and Israel; and among Bohra Muslims in India and Pakistan. However, the practice varies. In Yemen, the girls are typically cut within two weeks of birth; in Egypt it can occur in the early teenage years.
The aim of genital cutting is to minimize a woman’s sexual pleasure, making her less likely to be promiscuous. After being cut, (97% of the female population in Sudan are cut), women were also infibulated (legs are tied together so that the wound can heal). Although it has become common in Africa and Muslim regions, cutting can have tragic endings. It may lead to lifelong injuries, malaria, death, and difficult childbirths.
Female genital mutilation (FGM), as it was formerly known, became a huge problem for other countries, especially America. The UN took up the terminology, and laws were created and passed against FGM in fifteen African countries. Although law enforcement has been placed against cutting, almost all of the female population in places such as Sudan and Guinea have been cut. FGM has since then been changed to FGC, female genital cutting, because it is a less offensive term.
What do the women think about being cut? Midwives claim that it is “their culture” and that “they want it” so “why is American in their business?” One midwife proclaimed that international campaigns are ineffective to the communities and that the mothers send their daughters to get cut where the girls later thank them for it.
This brings me to the “Girl Effect.” The Girl Effect is a global name that deals with “gendercide”, or discrimination against genders. Many Asian, Indonesian, and Middle East countries favored, and still do favor, men over women. The introduction of the ultra sound machine was a miracle for many couples that were pregnant because they could abort the baby if it were a girl, since females served no true purpose comparable to males. Another example that was presented in Half The Sky was when the men or boys were sick in the home they were quickly rushed to the hospital, however, when the women or girls were ill they would wait a few days until they went to see a doctor, if they ever did at all.
But that isn’t the end of gendercide. Slavery and human trafficking are also amongst the many tragic situations that women are put through. Being sold to brothels became all too common where women were prostituted and trafficked for money, but they never saw the money themselves. These women went through hardships, facing being beat if they resist customers, being drugged by “owners”, and not being able to leave their room for any reason. Today, prostitution is legal in many countries abroad (as well as in America) in red light districts or gentleman’s clubs where women can also freelance themselves and aren’t truly enslaved. Many choose to become prostitutes today for the money that it offers. Times may become desperate, so women and men turn to prostitution.
This doesn’t mean that human trafficking does not still exist. The U.S State Department has estimated that between 600,000 and 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year, 80% of them being women and girls, for sexual exploitation. Far more women and girls are shipped into brothels each year in the early 21st century than African slaves were shipped into slave plantations each year in the 18th or 19th centuries. Can you imagine?
Long Pross, a 13 year old Cambodian girl was one of the females that spoke out to the authors of this book on her kidnapping. I bet you’re reading this and thinking about how young a 13 year old girl is. The twisted reason for the preference of younger girls are that customers believe that they won’t give them AIDS. “Sex with a virgin” in Africa and Asia has been said to cure aids which has nurtured demand for younger girls like Long Pross. She was sold to a brothel in Cambodia and her story of being in that brothel was the most shocking that I’d read. She said that the first time she rebelled, the owner punished her by gouging out her eye with a metal rod (Nicholas D. Kristof).
Let that sink in for a brief moment.
Are these owners mentally sane enough to own these types of businesses? How could one female (some owners were female) harm another in such a horrific way?
Aid organizations exist to provide solutions for women worldwide. Some organizations include: Apne Aap Women Worldwide, Girls International and American Assistance for Cambodia (preventing girls from being trafficked in the first place by keeping them in school), . They focus on educating rural children, especially girls. For $13,000 a donor can establish a school in a Cambodian village which is matched by funds from the World Bank and by the Asian Development Bank. Overlake schools in Cambodia have been funded by Americans, and have 270 students between the ages of 6-15. They children have access to the internet, and email accounts were set up so that they could communicate with the kids at Overlake schools in America. Girls-be-Ambitious was started to address financial pressures by bribing families to keep girls in school. If a girl has perfect attendance for one month, the family gets $10.
In 1993, Senator Tom Harkin wanted to help Bangladeshi girls laboring in sweatshops so he introduced legislation that would have banned imports made by workers under the age of fourteen. However, after factories fired them they turned to brothels and many, to put it bluntly, are presumably now dead of AIDS.
“Law is a quick-fix solution, and then people think you don’t have to do anything else.” – Molly Melching, founder of Tostan
“A starting point is to be brutally realistic about the complexities of achieving change.”
Things that can be done in the next few minutes to help end gendercide, slavery, trafficking and genital cutting are to:
1. Visit www.globalgiving.org or www.kiva.org and open an account in order to “globally give” to grassroots projects that give money to education, disaster relief, or more to areas in developing worlds.
2. Sponsor a girl or woman through Plan International, Women International, World Vision or American Jewish Service.
4. Join the CARE Action Network at http://www.can.care.org. It is a citizen advocacy group that allows you to speak out against human rights and women’s rights that can potentially be heard by the government to make a change.
“…empowerment is contagious, accomplished person by person and spreading village by village.” –Tostan’s beliefs