Is FGM by Any Other Name (or Method) Any Less Criminal?

Dear Oprah,

I pray by God’s grace that this letter finds you well. Are your labia intact? Is Stedman enjoying them? Then we praise God! You have been fortunate to have been spared the tragedy that is the theme of my letter today.

I am an African who is passionate and dedicated to the cause of ending Female Genital Mutilation, better known as FGM. FGM as you may know was previously known as female circumcision, and is carried out in various extremes, depending on social/ traditional background. FGM is carried out in countries practicing Islam, Christianity and Animism and there are four major types:

1. Clitoridectomy: partial or total removal of the clitoris (a small, sensitive and erectile part of the female genitals) and, in very rare cases, only the prepuce (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris).
2. Excision: partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (the labia are “the lips” that surround the vagina).
3. Infibulation: narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the inner, or outer, labia, with or without removal of the clitoris.
4. Other: all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area.

Most of the women who are subjected to FGM are not women at all. They are mainly girls who may be infants up to the age of 15. The reasons for FGM are varied, including the assertion that it curbs promiscuity, masturbation and a propensity towards lesbianism. This is of course absurd, but these are the entrenched views none-the-less. Many of the people carrying out FGM are illiterates in the bush, but some do include educated city dwellers in nations all over East and West Africa and parts of Asia and India. While we would want to end FGM, we know that we must take a gradual and more sensitive approach to ending this practice.

We are proposing that FGM be carried out only under the care of trained professionals and medical staff, who will use medication and sterile instruments to carry out the slicing off and sewing up the bits of flesh left behind after this elective procedure. As you may be aware, Africa is far lagging behind the rest of the world when it comes to medical care. We hardly have the tools to treat or prevent malaria, and many of our medical facilities are overrun and understaffed. That is why we are writing to you to today to make a donation of $3 million so that we can set up clinics to humanely maim these girls.

Please, Oprah, this is no laughing matter. Every moment you delay, another girl risks dying in the bush! Many of these girls are cut with scrap metal, broken glass and sharpened stones. Don’t you think this is worth the investment?

Unlike slavery, honor killings, cannibalism and infanticide – all issues with entrenched cultural views based on superiority – we cannot take a harried approach to FGM. Sure, the battle has been going on for 50 years or so, but we estimate it will take much longer. You can’t bulldoze over someone else’s tradition and culture, after all. That would be rude and racists. We must use tact and pragmatism to address this.

Kindly send your check to ‘Africans Kinda Against; FGM But Not Really’ in the self-addressed envelope enclosed with this letter.

Oh! Before I forget: would you ask Maya Angelou and some of your other celebrity friends if they would like to endorse our efforts? We could really use some star power to bolster this proposal. I’m sure that there are some influential Africans on the continent that you can persuade to see our view as well. Your $3 million seed will go towards building roads from the villages to this proposed hospital, pay for transportation to the hospital, pay for plumbing, power supply, bedding, feeding, nursing and transport back to their villages after they have received mediocre medical care.

In time, FGM will most likely lead to a life of discomfort, with periods lasting up to a month or with the girl suffering from bladder infections, fistula, difficulty urinating or sepsis – but what will be important is that at the onset of all these issues – the mutilation that caused it all was done with medical and humane hands that were sensitive to her culture!

With your support, we can then carry out c-sections for all these girls after they have been impregnated (but only after much difficulty). We cannot expect that these girls give birth through a canal the size of a matchstick, can we? Why, this is why maternal and infant mortality rates are so high in Africa as it is!

Oprah, I have to implore you not to be dissuaded by all that human rights nonsense as it relates to FGM. I mean, it’s not really ‘assault’ if this is done at the hands of a medical practitioner, is it?

Alternatively, we could apply economic sanctions on/and jail the perpetrators of this barbaric custom (as the law mandates) while educating the current and next generations; but as I said, we want to be culturally sensitive. It wouldn’t do to see grannies and aunties locked up over something so trivial as a girl’s vagina, would it? These are well meaning people, and there are dowries and family pride at stake!

Sweet Oprah, I hope you will consider our plea and help to fund this project. Think of it this way: You were violated (raped) at a young age, and I’m sure that was traumatic for you…but wasn’t it better that that violation came at the hands of someone close to you…your cousin’s boyfriend to be precise? Surely you were grateful that it was in your own home and not in an alley somewhere!

We eagerly await your reply.


Surely you are sitting here asking yourself “Dude. Malaka. WTH???”

But don’t laugh just yet! There are some people who want to take FGM, this barbaric act that is a violation of human rights and ethics, into the medical field and normalize it through medicine in the name of cultural/traditional tolerance. It has no benefits and only harms the girl/woman. But that’s the point, isn’t it? It’s only harming disposable girls in rural areas. Why the need for urgency?

There is no coming back from FGM. A girl doesn’t just get to grow a new clitoris or labia. It’s not hair.

I nicked myself with a dull blade while shaving with a Bic Stick a few years ago. It took me a week to heel, while my clitoris emitted some strange discharge that stuck to my panties. It hurt like hell. I GET IT. I have been on Twitter all weekend going back and forth with a number of individuals who just don’t seem to get it. They don’t seem to understand that normalizing this practice by making it ‘safe’ through a medical procedure (and I use the term loosely) is only the beginning of the harm done. What if the parents of this child are displeased with the results? What if they decide that simply removing the clitoris of this girl is not good enough…do we send her back to the hospital to have her entire labial folds removed and scar tissue sewn up? The Hippocratic oath is to do NO harm…not the least or most convenient harm. Does it matter if the stitches of a butchered vagina are neatly done in a straight line with surgical thread, or if they are done with the thorns of the acacia trees in Kenya? Is mutilation at the hands of a doctor or a village cutter any different? I say no!

I was going to post a picture of a mutilated vagina to drive my point home, but the images were too grotesque even for me. To all those who think we can take a gradual approach to FGM, here’s the litmus test: If your daughter, sister, mother was kidnapped and had her vagina shred asunder, would you be so casual about it? Would you be willing to let her be a martyr for this cause while the rest of the world took a cautious and sensitive approach to this, or would you ferociously fight like a Spartan against an invading horde?

Male or female, it doesn’t matter. Your answer to this question will tell you a lot about yourself.