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26 Jun, 2009 16:45

Female genital mutilation – tradition or torture?

Female genital mutilation, usually associated with Africa, the Middle East and South-East Asia, is a growing problem in Europe. Despite criticism, the barbaric practice is thriving with more immigrants coming to Europe.

The operation, in which parts of a girl’s clitoris and labia are cut off, causes urine retention, infertility and death, and those lucky enough to survive such a process will never enjoy sexual relations. UNICEF says over 130 million women and girls are suffering from the aftermath of this procedure worldwide.

“The blood pumped out in waves. Words can't describe the pain. The bleeding was so bad I was rushed to hospital. That is why I am celibate to this day,” remembers Christine Beynis, one of the victims, living in Paris.

In states like Egypt, most women are cut. The practice is now spreading from Africa and Asia to immigrant communities worldwide. More than 100 million suffer globally.

Some religions state that female sex organs are sinful, and must be removed to stop intimate pleasure. Hawa Greou served five years in French prison for mutilating 48 girls.

“It’s my tradition, my grandmother and ancestors are all excisors. No one’s ever died after my operations,” she said.

Critics insist the practice is barbaric and must be stopped regardless of cultural traditions. Lawyer Linda Weil-Curiel, who put Greou behind bars, has to fight white male colleagues, who say banning foreign tradition is neocolonialism, and dub the method “female circumcision”.

“They would use the word circumcision, which I will not hear of. Because if you did to a young man what is done to a young woman, he wouldn't say I have been circumcised, he would say I have been mutilated, and right he would be, because it’s equivalent to chopping off the penis for the boy, so for the girl it’s the clitoris and the labia,” the lawyer said.

Hawa Greou now says mutilation is wrong, but in many communities girls will continue to be cut, and men order the crime to be committed. Officials say France alone has more than 50,000 victims.

Linda Weil-Curiel's success in court made the state go after the practitioners, but has just pushed the problem elsewhere. Even though the practitioner case has led to France convicting mothers who mutilate their daughters, many instead take their children on special “holidays” abroad.

Ines Laufer, founder of the Hamburg-based Task Force for Effective Prevention of Female Genital Mutilation, says there is a solution.

“I think in Germany authorities have gone in the right direction,” Mrs. Laufer told RT.
“We already have several court decisions that stop girls from being taken to the country where they are at risk of being submitted to genital mutilation. In Germany 14 girls are being protected already – their parents have not been allowed to take them to the countries.”

Genital mutilation, she says, simply cannot be justified.

“All the girls, all the children who live here [in Europe] and abroad have a fundamental right to an intact body, to physical and mental health,” Mrs. Laufer said. “And banning genital mutilation is nothing more than guaranteeing this fundamental human right to the children.”

“The best way of addressing this problem is through education,” said Dr. Abdelhadi Eltahir, a senior adviser to the Washington-based Maternal and Newborn Health at Pathfinder International. “They have to realize that this practice is harmful.”

This practice can be stopped, says victim Khady Koita. 20 years after her own daughter was mutilated, Khady has written a book about it and is fighting the practice. It has nothing to do with religion, but is rather a tradition, says Khady. And can be stopped through dialogue, she says.