A culturally centered critical comparative look at Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Ghana; A survivor’s take.
There are diverse cultural practices scattered across Ghana. Cultural practices in any community have the ability to cause both negative and positive effects on social development in that community or society. Culture is one of the many factors that has over the years influenced the pace of development propelling it or otherwise leading to its decline. It is the wheel that determines where a people are headed and how they choose to get there. As some anthropologists and philosophers assert, no one can develop beyond the boundaries of their culture. Kwasi Wiredu in his book, Cultural Universal and Particulars: An African Perspective equally made the assertions about the immense influence of culture in carving individual identity , as such each aspect of it must be critiqued and appraised from a non-condescending stance in order to experience it in all of its fullness. Culture cannot be trivialized. Yet like many other factors that influences a given society or community, it requires a systematic approach in its application. Indeed, culture is of no relevance without properly laid systems and channels. Though many know culture to be dynamic not static , without these in place , no people can actively progress. Despite, the progress of culture should be guided for it to grow sturdily in the right path to meet a peoples set goals on development. In Ghana , there are such cultural practices that cannot exist along the path of the nations developmental plan and few of these include , child labour, early/forced marriages and Female Genital Mutilation. Many of these cultural practices have been uncovered to impact negatively on the social development of the community and all persons involved. Some of these can be categorized as gender based violence and infringement on human right, specifically right to freedom and education.
In the wake of cultural relativism, many are yet to question; why certain cultural practices are appalling to multiple groups of people. One of such culturally inappropriate practice, which has over the years taken on different forms, is ‘Female Genital Mutilation’ (FGM). Here , we will examine the practice, the philosophies associated with the phenomenon and its effects on the people practiced on. Likewise the intentions /reasons associated with it from the perspective of indigenous practitioners. Most importantly, we will give attention to the social development aspects of it and its ramifications to the survivors. In continuation, lets us ask ourselves, is FGM a bad cultural practice ? if so , why does it persist till date ? Why has it survived decades after its declaration as an illegal practice? One may wonder why, why in the midst of supposed development even at these times of globalization leading to some level of cultural adaptation, such practices exist. As these questions lingers on minds, it gives credence/evidence to the power of culture and its impact thereof; much so when one decides to uphold his ,her or their heritage. For this matter , it is important for all concerned to apply a much more tactical albeit dialogic approach in order to curb such practices.
A recent report issued by National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) discussed the severe health implications associated with some cultural practices such as FGM. It stressed especially on its psychological effects. In a descriptive cross sectional survey which used a Multi indicator cluster Survey (MICS), it was discovered that in disregard to its illegal status , an overall 11.7 % was recorded in Ghana with the Upper West region being the highest.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) describes FGM as the practice of cutting parts or complete removal of female external genitalia for non-medical reasons. Though there are many fears, objections and opinions associated with it, the practice of FGM is prevalent and is a serious cultural practice centered specifically in certain areas of Ghana including the Northern and Upper regions.
Many survivors of Female Genital Mutilation have recounted their experiences to family members, researchers, journalists and to law enforcers though scarcely. However, it is of much relevance to note that not all persons involved, (both victims and practitioners) see it with a negative lens. For such reason, it is important to address such cultural practices with all tact and empathy.
While speaking with Madam Atiga Asiglu , she shared some thoughts about FGM, yabika as it is called in Frafra her native language. She stated some reasons why this practice may not be suitable for todays woman. Citing the over indulgence in artificial food ingredients, spices and additives as leading to poor health and minimal strength. She stressed on the matter that women of today are not as fit or strong as women of her time. One may find it a thing of humour but that notwithstanding, these views expressed are likely to be shared by many others. She was very concerned however, about the trauma they underwent during child birth and the excessive bleeding and pain they experienced. She explained quite vividly how some of her counterparts also suffered hemorrhage and post natal pains.
Madam Asiglu is 80 years now and is a grandmother to many other women whom according to her would not recommend FGM to be practiced on. Some decades ago precisely sixty four (64) years , as a sixteen-year old (16) girl, Madam Asiglu underwent the mutilation of her genitalia at that stage. When asked what she felt that fateful hour , she calmly explained through her granddaughter who was serving as interpreter that ‘she had never seen so much blood before’. She further explained how the barika the special tool for cutting was used. She narrated how her mother often boiled water to tend to her now sore/wounded genitalia until it was healed. She added that there are some women specially trained for this purpose.
To Asiglu , FGM at the time was a most suitable way to curb teenage pregnancy as “ young girls will not go about feeling for sex and consequently indulging in acts of promiscuity ”. She added that it would have been preferable to do so medically, that is by a medical professional. This view should be recognized since it has become the new norm in recent times, to have medically conducted Female Genital Mutilation. It has become widely acceptable by many groups across the country.
This leads us to the very serious discussion of legalities associated with FGM. The 1960 Criminal Code which was amended in 1994 prohibits the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) in Ghana. Section 69A states that FGM is illegal and carries a minimum sentence of three years imprisonment (Ghana 12 Jan. 1961, Sec. 69A. However, the practice of FGM still occurs in Ghana even with the consent of key community stakeholders. In June 2006, approximately 4000 women were recorded to have undergone partial or full FGM (Ndubuisi, 2007).
To conclude, it behoves on all stakeholders to take a neutral stance in order to wholly address such cultural issues. Yes, it is equally our responsibility to make our opinions heard when confronted with such cultural practices which can easily be categorized as harmful, backward and an infringement on fundamental human rights. It is very important as stakeholders and persons concerned not to take the aggressive stance in this matter. This is necessary because practitioners of such cultural practices may not see their actions in such appalling light and any such non -dialogic approach can attract the negative outcome.
For many years, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and other Civil Society Organisations (CSO) have been working on ensuring that the set laws be enforced to its last letter. From 2006, they begun lobbying for stricter and proper legislation on issues concerning Female Genital Mutilation. It is therefore commendable that UNESCO has made an initiative and is striving to eliminate FGM by the year 2030.
Albeit it lingers, the wheel of culture as we know keeps spinning carrying with it all forms of practices, indoctrinations and perceptions. Likewise, migration has played its own role in filtering certain cultural perceptions as migrants often now see the world and specifically their environment through the lenses of their new locations. Education, sensitisation , awareness creation and citizens participation can greatly affect the decline and the complete end to such cultural practices. In this case, victims can be more willing to divulge information concerning FGM. Persons can report practitioners for sanctions and prosecutions to be made; that in itself can help minimize or abolish the very grievous cultural practice of Female Genital Mutilation.
Eke, Ndubuisi et Kanu E.O. Nkanginieme. June 2006. Vol. 367, No. 9525. “Female Genital Mutilation and Obstetric Outcome: WHO Collaborative Prospective Study in Six African Countries.” The Lancet. (World Health Organization Web site). [Accessed 3 Oct. 2006]
Ghana. 12 January 1961 (last amended 2003). Criminal Code, 1960. (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees/Refworld).
Female Genital Mutilation in Ghana: Prevalence and Socio-economic Predictor. National Centre for Biotechnology Information NCBI, Abdul Rauf Alhassan John Nyaaba Anyinaam – Adolipo
Kwame Gyekye , 1997 .Tradition and Modernity :Philosophical Reflections on the African Experience . USA .
Kwasi Wiredu – 1996 Indiana Press. Cultural Universals and Particulars : An African Perspective
Mail and Guardian [Johannesburg]. 20 August 2004. Boureima Hama. “When I Had Finished, They Didn’t Even Bleed.” [Accessed 22 Aug. 2006]
United Nations (UN). 5 September 2006. Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN). “Ghana: Increased Penalties for Female Genital Cutting Proposed.” [Accessed 11 Sep. 2006]
_____. 2 February 2004. Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN). “Ghana: Women Call for Stiffer Female Circumcision Law.”
United States (US). 8 March 2006. Department of State. “Ghana.” Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2005. [Accessed 22 Aug. 2006]
Additional Sources Consulted
Oral sources: Madam Asiglu Atiga, victim of FGM sixty-four years ago (64).
Dr Winnifred Atiga , (interpreter) granddaughter to the respondent.
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