The United Nations estimates that 200 million girls and women in more than 30 countries are victims of female genital mutilation (FGM).
U.N. officials say Somalia has the highest rate of any country. About 98 percent of its girls and women between the ages of 15 and 49 are reported to be living with the effects of FGM.
Female genital mutilation is the cutting and partial or total removal of external female genital organs for non-medical reasons. The procedure is illegal in the United States.
Many refugees from Somalia now live in the American state of Minnesota. Some of the women had FGM performed on them when they were young girls in Somalia. They live with the pain as adults.
Minnesota has a high rate of FGM. Some Somali-American girls are being victimized in secret operations.
Fifty-five-year-old Fadumo Afi is a mother of seven. She told VOA she has medical problems because of FGM. She remembers how FGM was performed on her and a friend with an unclean instrument.
“We were a pair of young girls as young as six years old. It was so harmful to us because we did not even have anesthesia after the FGM. We were living in the areas where medication wasn’t possible [available]. We couldn't even pee.”
Fartun Weli is another victim of the treatment. She founded Isuroon, a non-profit organization that works to stop FGM. It also helps people deal with some of the life-threatening conditions it causes.
Weli was the victim of the most dangerous kind of FGM, known as Type III. She still suffers from emotional and medical problems and is unable to have children.
“Well, the complication is hard. You, you have a problem with sexual issues. You have a problem [when you are] going to see the doctor so when they’re doing the pelvic exams it really, really hurts.”
Sheikh Hassan Jami’i is a Muslim religious leader in the city of Minneapolis. He says FGM is a tradition that is not a part of Islam.
“All scholars of Islam agree that FGM is totally prohibited. And that’s why I’m proud as a father of four daughters (that I have) never practiced this FGM. And it’s harmful. In Islam there is a principle that says ‘whatever is harmful it’s prohibited.’”
Khalid Mohammed, a Somali-American, agrees. He told VOA he has, in his words, “sisters who have suffered from FGM and because of the trauma and problems they have gone through, I see it as something too bad. Their menstrual cramps last longer and they experience more pain and can’t even afford to do their daily work.”
Dr. Ahmed Roble operates a medical center in St. Paul, Minnesota. He cares for many victims of FGM. He says young girls and even newborns are victims of the treatment.
Roble finds that many families want FGM performed on their girls when they are five or six years old. He said woman who are victims of FGM often suffer during childbirth.
“Because of the scars, they are not as elastic, and stretching is difficult,” he said.
Because the vaginal opening is smaller, the mother must get more stitches to close it after childbirth.
The World Health Organization says FGM is performed for different reasons from one area to another. These reasons include trying to ensure that women do not have sexual relations before marriage and that they do not have sex with men other than their husband.
Some men believe FGM reduces a woman’s sexual desire. They say this helps her resist the desire to have sex with other men and increases her appeal.
The WHO also notes that there are “cultural ideals of femininity and modesty, which include the notion that girls are clean and beautiful after removal of body parts that are considered unclean, unfeminine or male.”
The Hennepin County Medical Center is a trauma center in Minneapolis. It reports that 99 percent of Somali women have suffered Type III genital mutilation.
The health problems are so severe that even those who have a medical operation to help them recover from FGM will not regain what they have lost.
I’m Caty Weaver.
VOA Somali Service reporters Sahra Abdi and Salem Solomon wrote this story. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted their report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
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Words in This Story
external - adj. located, seen, or used on the outside or surface of something
procedure - n. a medical treatment or operation
anesthesia - n. loss of feeling in a person's body or part of the body through the use of drugs
pee - v. to release urine from the body
pelvic - adj. relating to or located in or near the pelvis
principle - n. a moral rule or belief that helps you know what is right and wrong and that influences your actions
menstrual - adj. of or relating to menstruation : of or relating to the flow of blood that comes from a woman's body each month
cramp - n. a sudden painful tightening of muscle in a part of the body
elastic - adj. able to return to an original shape or size after being stretched, squeezed, etc.
stitch - n. a piece of thread that is passed through a piece of material with a needle
femininity - n. of, relating to, or suited to women or girls
modesty - n. the quality of behaving and especially dressing in ways that do not attract sexual attention