Edna Adan is a woman I first became familiar with while reading Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Edna grew up in a town called Hargeisa in Africa, known to be a traditional society of Somaliland. At merely eight years old, Edna’s mother made the decision to have her daughter’s genitals cut in the process referred to as female circumcision (aka female genital mutilation/cutting). Edna did not provide consent. Instead, she was held down as the genital cutting proceeded.
For those less familiar, female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) refers to all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons, as defined by UNICEF (2013). The types of female genital operations vary on a continuum that range from pricking the clitoris representing a symbolic nick, to the removal of all external female genitalia and almost complete closure of the vaginal area (Yoder & Mahy, 2001). Just as the types of procedures vary on a continuum so do the health risks involved with each type of FGM/C performed. Health consequences of FGM/C can range from serious to life-threatening resulting in death depending on what type of FGM/C is performed. Short-term complications may include any of the following: severe pain, shock, hemorrhage, urine retention, ulceration of the genital region, and damage to adjacent tissue (Reaves, 1997). Long-term complications may include: cysts, scar formation, damage to the urethra, painful sexual intercourse, sexual dysfunction, urinary tract infections, infertility, and complications during childbirth (Reaves, 1997). Its physiological repercussions represent just one form of harm those experiencing the procedure face.
While FGM/C is internationally seen as a human rights violation of girls and women, it is still recorded that a high percentage of women aged 15-49 have undergone the practice. Edna is just one of the many inspiring women I have learned about working toward abolishing FGM/C. When Edna had retired from the World Health Organization, she gathered all of her savings and pension to put toward the construction of a hospital in Somaliland. While much fundraising still needed to occur, the beautiful vision and mission of Edna’s hospital was eventually brought to life and can be found by clicking here.
According to UNICEF’s most recent data, “More than 130 million girls and women alive today have been cut in the 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East where FGM/C is concentrated.” UNICEF predicts as many as 30 million girls will be at risk of being cut before their 15th birthday if current trends persist. And then this happened. Nigerian’s president signed a bill outlawing FGM/C. While this is a big victory and provides activists with a legal framework to hold the government accountable to, due to the significant cultural importance attached to FGM/C, the legal safeguard may not be enough to eliminate the practice entirely. Even more than legal safeguards, I believe collective community efforts and engagement—a collection of uniquely embodied experiences—will be necessary to reveal a shared truth and desire to abandon a practice that lies deeply rooted in their tradition and social system of which cannot be ignored in hopes of producing a ripple effect into neighboring communities. According to Kahane (2010), “Our capacity to address our toughest social challenges depends on our willingness to admit that we are part of, rather than apart from, the woundedness of our world.”
“It is impossible to realize our goals while discriminating against half the human race. As study after study has taught us, there is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women.”
-Kofi Annan, Then UN Secretary-General, 2006