The History of Female Circumcision

January 2, 2009 by tasha kazuki  
Published in Women

The practice, condemned by many countries continues to thrive today. What is the history behind this rite of passage?


sunna (photo courtesy of )

Female circumcision is practiced in about twenty two countries in Africa, the Middle East, and South America. With the movement of people between countries, many cases are now also being reported in Europe and the USA. Unlike male circumcision where there is evidence to suggest that the operation has some health advantages, female circumcision has none. There are many reasons — some of them baffling– why certain nations employ the custom. However, the practice appears to be deeply rooted in the culture of the practicing community.

In Sierra Leone, it is believed that if not excised the clitoris will grow like a man’s penis and eventually hang between the legs. The custom is hard to eradicate as nearly all women are circumcised for fear of this myth.

In Africa, it is considered to be the recognition of the passage between childhood to womanhood, an event that needs to be marked and celebrated with great feasting. The older women in th clan propagate the practice– “we went through it so you have to, or you are not one of us.” As young girls grow up, they are taught to respect the custom and even look forward to it. Once they are circumcised, the girls join the ranks of honorable women of the clan. With circumcision comes companionship and certain privileges. An uncircumcised woman is an outcast; she is considered to be dirty or a prostitute and will never find a husband. In this respect, parents of the girl sincerely believe it is in the child’s best interest to be circumcised. With marriage comes status and security; circumcision will ensure th girl’s chastity and the promise of a future husband, a good life, wealth, and children.

A century ago, in so-called enlightened Western societies, doctors performed clitoroidectomies on young ladies who showed undue interest in sex. The removal of the clitoris was thought to prevent nymphomania in susceptible females.

In Somalia, the people defend infibulation by saying that the normal female genitalia is ugly. By performing the surgery, the genitals of the woman become more attractive, flat, smooth, and almost doll-like.

Many countries have banned the practice — included are Britain, France, Sweden, Switzerland, Kenya, and Senegal. But the custom continues to be practiced behind closed doors.

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