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Cristina López del Burgo, Professor of Medicine and researcher at Institute for Culture and Society University of Navarra
The Education, the most effective weapon against female genital mutilation.
The United Nations General Assembly banned in 2012 the internship of female genital mutilation (FGM). Since then, the International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM has been celebrated every February 6.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), FGM includes "procedures that intentionally and for non-medical reasons alter or injure the female genital organs," ranging from total or partial amputation of the clitoris to removal of the labia majora and/or labia minora. Sometimes the vulva is stitched, leaving a small hole for urine and menstruation, which will be cut again when the woman begins sexual intercourse.
These practices are usually performed on girls under 15 years of age, in unsanitary conditions and without anesthesia. Short-term complications deadline include, among others, intense pain, infections that can spread and cause fatal sepsis; hemorrhages, sometimes life-threatening; or difficulties in urination and defecation.
In the long term deadline they can present, together with psychological trauma, menstrual pain, kidney infections, pain with sexual intercourse and absence of sexual desire and satisfaction. Sterility may occur as a result of infections and they are at increased risk of HIV infection. If they become pregnant, they often experience complications during childbirth, ranging from vaginal tears to stillbirth or death of the fetus. Therefore, FGM is not merely a cultural internship . It is a serious assault on defenseless girls with serious public health implications.
FGM is widespread in 28 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and Asia. It is performed because of cultural beliefs. It is considered a ritual of passage from childhood to adulthood and a way to safeguard the "purity" of women. There is no basis in the various religions to justify it. The WHO estimates that more than 200 million women have undergone FGM. Due to migrations, this internship can also be found in Western countries. In our country it is estimated that there are approximately 18,400 girls at risk, according to data of the Wassu-UAB foundation.
Many African countries have laws against FGM, but it is still deeply rooted in some ethnic groups and, although necessary, they are insufficient to prevent it. Associations fighting against FGM agree on the most effective weapon for its eradication: the Education of women (since it is they who perform FGM), of families and of health and social agents. At final, the Education of the whole society.
In a study conducted almost 20 years ago by researchers from the Universities of Navarra and Cordoba and Ain Shams University in Egypt among university students in Cairo(Allam et al, Public Health 2001), it was found that 72% of them considered that FGM should be banned. Regardless of their religion, those who were aware of its consequences were in favor of its abolition. Those who mistakenly believed that FGM had a religious basis, that it was synonymous with "virtue" or who were unaware of its complications were more likely to be unwilling to abolish it. Although religious beliefs may be difficult to change, there are other factors, independent of religion, that influence people to be against FGM. This study is one more sample of how Education plays an important role in dispelling myths and false beliefs related to cultural practices that put health at risk.
In Spain there are several initiatives aimed at training, not only the staff that works with immigrant groups, but also the immigrants themselves. They are the ones who will have more strength to convince other people in their community to banish the internship of FGM. An example is Fatima Djarra Sani, victim of FGM and mediator of Doctors of the World Navarra, who without renouncing her roots, fights with the weapon of Education so that other girls do not suffer what she suffered.
But it is not only women who must lead this fight. Men are also essential to banish false beliefs. An informative talk at the headquarters of Doctors of the World in Bilbao was enough for 8 African men to change their vision of FGM and begin to train other members of their community to abandon this practice internship. A Senegalese musician, after attend to an informative session in which he learned about the consequences of FGM, now fights against it through his music and theater.
All of us, men and women, can and must fight against FGM. Each in our own way, but using the most powerful weapon we have: the Education.