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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Collision of cultures

    Vanessa Valenzuelacolumnist
    Vanessa Valenzuela
    columnist

    Last week, an Ethiopian immigrant was convicted of the genital mutilation of his 2-year-old daughter and sentenced to 10 years in prison in what was believed to be the first criminal case of its kind in the United States. This historical trial and conviction left many Americans watching the news and reading the papers angered and perplexed. How could a father do this?ÿ

    The fact of the matter is that this was simply a case closer to home of something that occurs every day in other parts of the world. Primarily in Africa and, to a lesser extent in the Middle East, female circumcision or female genital mutilation is a widely practiced, commonly accepted event in the lives of girls and young women.

    Female circumcision/FGM involves cutting off the clitoris and other genitalia parts to varying degrees. A midwife or other trained professional sometimes performs the circumcision, but it is most commonly an elderly woman of the village or town who performs it with no formal medical training. Antiseptics and anesthetics are not used, and anything from scissors to broken glass or a sharp rock can be used to perform the circumcision.

    Infection, severe bleeding and other complications can lead to death or long-term medical problems for women. Problems with urination and complications during childbirth are the most common of negative consequences. Psychological effects can also result from such acts.

    The World Health Organization estimates that between 100 million and 140 million girls and women alive today have experienced some form of FGM. It is further estimated that up to 3 million girls in sub-Saharan Africa, Egypt and Sudan – where upwards of 90 percent of women aged 15 to 49 have experienced FGM – are at risk of genital mutilation annually.

    While we may view the practice and the possibility of severe medical consequences as barbaric, some cultures require female circumcision as a rite of passage and deem it necessary before marriage is permissible. In some groups, circumcision is also used to control or reduce a woman’s sexual desire to lessen the chance of promiscuity in marriage.

    A common misconception is that FGM practice is directly related to specific religions. Many wrongly associate FGM solely with Muslims because the regions where FGM is common practice are often Muslim. According to the WHO, this is not the case. In Ethiopia, Kenya, Niger and the United Republic of Tanzania, prevalence of FGM is higher among daughters of Christian women than among daughters of Muslim women.

    No matter the reason, it is undeniable that this practice has deep roots in many cultures and still continues even though some of the countries with high rates of female circumcision/FGM have passed laws against the practice.

    The question of whether or not this practice is wrong is a polarizing topic. It pits culture against culture and is a subject that touches at the very heart of moral relativism. Even so, the guilty verdict given at the federal level in our country has sent out a clear message and has set the precedence that such practices will not be tolerated here.

    The United Nations, the WHO and others have all made it clear that this practice should be discontinued. France has been most diligent in its efforts to educate about FGM, and more than 25 cases have been prosecuted in the country. In spite of these efforts, FGM continues around the world. It is important that our country has shown that it did not pass federal law against FGM simply to join other industrialized nations in doing so, but that we plan to enforce it.

    Though the father in this case faced the possibility of a 40-year sentence, his final sentence of 10 years punishes the man while still acknowledging the fact that this was a function of culture and only time can change people’s mindset toward the practice.

    Hopefully immigrants coming here or who are already here from other parts of the world will take heed not only to avoid legal consequences, but also for the sake of their daughters who must live and grow up in a country and in a culture that do not accept this practice.

    Vanessa Valenzuela is a junior majoring in international studies and economics. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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