FGM? Not on my wife!

If men were better educated about female genital mutilation, would they still support it?

By Catherine Price
Published March 11, 2008 6:20PM (EDT)

Female genital mutilation -- which in extreme cases can include removing a woman's clitoris and labia minora and sewing her vagina partially shut -- is a hard thing to defend. But how do you prevent it? Women's eNews has a piece from Khartoum, Sudan, that suggests that it might be useful for prevention efforts to focus some attention on a group of people not usually considered victims of FGM: men.

The author, Meghan Sapp, had the rare opportunity to hang out with a bunch of young Sudanese bachelors gathered at the family home of a friend. Her status as a foreigner made the men more comfortable asking questions they never would have posed to a Sudanese woman, and when the question of FGM came up, she realized that several of the Khartoum natives didn't really understand what it was. After trying to find pictures online of women who'd had their genitals mutilated, she and her friend found a biology book and explained to the men what the procedure involved and what risks it held. "There's the gruesome wedding night when a bride gets painfully torn open," she writes. "There are the deaths, the infections and complications during childbirth. There is the procedure itself, which is sometimes performed very crudely, sometimes by practitioners using pieces of broken glass."

"Most upsetting to these young men," she says, "was the idea that FGM prevents a woman from enjoying sex. After waiting to have sex until they were married, they were hoping it would be a great time for both partners."

There are, no doubt, men in the world who will insist their wives undergo FGM even if they fully understand the cruel gruesomeness of the procedure. However, it seems that there are times when a cultural taboo against talking about sexual issues in mixed company means that many men don't fully understand what FGM is or how it's done. If men were better educated about how FGM is performed and the risks and consequences that it carries, they might be powerful voices in getting the practice stopped.

Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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