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Female Genital Mutilation (fgm) is a cultural procedure that has been carried out since ancient times throughout the world, mainly in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. It consists of girls and young women having parts of their vagina either partially or completely cut off by blunt, unsterilized blades and other unsanitary instruments. Female genital mutilation affects 5 girls every minute worldwide. According to the Word Health Organization (WHO), 85 million to 115 million females in the world have undergone some form of Female Genital Mutilation and suffer from its adverse health effects. It is estimated that 2 million young girls undergo the procedure every year.

Female Genital Mutilation is embedded in local beliefs, values and behavioral patterns that vary from tribe to tribe but can broadly be categorized into the following: 1, Primarily Female Genital Mutilation is performed to ‘control’ women’s sexuality; overwhelmingly societies in which Female Genital Mutilation is practiced, believe that women in essence are sexually insatiable creatures that need to be ‘controlled’ to ensure monogamy (it is a common fact that a leading factor of violence against women is male insecurity issues taken out on them). Because Female Genital Mutilation in its most severe form includes the narrowing of the vagina opening, men even go as far as believing that their sexual pleasure will thereby be increased! 2, Based extensively on mythical reasons, Female Genital Mutilation is seen as part of a girl becoming a woman. Examples of such determinant myths are the danger of the clitoris growing to the size of a penis, Female Genital Mutilation enhancing female fertility and promoting child survival after birth (conclusive studies have proven the exact opposite!). 3, A normal vagina looking ‘ugly’ to men and therefore mutilate, with the resulting image being more ‘appealing’ already! 4, Female Genital Mutilation is carried out on supposed religious pretexts such as the ‘Sunna’ prescript in the Holy Qu’uran as neither Islam nor Christianity sanction the practice. 5, In furtherance of the first category, Female Genital Mutilation is a prerequisite for marriage. Regarding women by and large being economically dependent on men in many parts of the impoverished world, men who out of their own inferiority demand absolute loyalty from their (potential) spouses, place a high importance on the procedure, thereby compelling many females to undergo Female Genital Mutilation in the first place.

Female Genital Mutilation bears no health benefits whatsoever. Instead, it reduces the quality of life, sexual function and overall well-being of the patients who have had it performed on and additionally causes permanent trauma. A WHO published study of 2006 directly relates Female Genital Mutilation to the health implications on its victims and their babies, thereby clearly confirming its associated lethality. Women who have had fgm are significantly more likely to experience difficulties during labor and their babies are more likely to die as a result of the practice, as serious complications during childbirth include the need to have a cesarean section, dangerously heavy bleeding after the birth of the baby and prolonged hospitalization following the birth. The study was said to have also found that there was an increased need to resuscitate babies whose mother had Female Genital Mutilation performed on. It additionally showed the death rate among babies during and immediately after birth being much higher for those born to mothers victimized by Female Genital Mutilation. Furthermore, it estimated that in the African context and additional 10 to 20 babies die per 1000 deliveries as a result of the practice.

Female Genital Mutilation as a practice is categorized as: Type I being excision of the prepuce, with or without excision of the part of the clitoris; Type II involving the excision of the clitoris with partial or total excision of the labia minora and Type III (also known infibulation) excising part or all of the external genitalia and stitching/narrowing of the vaginal opening.

Burkina Faso, according to the U.S. State Department has a prevalence rate of 71.6% with Type II being the most common form practiced. Whereas 66.35% of girls underwent the procedure in 1996, the prevalence rate amongst them has significantly dropped to 25% in 2005, mainly due to the extensive public sensitization campaigns run by government agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the fight against female genital mutilation. While burkinabes have gradually come to realize the hazardous impact of Female Genital Mutilation, the situation remains serious with the cross border migration of groups of people from countries where the practice is still a norm. These immigrants have not been exposed to the anti-fgm campaigns as much as native burkinabes and as such widely see no wrong in their doings. With more excisors giving up their trade and being re-trained alongside help from the government and NGOs, these new groups of people increasingly resort to performing the operation in ‘underground’ urban clinics (run by medical personnel making a lot of money from it) or rural hideouts where the likes of native doctors still conduct the practice. They also choose to have their daughters excised soon after birth to avoid being caught by the authorities and also in order not to let the girls remember the experience and pain when they grow up.

Such females thus have their lives endangered and ruined needlessly, and being blatant examples of human rights abuses and crimes against humanity. ‘Mother Nature – Burkina Faso’ is a visual address of the very specific issue of the resurgence of Female Genital Mutilation in Burkina Faso through increased cross border migrations.

Domestic Violence

June 27, 2010

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Domestic violence is one the most common forms of gender inequality.
Regardless of the fact that it has existed since the beginning of
societies, it is a savage act that remains committed in every facet
of life as we know it. The effects of domestic violence are tremendous.
Female victims are emotionally scarred, their trust for their partners
as they knew it permanently broken, leaving the union never to find
its initial strength ever again. Children growing up in households
where this happens are psychologically affected, they tend become
aggressive, develop apathy towards the male head of the house and
often struggle to fully contribute to family life afterwards. I
should know because I experienced it and am still dealing with some
of the issues. Domestic violence thus ruins families, creating
communities of social instability.

Environments in which the act is widely accepted typically exhibit
apparent traits of chauvinism, lack of empathy and a high decline of
moral values. It is not surprising then that people of such areas are
mostly irritable, short-tempered, emotionally retarded amongst other
negative characteristics. Domestic violence has classically been
portrayed to be present in middle and lower classes of economically
developed countries and in virtually all strata of societies across
the rest of the world.

Accordingly, it is not unusual to have believed (and often still do)
that ‘the rich don’t cry’, meaning that financially well off people
don’t suffer from the specific gender inequality. Thanks to the
socio-cultural institutionalization of show business across many
parts of the world, high profile incidents of domestic violence have
lately been and increasingly continue to be widely exposed by the
media.

What was once an affair behind closed doors, is now ruthlessly
exploited by the paparazzi for the seemingly unquenchable thirst of
the masses, eagerly anticipative of the next (celebrity) scandal.

While the above comic strip (clearly) does not intend to glamorize
domestic violence, the idea behind it is to exemplify the dilemma in
the opulent parts of society, everyday people may still deem such
menace to be unfathomable.

In the swanky ambiance of a boulevard in Beverly Hills, a group of
financially buoyant, middle-aged women having brunch, are presented
to a horrific occurrence of domestic violence to one of their best
friends. The looks on the faces of the victim’s girlfriends symbolizing the very disbelief so many of us still suffer from.

Bride Burning

June 25, 2010

Thousands of women are killed every year on the Indian subcontinent in
dowry-related disputes. A dowry, is the money/valuables a bride brings
into her marriage from her family, often ranging from jewelry to even
entire homes. It typically is of seven times the value of the breadwinner’s annual salary. Dowry offering is an ancient custom across the Indian subcontinent, historically used to help the groom in providing for his family.

Gender inequality is deep-rooted among Indians because they have been and largely remain a patriarchal society. Thus, women have over centuries been regarded as inferior to men and therefore the custom of dowry offering has been kept
institutional. As is common throughout third world countries, marriage for women is predominantly not an option but a necessity for their economic survival, namely through men. Accordingly, the use of dowries has been exploited by male dominated societies in and around India upon realization of its lucrativeness.

With the rapid economic development in India for example, consumerism is establishing itself in society, resulting in exponential increases in dowry demands. What was once an act to aid the breadwinner of a household in his familial duties is now turned into a cash cow by indiscriminate, unscrupulous people. Families in turn have grown to abhor girls at birth, over the increasing fear of an inevitable exorbitant dowry to be paid later in their lives. Abortions quickly became widespread and Sonogram Clinics had a field day in sales over long periods of time.

In India, the result is recorded; over 1 million female fetuses were aborted in the decade from 1981 – ’91. The outcome of this today (in part) is the ratio of 793 girls to 1000 boys among the Punjabis. The storyline of the ‘Bride Burning’ comic strip is a common one. A husband harasses his wife for more dowry and gets infuriated when she doesn’t provide any. The case is even worse when she comes from a wealthy family, the husband and his family staunchly intend on exploiting as much as possible from her family. When the husband’s family realize they can’t/won’t get any more dowry, they either psychologically torture her to commit suicide or carry out her murder themselves. Perpetrators on the Indian subcontinent typically use kerosene and matches to burn brides alive, the reason being that the fuel is cheap and readily available throughout the region. The traditional sari attire worn by women is also easily flammable which speeds up the burning process.

Bride burning is hardly dealt with accordingly by the government because the law enforcement agencies are embedded with the very patriarchal values and traits of
gender inequality that shape societies on the Indian subcontinent.

Cases are not often officially reported though the events are
witnessed by many when they happen; of the few that are reported, hardly any of them get investigated; thorough investigations are a tall order as police officials often tamper with or destroy evidence during the exercise. Highly placed officials also commonly accept bribes to suppress pending cases of bride burning, the widespread mentality of people simply being bride burning to be of a private nature, a domestic affair. The above illustration is an address to the sustained prevalence of the calamity.