Sunday, May 06, 2007

Is freedom relative? Analyzing FGD

In class for the past few weeks we have been discussing freedom, in its application to both Western and Third World Countries. Furthermore, we discussed how freedom is different from women based on geographical location. I find that although this may be true in some situations (such as dress), it cannot always be applied to traditions "valued" in a society. The traditional practice of female genital mutilation (FDM) comes to mind. FGM is the predominately African custom in which females (as young as 4 years old) engage in a ceremonial process that results in the removal of part, or all of the genitilia. The procedure may refer to clitoridectomy (removal of the clitoris), excision (removal of the labia minora), or infibulation (removal of the clitoris, labia minora and majora, and stitching together to form a small hole). A female is held down by older women (either the town elder, a traditional midwife or a healer) with her legs open and the incision is done with the use of broken glass, a tin lid, scissors or a razor blade, often without the use of a local anesthetic. (I apologize for the graphics, I just want to get my point across fully). Immediate complications that result from the procedure include hemorrhage, shock due to intolerable and prolonged pain, infection, tetanus and retention of urine. Later complications involve difficult and painful urination, urinary infections resulting from debris collecting, a damming up of menstrual blood and inclusion cysts. At marriage, the infibulation MUST be torn, stretched or cut open by the bridegroom, and then prevented from healing shut. This agonizingly painful procedure may take weeks or even months to complete. Giving birth is quite dangerous due to the inelasticity of her infibulation scar. An estimated 135 million females have undergone female genital mutilation in their lifetime and approximately two million girls a year are at risk of mutilation. So clearly, this is a horrible practice as it has LIFETHREATENING effects on females that have undergone the practice, so why is practiced? While all Muslims do not find the tradition to be a religious tradition specified in the Koran, Muslims of strict Islamic observance believe that a woman should be “circumcised” in order to follow the example of the faith’s prophet, Mohammed, who they believed favored sunnah circumcision (circumcision necessary to preserve tradition and honor). Many Women who are not circumsized are shunned by society and live in fear. For example, during the Muslim month of Ramadan, Muslim men do not accept food from an uncircumcised Muslim woman and she will not be allowed to pray in a mosque. There are even more extreme views, “Leaving a girl uncircumcised endangers both her and her baby. If the baby’s head touches the uncut clitoris during birth, the baby will born hydrocephalic. The milk of the mother will become poisonous."
If this practice is immoral on the basis of a universal set of ethics not traditions, How does one reconcile women rights as a universal value while recognizing culture? How and when is it just to impose one’s (Western) beliefs and system of morals upon another culture? On what grounds are diverse cultures valid?

4 comments:

Meg Inomata said...

I think this was a great point to bring up. Someone mentioned in class, where do you draw the line between acceptable cultural differences and human rights violations? I was once in a cab listening and on the radio was a show about FGM. The cab driver (who was from an African country) tried to explain to me that in his country, only doctors are allowed to perform female circumcisions and therefore they're OK (yes, it was the creepiest cab ride of my life). My point is, is FGM "OK" if the women's life is not at risk? To me, the ideology behind the act is just as damaging as the act itself. However, one could easily argue that female circumcision is an valid part of some cultures and, as long as the health of the women isn't placed in jeopary, we shouldn't judge them based on our value system. An issue I have been struggling with, especially since our class about Afghanistan Unveiled/The Handmaid's Tale is: when and how do we speak out against certain practices, like FGM? One good answer that was mentioned during class was that Western women who wished to help non-Western women should work with non-Western organizations within the context of their societies and not impose our beliefs upon them. However, many many non Western women actually want to be circumcised and insist upon their daughters' circumcisions because otherwise they are stigmatized, it is hard to find a husband, etc. Is it ever acceptable to "save these women from themselves" and if so how could we go about doing that or is it better to allow practices like FGM to continue without intervening?

.anné said...

"For example, during the Muslim month of Ramadan, Muslim men do not accept food from an uncircumcised Muslim woman and she will not be allowed to pray in a mosque."

I would like to correct you here, that women are not asked to stay away from the nosque neither are they stopped from serving food. These things do not happen, they are just made up stuff or basically people who don't quite understand what islam is about tend to come up with such assumptions. I would also like to add that women cook eat sit do everything they do when they are not having periods. nothing changes. and they can go to mosque too.

Rebecca said...

Mohanty wrote that a large number of women in Iran, Saudi Arabia etc. wore some version of a veil, which is indicative of the sexual control men have over women. The film, Afghanistan Unveiled notes the veils absence in written Islamic law. Instead the wearing of the veil is a social decision made by a community. It is interesting, because there are many other religions that require an entire gender to wear something specific; however, it is not always the women. In Orthodox Judaism, men were a Kepa (head covering) and Zezet (fringes under the clothing) and it is not to oppress them, but to remind them of the importance of religion and tradition. I compare that to the way the filmmaker saw the veil that they wore. The filmmaker seemed to view her veil, not based upon Islamic requirement, but as a symbol of tradition and devotion to Islam; it did not oppress her. Even though taking into account the filmmaker’s perspective, it is important to recognize the historical background of the veil and the idea that many women are forced into it. There is a difference between the choice and oppression, however, it is difficult to generalize the veil into one category or another.

xyz said...

I am a muslim woman and let me clear one thing, no where in the world are muslim women circumsized...no where! this is all a false assumption and quite a silly propoganda against muslim and their ways of treating their women.muslim women enjoy more respect in their society than any non-muslim woman.and if somebody is being treated bad in afghanistan then it is so bcoz of the american creation i.e taliban