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?