By Elizabeth Sitotombe
IN Zimbabwe, from a very young age, some girls are taught to pull the labia minora until they are as long as prescribed by their tutors.
The reason behind this is that puling one’s labia minora is a requisite for marriage, a rite of passage that determines entrance into womanhood, and a physical feature that enhances sexual pleasure for the woman’s partner.
But believe it or not, labia minora pulling is a form of abuse as it falls under female genital mutilation (FGM).
‘The International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation’ (FGM) is celebrated on February 6 every year.
FGM comprises all procedures that involve altering or injuring the female genitalia for non-medical reasons and is recognised internationally as a violation of human rights, health and integrity of women and girls.
The procedure is most often done to girls between birth and age 15.
It is an extreme form of discrimination against women, violates human rights and causes serious health problems.
Many affected communities believe that FGM is a necessary custom to ensure that a girl is accepted within the community and eligible for marriage. Families that practise FGM feel they are safeguarding the future, while others feel it is a sign of cleanliness as well as a rite of passage into womanhood.
Because of deeply rooted cultural beliefs, it has been very difficult to completely do away with FGM.
The UN Sustainable Development Goal 5 calls for intensified global efforts to end FGM.
The act itself not only humiliates women and girls but also endangers their health.
However, other women feel complete and confident after this rite of passage.
Besides the willingly and voluntarily complicit participants, a cause for concern are those who bow to societal and cultural pressure.
It is quite a serious problem haunting many cultures.
It is common in southern and east Africa, including Asia and Latin America.
It, however, has serious implications for the psychological, physical and sexual reproductive health of girls and women.
Classifications of FGM
- Type one involves the partial or total removal of the clitoris;
- Type two is the partial or total removal of the clitoris and inner labia minora with or without excision of the outer labia majora;
- Type three involves the narrowing of the vaginal opening by creating a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the inner or outer labia, with or without removal of the clitoris;
- Type four involves all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia, including piercing, scrapping, incising the genital or pricking the genital area.
Labia minora elongation falls under type four.
In Zimbabwe, there are no national statistics on FGM, but there are some reports of the practice occurring within some communities, especially in remote districts, particularly the Shangani tribe dominant in the far south of the country.
It is a practice common to community midwives who also extend their services to the circumcision of women and virginal testing.
This also includes the practice of elongation of the labia minora.
Labia elongation is, or has been, practiced among groups in several African countries including Benin, Burundi, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
According to BBC, it is reportedly happening in the UK, among Diaspora communities.
WHO states that at least 200 million women and girls alive today have experienced FGM.
FGM complications include:
- excessive bleeding;
- severe pain;
- increased risk of HIV and AIDS;
- problems in urinating;
- uterus, vaginal and pelvic infections;
- complications in childbirth and, in some cases,
According to UNFPA, if the current population trends continue, at least 68 million more girls worldwide will face FGM by 2030, with an increase of the current estimates of 4,1 million girls spiking each year to 4,6 million by 2030.
FGM vis-a-vis children’s rights
FGM is practised on girls usually in the range of one-to-15 years.
Hence, the practice of FGM violates children’s rights as defined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC):
- The right to be free from discrimination (Article 2);
- The right to be protected from all forms of mental and physical violence and maltreatment (Article 19(1);
- The right to highest attainable standard of health (Article 24);
- The right of freedom from torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (Article 37).
This year, the UNFPA-UNICEF launched a programme on the elimination of female genital mutilation under the theme: ‘Partnership with Men and Boys to transform Social and Gender Norms to End FGM’.
Encouraging both men and boys to take part in the initiative will go a long way in helping end FGM.