Ending a Bad Tradition

By: Daniel Nardini

In a report by the World Health Organization, an arm of the United Nations, the practice of female genital mutilation has been on the decline in many parts of the world. As many as 1,800 communities around the world have pledged not to subject any girl or woman to this traditional practice, and many countries in Africa and Asia have now made the practice illegal and subject to stiff penalties. While the practice is still a terrible one, and one still too widely done, at least there is a growing number of people and even governments that are seeing this tradition as outmoded and dangerous for women. In 2011, the United Nations formally adopted a measure banning all female genital mutilation and calling for all countries everywhere in the world to ban any practice that is used for female genital mutilation.

Female genital mutilation in so many places around the world has been done for hundreds and even thousands of years. Because it is “tradition,” it is next to impossible to force traditional communities to halt the practice. Female genital mutilation is, sadly, still considered a rite for girls by their communities and even parents into womanhood. The practice causes excruciating pain, and in a number of cases girls die from the practice. According to physicians, female genital mutilation offers no benefits and carries too many risks. But like such terrible traditions like honor killings and burying baby girls alive, and practice continues. To get whole communities to commit stop the practice is far easier said than done—nine times out of ten women in too many countries have no say over their own bodies. They have been dispossessed in any of the decision-making institutions that govern so many communities and countries, and in too many cases women are seen more as property than as equal human beings.

Stopping female genital mutilation means also changing a number of other traditions. But stopping the practice is what the United Nations has committed itself to doing. Can it stamp out this practice in our lifetimes? Is such a tradition so strong that we may never see it stamped out? Can stamping out female genital mutilation help to bring women more rights and protections they do not have now in so many lands? I cannot say—tradition is in too many cases way too powerful. Tradition governs so much of our world, and some traditions die hard because of it. But at least it is a start to ban such a practice, and it is a start to say this practice is wrong.

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