The Social Dimension of Female Genital Cutting (FGC): The Case of Harari

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Addis Ababa University


This study is concerned with female genital cutting (FGC) which describes all procedures that are related to cutting the female genitalia because of non-therapeutic reasons. Four types of FGC can be distinguished, of which “sunna”, the removal of the clitoris, is the “lightest” one, whereas in the case of infibulation most of the female genitals are removed and the leftover sewn closed afterwards. FGC is mainly practiced in 28 African countries, but also appearing in Europe, North- America and Australia due to migration. An estimated 140 million girls and women are expected to have undergone one of the 4 types of FGC worldwide. About 3 million girls are at risk to experience female circumcision every year. The practice of FGC is a threat to humans’ and hence women’s rights and furthermore one expression of continued gender inequality and the superiority of men. It is practiced for decades and even many centuries, is a cross-cultural as well as cross-religious issue. Harar is of main interest within this study paper, because of its high prevalence of the most severe type of FGC, infibulation. In Ethiopian context, it is the fourth highest prevalence rate and occurrence of FGC in general is widely spread. What did it make being practiced so frequently, which sources are cited to justify its continuance? For generating answers on these questions, a survey has been conducted among 177 women and men. Since the survey only works as supplement, the data collection concentrated on qualitative sources like in-depth interviews, focus group discussions (FGD) and observation. Women who underwent female circumcision, but also men have been interviewed to get to know the underlying reasons to practice and maintain FGC, the most common complications which resulted from the practice and the attitudes regarding its continuance. The outcome of the study shows that the majority of the Hararis are nowadays aware about the complications of FGC which is owed to a common effort of community and religious leaders and government offices to enlighten the people, to create awareness. The major reasons for the practice have been the reduction of females’ sexual feelings and enjoyments and the fear of offspring out of wedlock. Although infibulation and its side effects on women’s health are known and hence a shift to “sunna” was advocated, especially elderly women are still supporting at least this kind of FGC. In contrary, the young generation is no longer willing to accept a practice which brought so much harm on the affected girls and women solely because they have natural feelings. Hence, since FGC is also not obligatory by Islam as many young people know, they have been sure not to practice female circumcision on their daughters in the future



Social Anthropology