Welcome to Doctors’ Notes, our contribution from Urban Health correspondents (and husband and wife) physicians Dr. Rob and Dr. Karla Robinson. The dynamic duo will be fielding questions about health, as it relates to African Americans. Please feel free to send them questions via firstname.lastname@example.org. We promise to keep it anonymous.
Although outlawed in most areas, female genital mutilation (FGM) continues to plague many nations in the Middle East, Europe, Asia, and Africa. Considered a rite of passage for many girls as young as 8 years old, the process often involves cutting part or all of the external female genitalia in an effort to remove sexual pleasure and prevent promiscuity. In the end there is often a lifetime of medical complications for these women, as a result of the physical and psychological trauma. Kelly W. Davis, a Kenyan-American who was the first in her family not to have the procedure, has now established Running International in an effort to bring awareness to female circumcision and bring hope to those facing the procedure.
JET: When is female genital mutilation typically performed?
Kelly Davis: It differs between countries, but it starts between the ages of 8-15. In Nigeria it is done on babies. Once you are circumcised, then you are ready to be married. That is the deciding factor.
JET: How has FGM affected your family?
KD: It happened in my family. That’s why it is so dear to my heart. My grandmother said that none of her children will be uncircumcised because she felt it to be a curse. My mom had the procedure and she said it takes away your womanhood. I’m so blessed to have been born in this country and did not have to go through with it.
JET: What is the typical mindset of the women in cultures where FGM is performed?
KD: The general mindset is that this is what you do to get married. It is a celebration that is looked forward to and it means you are “becoming a woman.” Especially in countries like Ethiopia and Somalia-up to 97% of women are circumcised. It is not until these women get older that they realize what has been done to their bodies as women and their womanhood.
JET: What is the consequence for refusal?
KD: You are shunned by your community and family. It’s rare, but there are rescue shelters where girls who run away can go.
JET: As a first generation female not to have FGM what helped to break the cycle in your family?
KD: My mom admired the freedom that young people experience in this country. She didn’t want us to feel scared to go home or feel scared to be a woman.
JET: How is your foundation helping other young women break the cycle in their family?
KD: We went to Kenya to empower and educate young girls letting them know that they don’t have to go through with this procedure. We encourage them to follow their dreams and that their rite of passage can be education. Kenya is just the beginning. I plan to focus on the Islamic countries of Ethiopia, Somalia, and Egypt as well. I plan to build rescue centers and medical centers for these girls who have had medical complications from these procedures that have gone wrong.
JET: How can we get involved?
KD: By helping me in raising awareness and donating to my foundation. At one school there were no toilets. 200 girls were sharing a hole in the ground and our foundation just had a fundraising event to build toilets for this school.
It’s a health thing…we’ve got to understand!
About the Doctors: Dr. Karla and Dr. Rob are the founders of Urban Housecall, a multimedia health and wellness resource, and also hosts of the Urban Housecall Radio Show. For more from the doctors, visit their website at www.urbanhousecall.com, like them on Facebook, and follow them on Twitter @urbanhousecall!