"Genital Mutilation is an attempt to allocate women to an inferior position; it marks them with this stigma that degrades them and constantly reminds them that they are only women, that they have no right over their own bodies or to personal fulfillment.” (Thomas Sankara, President of Burkina Faso 1983 -1987)
As the president of Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara campaigned for the rights of women and brought the public’s attention to female genital mutilation. He explains the motive behind FGM in a nutshell: A cultural climate where women are regarded as property it is fertile ground for violence against them.
For such extensive violence to be sustained over a long period of time, an ideological justification is a requirement as well as an important tool. Depending on ethnicity and region, there are various justifications that people use for the mutilation of girls:
- Family honor is linked to the sexuality of girls and many believe that one must control the female libido. Genital mutilation ensures that girls have no interest in premarital sex and will not get pregnant. When a girl’s “virginity” or chastity are in doubt, it becomes extremely difficult for her to marry. In interviews with women in Burkina Faso, many said that the mutilation of their genitals was to serve the pleasure of their future husbands.
- Often times, FGM is cloaked with religious duty. Few religious leaders condemn such violence and many advocate for it.
- Some argue that such practices are deeply rooted in tradition and must be continued to please the ancestors.
- Frequently, the practice is justified by aesthetics: girls are regarded as “clean” and “beautiful” if the body parts that are considered “unclean” or “smelly” are removed.
- There are also several myths that the clitoris kills the child during birth or FGM will increase female fertility.
This list of interchangeable excuses continues to be used at will in order to justify violence. Clearly, proponents of FGM put up a threatening front; even families who do not want their daughter to be mutilated become socially ostracized and often cannot find husbands to take care of their daughter. Women who are mutilated have no way of improving their social status; they are accused of being prostitutes, causing bad harvests, or poisoning the water sources. In most instances, threats alone are enough to maintain this horrible practice.