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An estimated 100 million girls and women around the world have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM). FGM takes different forms in different countries: the cutting of the hood of the clitoris (circumcision), the removal of the entire clitoris (excision), or in its most extreme form the removal of all external genitalia and the stitching together of the two sides of the vulva, leaving only a very small vaginal opening (infibulation).

At least 2 million girls every year, 6,000 every day, are at risk of suffering FGM. For those who survive the cutting, which is generally done without anaesthetic, lifelong health consequences include chronic infection, severe pain during urination, menstruation, sexual intercourse, and childbirth, and indelible psychological trauma. An extreme form of the many traditional practices used around the world to deny women independence and equality, FGM is defended by both men and women in the cultures where it is practiced as a rite of passage and a social prerequisite of marriage, and is used to control women's sexuality by safeguarding virginity and suppressing sexual desire.

FGM is often associated with Islam, but there is no mandate in the Koran for FGM. Moreover, FGM is not practiced in all fundamentalist Islamic countries. FGM is prevalent in the band of African countries which stretches across the center of the continent. It is also found in some Asian countries and among immigrant populations in Western Europe and North America. As recently as the 1940's and 1950's, FGM was used by doctors in England and the United States to combat hysteria, lesbianism, masturbation and other perceived sexual deviance in girls and women.

Women who come from cultures which practice FGM are increasingly giving voice to the devastating harm inflicted by FGM, and movements for its eradication are growing. Yet resources for the battle against FGM are scarce, and the African women fighting this battle at the grassroots level receive little support from international agencies. On September 20, 1993 the American television network ABC aired a "Day One" report on FGM, in which James Grant, the Executive Director of UNICEF, acknowledged that of the $922 million budget of UNICEF, not even $1 million—less than 0.1%—is spent on FGM.

Join the struggle against FGM and support its front line of grassroots activists by writing and sending petitions to Mr. James Grant, Executive Director of UNICEF, at 3 United Nations Plaza, New York, NY 10017, USA. Express concern over the lack of UNICEF resources for a practice which so severely injures, and in many cases, kills, so many children around the world. Urge Mr. Grant to allocate and earmark UNICEF funds for the work of grassroots activists fighting to eradicate FGM in their countries.

"However much a little girl may want to be excised because all other girls of her own age have been done, or because she has been persuaded that it is the right thing to have done, this does not mean that she doesn't suffer excruciating pain. Similarly, she feels that violence is being done to her body; she is conscious of suffering a physical injury, of being maimed in some way. Whatever other people may claim, what she experiences is a mutilation, even if she has heard it repeated time and time again that her clitoris is a masculine element which has no place in her body and so must be removed." (Awa Thiam, Black Sisters Speak Out)

This poem on female genital mutliation (FGM) won first prize in a poetry competition for female poets of Benadir. It and the statement above were provided to Equality Now by the Foundation for Women's Health Research and Development (FORWARD), an international human rights organization based in London and working for the eradication of FGM.

Dahabo Elmi Muse
Pharaoh, who was cursed by God
Who did not hear the preaching of Moses
Who was led astray from the good word of Torah
Hell was his reward!
Drowning was his fate!
The style of their circumcision,
butchering, bleeding, veins dripping with blood!
Cutting, sewing and tailoring the flesh!
This loathsome act never been cited by Prophet nor
acknowledged by the Hadith!
Non-existing in Abu Hureyra.
No Muslim ever preached it!
Past or present the Koran never preached
it (Pharaonic circumcision)
And if I may think of my wedding night,
awaiting me was caresses, sweet,
kisses, hugging and love.
No, never!
Awaiting me was pain, suffering and sadness
In my wedding bed there I lie groaning,
curling like a wounded animal, victim of feminine pain.
At dawn awaits me ridicule.
My mother announces,
yes she is a virgin.
When fear gets hold of me
When anger seizes my body
When hate becomes my company or companion
I get feminine advice, it is only feminine pain they say,
and feminine pain perishes like all feminine things!
The journey continues, or the struggle continues as modern historians say!
As the good tie of marriage matures
As I submit and sorrow subsides
My belly becomes like a balloon
A glimpse of happiness appears
A hope, a new baby, a new life!
Ah, a new life endangers my life
A baby's birth is death and destruction for me!
It is what my grandmother called the three feminine sorrows
and if I may recall my grandmother said,
the day of circumcision, the wedding night and the birth
of a baby are the three feminine sorrows.
As the birth burst: And I cry for help the battered flesh tears.
No mercy, push they say! It is only feminine pain and feminine pain perishes.
When the spouse decides to break the good tie,
when he concludes divorce and desertion,
I retire with my wounds.
And now hear my appeal!
Appeal for dreams broken
Appeal for my right to live as a whole
Appeal to you and all peace-loving people.
Protect, support, give a hand
to innocent little girls, who do no harm, trusting and
obedient to their parents, elders
and all they know are only smiles.
Initiate them to the world of love not to the world of feminine sorrow!