Certain traditional practices have a great influence on the health of individuals and society at large. For example, in parts of Nigeria, tradition says that females must be circumcised a few days after birth. What influence does this practice have on female health and sexuality?
Sexual health is an assumed right for every individual, but we know little regarding customs, culture, traditions, and the role they play on determining the sexual experience of a woman.
A woman’s sexual life must be considered in the context of the environment in which she and her partner live. Culture, social norms of the community and religion often determine the acceptance and achievements of sexual health for both man and woman. Therefore, in analysing the influence of culture and tradition on sexual practices, what are the relevant issues?
Female circumcision particularly, has strong cultural meaning because it is closely linked to women’s sexuality and their reproductive role in the society. Female circumcision, otherwise known as female genital mutilation, is the act of tempering with one of most volatile areas of a female’s make-up. The act is practised today in so many countries. The practice is known across socio-cultural classes which cut across different ethnic and cultural groups including Christians, Muslims, and followers of indigenous African religion.This is to say that circumcision occurs for a number of cultural reasons such as religion, tradition, preserving virginity, and cultural identification.
Girls commonly undergo the process of circumcision between the ages of 4, 10 or 20 but in some communities the procedure may be performed on infants as old as 8 days, or may be postponed until just before marriage or even after the birth of the first child. The age when the operation is performed, however, varies according to culture, ethnicity and radiation of the people concerned.
In Nigeria, for example. Female circumcision may be done at infancy among the Igbos and Yoruba’s. Among the Isoko in Delta state and Hausa in the North, it is done before marriage. In some parts of Kwara State, it is done during first pregnancy.
The traditions have various positive meanings attached to female circumcision which include womanhood, purity, fertility, and beauty. According to some traditions, the aim of the process is to ensure the woman is faithful to her husband. The traditional idea is that an uncircumcised maiden stands the risk of being sexually promiscuous and wayward. Some cultures consider girls ineligible for marriage if they have not been circumcised. Mothers who have their daughters circumcised believed they are doing the right thing because their children will become social outcasts if they are discovered not circumcised prior to marriage.Secondly, the uncircumcised females are labelled unclean, impure, and unfit to marry, bear children, or attain respect in old age.
In some cultures, a woman who is not circumcised is not allowed to perform the public duties of a wife, such as serving the elders. She is also forbidden to speak at a community gathering.The most common reason for female circumcision is to reduce a woman’s sexual urge reasonably in order to preserve her virginity. Therefore, this is to say that purity and virginity are closely associated with circumcision.
It is also commonly believed that uncircumcised women are not good bakers or cooks. However, this is a myth that is yet to be proved even though the locals still regard it highly.
It is regarded as an essential coming of-age ritual that symbolizes virginity, cleanliness, fertility, and enhances the beauty of a woman’s symbolic rite of passage to womanhood.
The justification for female circumcision varies amongst ethnic groups in Nigeria. Some believe that if a woman’s clitoris is not removed, contact with a baby during child birth will eventually kill the baby. Others believed that without circumcision, the female genitalia will continue to grow. To others, vaginal secretions produced by glands that are removed as part of surgery, are thought to be unclean and lethal to sperm.
Essentially, girls who are not circumcised are considered “unclean” in many cultures, and can be regarded as harlots by others.
Many men believe the folklore which says they will die if their penis touches a clitoris.
Female circumcision constitutes a lot of health hazards with short and long term physical complications and psychological effects.
From the perspective of public health, female circumcision is much damaging than male circumcision and the women of the society that still practice female circumcision risk severe health problems.
This is because the operation is usually carried out in mainly unhygienic conditions and the instruments like razors blades, scissors, kitchen knives and even pieces of glasses are used without sterilization. Same instruments are used on more than one girl, which increases the risk of infection. Unhygienic salves used to heal the wounds created as a result also cause infection.
As mentioned above, most operations are done without anesthesia or a sterile instrument which often causes septicaemia, tetanus or urinary tract infections. Some of the victims die from the resultant pain and haemorrhage.
Prolonged bleeding may lead to severe anaemia and can affect the growth of a poorly nourished child.
Local and systemic infections are also common. Infection of the wound abscesses, ulcers delayed healing; septicaemia and tetanus have been reported.
It can also lead to long term-urinary and reproductive problems reproductive health risk which includes a loss of sexual sensation, chronic urinary tract infections, and painful intercourse.
In summary, female circumcision is a major contributor to childhood and maternal mortality and morbidity.