Women who have been circumcised can lead healthy sex lives and achieve orgasms, an expert has told SBS's Insight.
Anthropologist Fuambai Ahmadu specialises in female sexuality and health, and defends the right for women to undergo initiation rituals such as circumcision.
"As an anthropologist who has studied female mutilation rituals in West Africa for many, many years and have written about it extensively," Ahmadu said, "most women do not experience it as mutilation and would never refer to themselves as mutilated."
She also speaks from personal experience.
Despite growing up and studying in the U.S., Ahmadu chose to be circumcised at age 21 in her home country of Sierra Leone. She was already sexually active at the time and told Insight that the traditional initiation ceremony, in which her clitoris and labia were cut, did not negatively impact her sexuality.
“I was surprised to find out that there was absolutely no difference in terms of my sexual experience, sexual feeling, ability to achieve orgasm,” Ahmadu said. “There was absolutely no change at all.”
But not all women have such a positive experience.
'I WANTED TO LOOK LIKE THE OTHER GIRLS'
Ubah Abdullahi was eight when she visited family in Somalia and underwent a type of female circumcision called “infibulation”, whereby her clitoris was cut and external labia stitched together. Her grandmother had organised the procedure against her parents' wishes.
Although Abdullahi was initially excited to look like the other girls her age, the subsequent pain changed her view.
“When you get stitched up they actually tie your legs together so… you basically hop along for a whole week,” she told Insight. “So you can't urinate, even when you wanted to do 'number two', it's extremely difficult process."
“This whole area that's been wounded and everything that's normal becomes extremely excruciating pain.”
IS LABIAPLASTY 'MUTILATION'?
Female circumcision is illegal in Australia, but is prevalent in cultural groups from the Horn of Africa and parts of Asia such as Indonesia and Malaysia.
In December last year, the Gillard government announced a review of the current legal framework around female circumcision and said a national summit would be held sometime this year.
Prime Minister Gillard said, “It is a violation of the human rights of women and girls and there is no place for it here in Australia. Its occurrence in this country cannot be excused by culture."
However, some experts say the legal stance against female circumcision is contradictory, given the rise in labiaplasty in white Anglo-Saxon women.
Sonia Grover is a Melbourne-based gynaecologist who has been working closely with the African community for almost two decades and thinks the current law is racially targeted.
“We're taking a stand and telling one community that they're mutilating their bodies, and we're tolerating our white community, including teenagers, who are mutilating, doing things to their genitalia,” she said.
She adds that since the number of teenagers undergoing labiaplasty is increasing, arguing that female circumcision is an issue of child rights is also a moot point.
“A substantial number of the young women, teenagers, are actually coming [to the hospital] because their mothers think their genitalia look abnormal and are requesting labioplasties. So tell me what the difference is.”
Catch the Insight forum on female circumcision tonight at 8.30pm on SBS ONE.
WATCH A PREVIEW
Does female circumcision violate child rights? Both Sunju Ahmadu and Ubah Abdullahi were children when they were circumcised. While Sunju had a positive experience, Ubah says she was traumatised and does not support the controversial practice on children.