I was browsing the web today and just now found out that elongation of labia minora is classified as Genital Mutilation type IV (where have I been?). So of course after my initial shock of "oh my God! I am mutilated!!!" abated... I had a few minutes to think and I have come to a conclusion on the subject. The researchers have erred.
History and Commentary:
Let me start by saying that the information contained herein will most likely upset/disconcert a lot of Zambians because we have trouble talking about our sexuality or sex in public places. Ritual/ traditional sexual matters are discussed in private among friends or at gender restricted traditional ceremonies.
The reason I feel strongly to speak on this subject is that as Zambian, we sometimes have a tendency to accept western standards as the norm, shunning our own cultures without much investigation other than the fact that it seems primitive. We often forget that when anthropologists come in from other countries to "study" us, they are not highly familiar with the language for a start, and the local people are not comfortable explaining everything or have trouble translating things to English. The evidence is clear in Chisungu: A girl's initiation ceremony among the Bemba of Zambia by Audrey Richards.
Yes there are a lot of inconsistencies and traditional teaching that has been done the same way for ages that we have no idea why it's done that way other than-- it was passed on by our forefathers that way. You could say the same for many religious practices too. Unfortunately, unlike religion, our history is not written, but passes on through fables or partially true stories, through dance and song or a village elders romantic view of the past.
Traditionally, young Zambian (and other African- Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Uganda, DRC...etc) girls are taught at puberty to elongate the labia minora for the enhancement a man and woman's sexual pleasures.
I recall receiving this information from our house maid when I was 10 or 11 years old. We had just returned home from a particularly trying game of Zambian 'rounders'. She approached my cousins and I and somberly informed us that if we did not pull on our labia minora we would not get married and hence would have no children. That was enough to scare us into sitting down with her on what would become our many "bathroom" sessions.
No. I never got them to the desired/ recommended length because I grew bored and my cousins and I decided to just screw the move and never get married. As it turns out, you CAN get married without altering your labia and...oh wow! You can have kids too!!!...lol.
Mutilation or maiming is an act or physical injury that degrades the appearance or function of the (human) body, usually without causing death. So technically-- the body part is altered when you elongate the labia, but you are not altering how anything feels down there. They also say that women with elongated labia tend to have more bladder and vaginal infections than others. Probably true for others... but not for me and women that I am close to, so I can not confirm or deny that.
The thing is Mutilation has really negative connotations. To me it's the cutting of the clitoris and other female body parts in a way to keep a woman submissive and violate women's sexual rights. If we use the original definition listed above, that would be assuming that a woman getting a hysterectomy is also being mutilated... which is in fact not true because the surgery is not done negatively or that women who choose to get hoodectomies to enhance sexual pleasure or labiaplasty to make their genitals look pretty are mutilating themselves right? See be very careful with evaluations of culture done by the western world.
So because elongating the labia is for positive reasons (pleasure) should it be considered FGM surely? The only weapons used are fingers, herbal oils, mango stems (really!), or clothes pegs in serious cases. Of course as with everything, some women get abused in the process such as those sent back from their marital homes because they didn't have elongated labia, or those abused during initiations ceremonies (which I wont get into today).
I mean I just don't see see how someone who thinks lobola is the buying and selling of women while they encourage the purchase of expensive diamond rings can tell me I am mutilated.
I am the proud owner of elongated labia minora and they have not caused me any mental or physical problems.
I am Manena-- and I approve this message.