THE CUTTING, THE VIRUS, THE FISTULA


Joyce Sunday
Staff Writer

I can never forget the girl, how the women held her down with the sharp blade ready to cut off her female genitalia, and her innocence. As the blade started coming towards her direction, she began to struggle, cry, and scream. All those tears fell on the deaf ears of the women strongly holding her down, spreading her legs wide open. I couldn’t watch, so I left the room, though her shouting pain echoed in the silence. After a few minutes, she was taken out of the room by her mother, her legs tied. She had been abused, but now was rewarded with gifts because the experience had made her a woman. This was the first time I ever experienced the female genital cutting, or rather what my society will call the “womanhood initiation ritual” of a five-year old Nigerian girl.

Female genital cutting is the “partial or complete removal of the clitoris”, or inflicting of other injuries to the female genitalia. Girls are often subjected to cutting before they reach the age of puberty, though cutting still may occur anytime between puberty and marriage as well. There are three major types of female circumcision: type I is the clitoridectomy, type II is the excision, and type III is the infibulation. The clitoridectomy involves either the partial or whole removal of the clitoris organ. The excision type is the partial or whole removal the clitoris organ, as well as the inner labia, which may be accomplished with or without removing the labia majora. The infibulation, which narrows the vaginal opening by creating a seal, is the most severe type of female circumcision and is performed by cutting and repositioning the labia. After this procedure the two sides of the vulva are stitched together to cover the urethra and prevent continuous bleeding.

In most countries circumcision practices are performed by untrained operators who have limited understanding of the female anatomy, and also often lack surgical skills. The clitoris has about eight thousand sensory nerve endings, and it is located at a very sensitive neurovascular area of the female genitalia. Any attempt to remove or alter a tiny amount of tissue can cause serious medical and physical problems. Certain medical complications like severe pain, prolonged bleeding, and hemorrhage can cause death or immense shock for the victims of female circumcision. In some cases, while the victims are still alive, prolonged bleeding can cause severe anemia which can affect the development of the girls. Some infections such as tetanus, ulcers, septicemia and gangrene have been encountered after the circumcision procedures as well. In third world countries especially, unexperienced operators perform surgery with unsterilized instruments, leading to the spread of the human immunodeficiency virus, Hepatitis B and other blood transmitted infections. The infibulation is the most severe type of circumcision, and can cause long-term health complications because it affects urine drainage, as well the flow of the menstrual blood through the vagina. Pelvic inflammatory diseases that arise from infibulation can lead to infertility, pelvic pain and painful periods (dysmenorrhea). Yet another medical condition that can arise from circumcision is keloid formation, which may cause pain, itching and disfigurement of the female genitalia.

Intercourse, pregnancy, and childbirth can be more difficult for circumcised women. Female genital cutting reduces the size of the vagina, making it difficult for its victims to have sex, or give birth, without being in pain or having their genitalia skin ripped apart. During birth, the head of the fetus may be impeded by the stitched up area of the genitalia, resulting in intense contractions that can cause perineal tears. When the woman has a weak contraction and the delivery of the baby’s head is detained, the fetus may die. This may additionally result in necrosis of the genital septum, which is the separating of the bladder and the vagina, ultimately leading to vesicovaginal fistula (VVF). Vesicovaginal fistula, also known as a type of female urogenital fistula (UGF), is a condition which allows the continuous discharge of urine without any control.

Female genital mutilation affects millions of women worldwide, and thankfully, a known reversible surgery exits. One by one, female genital circumcision survivors are being cut for a second time, but now to reclaim what they lost. The “defibulation” procedure, also known as female circumcision reversal operation, is not performed by many surgeons. Luckily, a select few doctors, such as Dr. Marci Lee Bowers of the San Mateo Surgery Center in California, is an American gynecologic surgeon that has performed this rare surgery on over one hundred patients. Most of her patients are women born in Africa, but now living in the United States. She was the first surgeon in the United States to ever carry out this reverse surgery. According to Dr. Bowers, after the reverse surgery, the clitoris is still found even in the worst cases of female circumcision. When the scar tissue is opened and the mutilation is reversed, the female genitalia can be restored, which will bring back the sensuality of the clitoris. Despite these efforts, there is still a need for more research and investment to provide additional surgical techniques that would be accessible to the victims of female genital mutilation.

Image by Jackson

HILLARY’S 2016 CANDIDACY: A LONG AWAITED ADDITION IN THE INTERNATIONAL LINE OF FEMALE LEADERS?

HILLARY'S 2016 CANDIDACY: A LONG AWAITED ADDITION IN THE INTERNATIONAL LINE OF FEMALE LEADERS?

By Rebecca Benest
Staff Writer

Last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton officially announced her candidacy for president in the 2016 election. While many of her supporters were first alerted over email, she quickly released a YouTube video featuring many American families in all their diversity, culminating in her announcement. “I’m hitting the road to earn your vote because it’s your time. And I hope you’ll join me on this journey.” Clinton’s support among the democratic populace is also widespread and strong. A Real Clear Politics poll taken in April reported she held a 50-point lead over Elizabeth Warren and Vice President Joe Biden, her closest competitors, and according to Sean Spicer of the Republican National Committee, her chances of losing the nomination are as high as his of “getting struck by lighting riding a unicorn”. Hillary’s campaign means we are seriously looking at placing a woman at the head of our nation; electing a woman to that decision-making position signifies a more widespread agreement that gender cannot and should not diminish one’s capabilities. While ultimately it should be the politics of the nation’s ruler that matter above all other factors, a female president in the United States is a big step, and is long overdue.

Her campaign marketing, at least so far, is not particularly aimed at her pull as a female leader, and she seems dedicated to working as hard as necessary toward her goal. In a memo to her campaign, she wrote, “we are humble, we take nothing for granted, we are never afraid to lose, we always outcompete and fight for every vote we can win.” Nevertheless, in a world where women are increasingly crucial to international and domestic politics and peace building, the United States is ranked 79th in terms of women’s political participation. This puts us far behind many countries that we designate as “third world.” In this sense, Hillary Clinton’s election could mean a step forward, adding to a line of women internationally who have made that same step.

Hillary’s election could also mean her addition to the Council of Women World Leaders, an organization of current and former female presidents and prime ministers. Also in that network are several women who have made huge steps in the fight for gender equality. Corazon Aquino, the first female president of the Philippines and in Asia, established a new constitution and congress, broke up national economic monopolies, and was named TIME Magazine’s Woman of the Year in 1986. Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, fought to change Ireland’s immigration policy and was active in international human rights as the first head of state to visit Somalia after the civil war in 1992 and Rwanda after the genocide in 1994. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first female president in Liberia and in Africa, brought up the Liberian GDP from $604 million in 2006 to $1.7 billion in 2012; she also received, along with two others, the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize for her work toward gender equality. The newest addition to the Council is Atifete Jahjaga, the first female president of Kosovo and the nation’s youngest president. Since her election in 2011, she established the National Anti-Corruption Council, which is dedicated to female and minority equality. Whether or not their platforms rest on gender equality, their presence and capability in those leadership positions works to expand horizons and opportunities internationally.

It is by no means necessary, however, to run a country in order to make a difference. There are myriad examples of women changing their environments locally. Marisa Ugarte epitomizes this: After experiencing human trafficking in Tijuana, Mexico, working with runaway teens, she founded the Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition in 1997. The organization works with agencies on both sides of the US-Mexico border to combat commercial and sexual exploitation of all persons. Working with one person at a time, Ugarte and her organization will make a difference in those lives. She has been recognized for her accomplishments by the International Foundation of Human Rights and former President Bill Clinton, and will be speaking about human trafficking at an event hosted by San Diego’s Ambassadorial Roundtable on May 7th. Ugarte is just one of so many others working to improve conditions in the world around her, and over time it is becoming increasingly possible for other women to do the same. In this sense, support for Hillary Clinton and Marisa Ugarte, both hardworking, intelligent, and capable of shifting their environment, lead to a similar conclusion. Women and men, more and more, are lending their support toward putting more qualified and hardworking women in positions of decision-making power.

Image by Mike Mozart

THE CULTURAL IMPEDIMENTS TO ABE’S “WOMENOMICS”

By Andrew Muse-Fisher
Staff Writer

When Shinzo Abe became Japan’s Prime Minister in 2012 he initiated his plan to reinvigorate an aged and ailing economy. While this plan, widely referred to as Abenomics, focuses on monetary, fiscal, and growth policies to end deflation, Abe has included a call to encourage Japanese women to enter the work force to increase productivity. [1] One of his goals is to increase female employment in leadership positions to 30 percent in six years. To begin working toward this goal, he appointed five female ministers to his cabinet. [2]

Though he is setting a strong example, he is ignoring certain social and cultural issues that prevent women from entering or excelling in the work place. To make up for her husband’s shortcomings, first lady Akie Abe expressed the necessity to change social attitudes so that “women can shine” in the careers they choose. [3] Mrs. Abe, an accomplished businesswoman, serves as an example of the success women can achieve. In addressing the World Assembly for Women hosted in Tokyo this September, Abe stated how achieving similar success in a career for women is impeded by a “male dominated business culture” that fails to accommodate the needs of working women. [4] Specifically, she scorned the ways in which Japanese culture limits women’s opportunities to excel in the work place as well as the lack of flexibility offered by high-level career paths when it comes to raising a family.

Because Japanese women face unequal opportunities when compared to men, they are widely discouraged from entering the job market. Women are often paid much less than their male counterparts: one estimate suggests 27 percent less. [5] Though this is an economic issue, it has social implications. If a job is not as lucrative when compared with the same job done by a man, women are more likely to deem their time working as less worthwhile. If this is the case, they might attempt to find a job where their time is valued to a greater extent, or they may drop out of the job search completely. Such wage discrimination is also indirectly discouraging for women in that men are in greater demand, increasing the competition in an already sparse job market.

A significant barrier to women gaining access to positions that utilize more technology lies in their relative level of education. Women are more likely to receive a university education than men, but they are severely underrepresented in fields involving mathematics and sciences. [6] If Japan is to successfully diversify its workforce, it cannot only focus on job fields in which women are already competitive. Although it is largely beyond the priorities of individual businesses to influence personal education choices, it could prove fruitful to increase recruiting efforts geared towards immersing female students in these fields.

Japan’s gender gap is clearly visible when examining women in upper management positions. In 2011, Japanese companies with over 5,000 employees had fewer than three percent of their management positions filled by women. [7] Abe has made women in leadership positions a priority, but he has done so largely through the aforementioned goal. But rhetoric is not likely to be effective unless Abe or others address the social and economic issues that discourage female participation, while guiding women to these positions. For example, Nissan has struggled to maintain a gender-diverse management staff, but has recently established policies to change this deficit. The company uses career fairs and advisers, as well as women speakers to demonstrate the feasibility of a career in management positions. [8] Though this is one company’s efforts toward diversification, it acts as a model that could be emulated across other Japanese businesses in order emphasize the necessity of diversity while increasing the motivational efforts that enable women to access higher management positions in the Japanese business world.

As women struggle to obtain managerial positions, they are statistically less likely to hold a job for a long period of time. A report from the office of the prime minister showed that employment of mothers was failing to grow in 2004. [9] In 2008, women desired to work less time in order to spend more time with their children. [10] This highlights the plausibility that mothers are trying to find a balance between time at home and time at work. Their efforts are hindered by the tradeoff that arises from compensation. Because women generally receive lower wages, they have to work longer days for their commitment at work to be worthwhile. This creates two extremes that they then have to choose from: they can work longer hours than they prefer or, if they can rely on their partner’s income, they can decide to not return to work at all.

Traditionally, Japanese women are more successful as homemakers that rely on financial support from their husbands when compared to other nations such as the United States. [11] Though women are progressively breaking this trend, the option is still open to them. Because of this, they can stay at home and out of work for long periods of time instead of making the decision between their children and their income. An alternative is for women to remain single and childless so that family does not interfere with their careers. These women work long hours to maintain an income and job security. In between, they do not have time to meet or date men. [12] While this has its positive implications—women are increasing their competitive edge in the workplace—it is also unfair that they have to forego having a family just so they can work. These two extremes demonstrate how Japanese women are placed in an awkward situation stemming from a lack of businesses practices that encourage diversity and that take into account a woman’s desired length of leave for child care.

Despite a growing female participation rate in its overall labor market, Japan is facing social problems that do not represent an isolated phenomenon. During World War II, the United States experienced an influx of women leaving the home and working jobs previously filled by men. It is remarkable how quickly they left their traditional roles in the home, but it is important to note that they remained in lower level positions. Currently, women in the United States represent around only a third of managers, even after decades of women’s rights movements. [13] This indicates that there is a long fight for Japanese women to gain total or near total equality in the work force, but this comparison also suggests Japan can use the example set by the United States. A further comparison done in 2009 offers three crucial steps to increasing female employment. Having higher education, more social support from a husband, and a smaller gap in wages between husband and wife all increase the likelihood of a woman’s employment. Education overall is no longer an issue for women getting a job, but they still lack social support and similar wages. Promoting equal or similar wages based on experience rather than gender can guarantee partial mitigation of these issues, but as long as Japan’s dominant culture remains the same, gender inequality will persist.

Japan’s history is filled with continuity of male dominance with few exceptions, and only in recent decades has the nation begun to work against this entrenched trend. Japan is moving in the right direction towards this goal, but not without the occasional setback. In June of this year, an assemblywoman was heckled while speaking on the necessity for more women’s services. The hecklers, also members of the assembly, suggested that she get married and questioned her ability to bear children. [14] Such abhorrent actions at the center of government do not bode well for the current state of women’s rights in Japan in general. Indeed, in working towards workplace equality, the women of Japan will have to endure insults and setbacks until the very foundations of Japanese culture embrace equality of opportunity for both genders.

 

 

[1] Koo, Bon-Kwan. “Abenomics, Finally a Solution to Revive Japan?” SERI Quarterly 6.3 (2013): 29-37.

[2] http://online.wsj.com/articles/abes-goal-for-more-women-in-japans-workforce-prompts-debate-1410446737

[3] Mari, Yamaguchi. “AP Interview: Japan’s First Lady Says Key to “Womenomics” is More Flexibility for Women.” Canadian Press.

[4] Matsutani, Minoru. “Japanese Women Still at a Disadvantage, First Lady Says.” Japan Times 19 Nov. 2014.

[5] Adema, Willem. “Closing the gender Gap Can Boost the Economy.” OECD Observer 298 (2014): 15-16.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Jie, Ma, and Yuki Hagiwara. “At Japan’s Carmakers, Women Managers are Rare.” Businessweek.com (2013): 9.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Boyles, Corinne, and Aiko Shibata. “Job Satisfaction, Work time, and Well-Being Among Married Women in Japan.” Feminist Economics. 15.1 (2009): 57-84.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Nishimura, Junko. “Human Resources, Household Economy, Social Support, and Women’s Employment in the U.S. and Japan.” Conference Papers – American Sociological Association (2009): 1.

[12] Yoshida, Akiko. “No Chance for Romance: Corporate Culture, Gendered Work, and Increased Singlehood in Japan.” Contemporary Japan – Journal of the German Institute for Japanese Studies, Tokyo 23.2 (2011): 213-234.

[13] Jie, Ma, and Yuki Hagiwara. “At Japan’s Carmakers, Women Managers are Rare.” Businessweek.com (2013): 9.

[14] Finley, JC. “Tokyo Assemblywoman Heckled by Male Colleagues While Speaking on Women’s Rights.” UPI Top News (2014).