Rites of Passage

A Mundan ceremony is a Hindu rite where children, both girls and boys, have their first haircut. The shorn hair symbolizes the shedding of a past life.

What ceremonies and practices come to mind when you think of rites of passages? Bat or Bar Mitzvahs? Weddings? Childbirth? For millions of women, female genital mutilation (FGM) is a critical part of a young woman’s passage into adulthood.
Amnesty International estimates that two million procedures are carried out per year, primarily executed in 28 African countries. FGM can result in long term health consequences such as HIV infection, infertility, reproductive tract infections, and in some cases death by excessive bleeding.
The IMOW Team sat in on a United Nations Population Fund luncheon on Wednesday, which honored Ugandan activist Beatrice Chelangat for her work in fighting this inhumane practice through her organization, REACH (Reproductive, Educative and Community Health project). Chelangat has so far avoided the procedure herself. She told the audience of several American activists that, as a result, she has received death threats by males in her community, and has been forced to live her life in the presence of bodyguards.
I was also interested to learn about male rites of passages. Though circumcision is practiced on men in countries around the world, other cultures pressure men into different, lesser-known--and often life-threatening--ceremonies.
For example, in Pentecost, a small South Pacific island, young men participate in “Land Diving”: an annual jump from a tower with vines acting as a kind of bungee cord. And in the Brazilian Amazon, the Satere-Mawe tribe has their young men place gloves on their hands filled with excruciatingly painful stinger ants. They must endure the pain 20 times in a row.

But when it comes to endangering the reproductive health of millions of women around the world, how can FGM continue as a female rite of passage?