"Violence Against Women as a Religious Ritual," a program held at the Wesley Foundation, was part of the V-Day Initiative, a worldwide effort to get the word out about violence against women.
Kim Benton, the founder of V-Day on UNC's campus, presented video clips and led a discussion. She said the purpose of the program was to inform students of the horrors that women in other cultures must endure. "This presentation shows exactly what other women around the world are dealing with and how lucky we are," she said.
Benton showed video clips from the Oprah Winfrey show and a documentary-style movie with writer Alice Walker titled "Warrior Marks."
In the Oprah clip, the talk-show host introduced various injustices to women, including the trafficking of women and the practice of female genital mutilation. "In this cultural and religious practice, part or all of the outer female genitalia is removed," Benton said, citing the World Health Organization as her source. In some cases, only the clitoris is removed, but in other instances, the outer and inner labia are cut off as well.
She said female genital mutilation is practiced in 28 African countries, and between 120 million and 140 million girls are exposed to this ritual. The mutilation has temporary effects on the woman including pain, shock and infection. Long-term effects can be more devastating and might include the increase in cases of AIDS.
During the discussion, members of the audience wondered about the purpose and reason for this tradition.
In "Warrior Marks," Walker explained that the ritual makes societies consider women pure. She said it is also assumed that if a woman does not enjoy sexual intercourse, she will be less promiscuous. After the procedure, the girl is sewn up and continually re-opened and closed to control her sexual activity.
"You control a woman as you would control any object," one African woman in the film said.
Most of the students exhibited shock and seemed disturbed after the presentation. During the discussion, one student wondered what could be done to help women in these situations.
Benton said an alternative ceremony that does not include mutilation has been created, but many communities are reluctant to accept it.
She also said education is a positive tool toward stopping female circumcision.
"Many women do not know what they are losing," she said.
In her movie, Walker gives women hope in fighting these practices.
"You can fight back even after you are injured."
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