Female genital mutilation and other harmful practices
Treatment of persons with female genital mutilation
Care for infibulated women giving birth in Norway
This article reviews the experiences of infibulated Somali women giving birth in Norway and of the Norwegian midwives and nurses who care for them . It discusses how differences in attitudes to traditional practices, natural childbirth, the management of pain, and defibulation and episiotomy can lead not just to misunderstanding but also to unnecessary suffering during childbirth – despite the best efforts on both sides to respect cultural backgrounds and medical advice.
For instance, health workers knew that re-infibulation was illegal in Norway, but this also made them tend not to defibulate women before delivery in case the women later asked for re-infibulation. Yet the interviews conducted by the researcher showed that all but one of the Somali women did not wish to be re-infibulated.
The researcher points out that the main focus of the article is “the dilemmas health workers experience in their efforts to respect what they believe to be the cultural and personal desires of Somali women but which are actually based on misconceptions”. Further, “these misconceptions persist partly because of the general silence and lack of communication, which is again caused by health workers’ desire to show respect for what they believe to be a taboo subject for Somali women”. Health workers’ efforts to provide culture-sensitive care sometimes led to an “overinterpretation” of culture which could affect delivery care negatively.
The researcher concludes that medical practices are affected by cultural ideas and that infibulation may be an indirect cause of the increased health risks that infibulated women experience in exile countries because of the way it negatively affects health care procedures.
1. Johansen REB. Care for infibulated women giving birth in Norway. Medical Anthropology Quarterly 2006; 20(4): 516-544.