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new internationalist
issue 263 - January 1995

...that have always intrigued you about the world will appear in this,
your section, and be answered by other readers. Please address
your answers and questions to ‘Curiosities’.

Where and when did the tradition of female circumcision (or genital mutilation) originate?

‘Genital mutilation’ is the more correct term, as an unnecessary operation which confers no benefits on the victim is classified a mutilation.

The origins are impossible to trace but the practice is certainly pre-Islamic and seems to have been centred on the Horn of Africa and the Nile Valley. Islam has been blamed for its spread and it is indeed most common in states that are both African and Muslim, but it is not found in the seat of Islam, Saudi Arabia, or in many other Muslim countries. Nor, most importantly, is it a requirement laid down in the Qu’ran and some Imams are the most vociferous in condemning the practice.

Apart from false claims to being an Islamic requirement, Female Genital Mutilation is also claimed to produce chastity and promote fertility and better hygiene – all patently invalid and irrational claims. Indeed, it is the cause of child deaths, of chronic health problems and of obstetric difficulties – a curiously perverse outcome in societies which value women for their fertility.

Although an ancient tradition it has spread in this century – for instance, in the enquirer’s own country, Sudan. It spread to parts of western Sudan as recently as 1918 when a nomadic tribe moved in bringing the practice with them. The original inhabitants were persuaded to adopt the practice because the men were told it would enhance their sexual satisfaction. There are now rumours that the practice is appearing in Pakistan too, a source of great concern to those of us who have been working for its eradication in Africa, where the 10-year-old Inter-African Committee against Harmful Traditional Practices is making slow but definite progress in its educational and lobbying campaign work.

Joan Higman Davies
British Support Group for Inter-African Committee against Harmful Traditional Practices
Upton upon Severn, UK

How could the International Monetary Fund force a country – like Canada – to pay its debt if that country’s Government told it to go to hell? Whose army would the IMF use?

From time to time the IMF allows its member states to draw foreign currency beyond their entitled limit of 200 per cent of that state’s contribution to the Fund. If a country fails to perform its duties - including repayment of overdrawn money - the IMF may declare that it can no longer access the Fund money. The Fund does not actually ‘force’ repayment, but such a declaration makes it very difficult for the country to borrow from other – usually commercial – sources. Most countries need commercial loans and cannot afford loss of credibility by the IMF’s rejection. This is why they are compelled not only to make repayments but to meet the IMF conditions, such as ‘structural adjustment’.

Yutaka Kawasaki
Perth, Australia

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Awaiting your answers...

Where does the Eastern Hemisphere end and the Western begin? Where is the vertical Equator? Is this just another variation on the First-Third world, North-South division? If so where do Turkey and Mexico fall?

Claire Thomas
Ankara, Turkey

What is the origin of the expression ‘a different kettle of fish’.
Does it – as it would appear – have psychedelic origins?

Hugh Jamieson
Port Glasgow, UK

How come gases which are normally considered heavier than air - such as chlorine, carbon monoxide and dioxide - are reaching the upper layers of our atmosphere? I understand that if they are heated before emission they may rise until the temperature is equalized. But surely then they would fall back down again?

PJ Crawley
Basingstoke, UK

The massive amounts of waste oil released into the sea from tankers cleaning their holds is said to be mainly due to port restrictions and lack of amenities. Is this true?

C Davison
Billingham, UK

If ‘crack’ cocaine is more potent than cocaine powder why is it cheaper?

Duncan Wood
Weeting, UK

If you have any questions or answers please send them to Curiosities,
New Internationalist, 55 Rectory Road, Oxford OX4 1BW, UK,
or to your local NI office (click here for addresses).

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