Sometimes, it can suck to be a woman due to painful things like childbirth and menstrual cramps. However, most women in contemporary times are incredibly fortunate – thanks to years of fighting and struggling from their fellow women, they have gained equal rights in most things in life, including the right to vote. Women have just as much impact on society nowadays as men, as they’re no longer isolated to the home while men control the public world. However, in some cultures and some regions of the world, there are still gruesome practices that women must undergo simply because they’re women.
Some of the practices stem from natural biological functions such as breast development or menstruation, and involve an attempt to either punish those biological functions or alter them in some way. Many of the practices involve changing and often mutilating the woman’s body in order to attain the type of beauty most prized in the particular region the woman lives in. Some are designed to make the woman more attractive to men, some are designed to make the woman less attractive to men… the reasons and logic behind the practices are varied, but at the end of the day, they’re incredibly gruesome to even imagine, let alone experience.
Many of the practices have been outlawed, but in some regions continue to persist in secret. Here are 15 gruesome practices that women have to undergo around the world.
15 Female Infanticide
In many cultures where archaic gender roles persisted, there was a heavy bias towards male children, and female children were often unwanted. Regions within Asia have received the most attention for the practice of infanticide, but allegedly it’s no longer a thing of the past – certain regions within India and Pakistan, according to recent reports, still practice infanticide in order to spare the women and the community from any potential shame. There is legislation against many of the barbaric practices that women undergo, but in many remote regions where it’s difficult to police individuals and where culture is deeply ingrained, they continue to happen. A 2011 population census by the Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India, Ministry of Home Affairs, proves the imbalance in Indian society as a result of this practice - there are about 914 girls per 1,000 boys between the ages of 0 and 6, and researchers estimate that "there are about 400,000 sex selective abortions per year [in India]."
14 Witch Hunts
When you think of witch hunts, chances are you think a few centuries back to the Salem Witch Trials, right? Well, while there continues to be a ton of historical fiction centering on those witch trials, in some parts of the world, they’re not a thing of the past. Some regions in Papua New Guinea and Africa continue the practice of witch hunts; Gambia’s president, for example, had a witch hunting campaign as recently as 2009 that killed at least six women. In India, over a hundred woman are killed yearly for witchcraft. It seems insane that something like a witch hunt could exist in modern times, but apparently in some corners of the world, it does.
13 Bride Kidnapping
It’s no secret that gender roles are a lot different in some parts of the world, and there are some cultures that still place a higher value on males than females. However, did you know that bride kidnapping is a thing? Apparently, in Romani gypsy culture, it’s still a frequent practice, and acceptable within the traditions of the Romani community. The rest of the world sees it as highly illegal and archaic, but apparently, within certain cultures (including a few tribes in Africa and Central Asia) it’s an embedded tradition. As recently as 2015, the UK paper The Mirror covered a story where a teenage Romani girl was kidnapped by a rival family just because she didn't want to get married at 16. Just think – you thought the Bachelor was a barbaric way to find a partner.
12 Finger Amputation
Different cultures have different ways of dealing with grief and death, but the Dani tribe from Indonesia have a particularly cringe-inducing custom. When a loved one dies, one of a Dani tribe member’s relatives amputate some part of their finger, or sometimes even multiple fingers. The logic behind the practice is that the amputation provides a physical manifestation for the emotional pain and grief being experienced. And remember, this isn’t a sterile hospital amputation – it’s a fairly rudimentary practice involving halting the blood flow in the finger with tightly tied string, and then burning the exposed ends to prevent infections. While it does happen to both genders, it’s far more prevalent in female members of the tribe. Ouch!
11 Teeth Chiseling
In most cultures, bright, white teeth are the ideal. After all, why else would there be so many whitening toothpastes and mouthwashes designed to give you that gleaming smile straight out of a dental advertisement? For female Mentawaians, the ideal is a little bit different – and a lot more painful. For Mentawaians, pointed, sharp teeth are the ideal, and the result is achieved by having a shaman sharpen a crude blade and then hack away at a young girl’s teeth until they’re pointed. National Geographic did a report recently where they captured the wife of a Mantawaian village chief as she prepared for the chiselling process. The woman, Pilongi, bites on bananas to help deal with the pain, and finishes the process by saying "Now that my teeth are sharp, I look more beautiful for my husband."
This is probably the most well-known gruesome practice that some women have to undergo around the world, but no matter how much information is brought forward about it, it continues to shock and stun people around the world due to its sheer barbarity. The reasoning behind the practice most commonly involves preventing a woman from leading a promiscuous life, and ensuring that she is faithful to her husband. However, needless to say, the gruesome nature of the procedure, coupled with the fact that it’s often done in unhygienic circumstances with blunt tools, means that infection and death are far more common outcomes than you’d like to believe. While it may seem like such a barbaric practice would be a thing of the past, according to the World Health Organization, UNICEF launched a report documenting the prevalence of genital mutilation in a staggering 29 countries as recently as 2013.
9 Menstruation-provoked Isolation
In most cultures, menstruation is just a biological thing that women experience once they reach a certain age. It’s a bit of a necessary evil, so women suffer through cramps and PMS and get on with their lives. However, in the Baganda tribe of Uganda, menstruation is very, very different. They believe that menstruation isn’t the result of biology, but rather the result of an invisible interaction with some type of ghostly spirit. So, rather than talking them through it and bringing them heat pads for their first cycle, young women in the Baganda tribe are locked away in a shack for two weeks. It’s also worth noting that this is a tribe where women are locked away for up to 18 months to raise their babies once they’ve given birth.
8 Imprisonment and Humiliation
It’s tough to be a woman, and it’s even tougher to be a young woman. After all, when you’re in that vulnerable stage in your life, you often have tons of questions and concerns that hopefully someone in your life can help you with. If you’re a young woman on Okrika Island in Nigeria, however, you’re not quite as lucky. Once they reach the age of eligibility for a ritual that is practiced on the island, they have their legs shackled and they’re isolated in a room for three weeks. After sufficient time has passed, they parade around the market square, and then things are finished off by having men chase them and hit them with sticks – while their feet are still shackled, impeding their ability to escape. While it's difficult to find recent documentation of this practice, back in 1991 Gleason and Ububuya wrote a scholarly article on the topic entitled "My year reached, we heard ourselves singing: Dawn songs of girls coming women in Ogbogbo, Okirka, Rivers State, Nigeria."
7 Foot Binding
Many people have heard of the practice of foot binding, a gruesome tradition that was common in China for quite awhile. In order to transform their feet into the desired dainty “golden lotuses,” women would bind their feet until they were actually deformed, and then cover up all the unsightly aspects of the practice by keeping their feet covered at all times. The worst part about the practice is that, unlike many of the gruesome practices women must undergo, women didn’t wait until they were on the verge of adulthood to start – in order to shape the feet into the desired position, mothers would begin folding their daughters’ toes when they were only toddlers. Smithsonian Mag recently wrote a piece on foot binding in which they mention that the last shoe factory producing lotus shoes (those worn by women who bound their feet) closed in 1999, but the practice fell out of favour in the early 20th century.
6 Breast Ironing
Many gruesome practices that women have to undergo are an attempt to counteract natural female biological development – including the barbaric practice of breast ironing. In Cameroon, when young girls begin to develop breasts, someone (generally a female relative of the girl in question) begins the practice of breast ironing, which involves massaging the girl’s chest with hot tools in an attempt to flatten their breasts. The idea behind it is that the practice helps to postpone the woman’s sexual relationships by making their bodies unattractive, but it has a lasting and incredibly damaging effect on the women’s health and mental well-being. Vice wrote a piece in 2015 in which they spoke with several real women from Cameroon who had undergone the practice; in fact, a GIZ report from as recently as 2011 states that one out of 10 Cameroonian girls has been subjected to the gruesome practice.
Introcision is practiced by a specific tribe, the Pitta-Patta aborigines, in Australia, and was allegedly also practiced in regions of Peru, within the Pano Indians, and within eastern Mexico. While the practice varies depending on what specific culture is orchestrating it, the general idea is that when a girl reaches puberty, the tribe gathers and an elder of the tribe tears the young woman’s vaginal orifice with varying tools. Then, while things are still likely incredibly painful, the girl is often forced into sexual intercourse. A paper prepared by Women Aid International states that, while the practice is rare, it is one of the recognized forms of female genital mutilation.
4 Forced Nutritional Deficiencies
Women and men have slightly different dietary requirements, based sheerly on size, but at the end of the day both sexes require adequate nutrition in order for their bodies to thrive. If you’re a woman in certain communities in Africa, however, you might be out of luck. In certain communities, taboos are placed on women, both permanent and temporary, that affect their nutritional intake. They are often deprived of foods like meat, eggs, fish and milk which are important to their development, and in regions where the women in question are likely already malnourished, the taboo-provoked deficiencies just add fuel to the fire.
3 Lip Plates
As with many practices that women have to undergo, the practice of lip plate mutilation is intended to create a look that highlights the particular image of beauty in certain cultures. The practice, which occurs among the Mursi tribe in South West Ethiopia, involves extracting the front lower teeth in females and making a large cut in the lower lip to insert a plate. The plate often begins at a modest size, and once the woman’s body grows accustomed to it, it is gradually replaced by larger and larger plates.
While some of the gruesome practices women undergo are fairly self-explanatory, sororate might be a bit tougher to guess – it involves the situation where a deceased wife is replaced by her younger sister. That’s right – in certain cultures, if a married woman passes away from whatever cause, often infection or disease that her husband may very well have played a role in, she’s simply swapped out with a sister. It simply increases the likelihood of continuing the spread of diseases like HIV/AIDS within the family, and quite frankly, makes women seem like they’re interchangeable.
Trokosi, otherwise known as ritual servitude, is a practice in Ghana where young girls are taken to shrines and sacrificed without death. Essentially, while they remain alive, they are placed into a life of servitude that they can’t escape – if the young girl runs away or passes away, she is simply replaced by another young woman from the family. The practice was outlawed in 1998 (yeah – that recently) but, even though it now carries a prison sentence, those in the Volta region in Ghana still allegedly maintain the practice.