What is Female Genital Mutilation?
While one is more likely to hear of male circumcision as part of the culture or ritualistic practices, it’s counterpart exists as a much more dangerous practice.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) consists of procedures (which are non-medical) that involve selective or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injuries to the female genital organs.
The practice is mostly carried out by individuals who have a position of religious power or those who aid in childbirth but seldom people with any real medical training. In recent times, medical professionals in countries with this practice have begun to perform it under the assumption that it is safer.
However, in a report, WHO strongly urged health professionals not to perform such procedures.
Where did it originate from?
- While mentions of contraception in Roman slave women are prevalent, the first mention of male and female circumcision appears in the writings by the Greek geographer Strabo, who visited Egypt around 25 B.C.
- A Greek papyrus dated 163 B.C. give us the idea that this was performed as a ritual before marriage and hence might have a cultural, not medical background.
- The 6th century A.D. Greek physician Aetios explained that the procedure was far more practical in nature because apparently the cutting was required in the presence of an oversized clitoris. This was so because the enlarged clitoris was seen as a source of shame and overt sexual stimulus.
- “It seemed valid to the Egyptians to remove it before it got anymore large, especially at that time when the girls were about to be married, “Aetios wrote in The Gynecology and Obstetrics of the Sixth Century A.D.
- The highly moralistic Victorian medical practices saw a rise in this cutting being practiced again. 19th Century gynecologists in England and the United States prescribed it as a cure for “hysteria” which they assumed arose out of masturbation.
Why is it wrong?
Let’s think about it on human rights grounds. FGM is internationally considered a human rights violation of girls and women. It is a direct product of patriarchy and constitutes discrimination in an extreme against women.
It is nearly always carried out on minors, which, in addition to being horrifying, is a gross violation of child rights. In addition to being against the right to safety and health, perhaps the worst violation is that of the right to life when the procedure results in death.
What is the international response?
While he was the Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon called for a total ban on Female Genital Mutilation, calling it a step towards gender equality.
The United Nations General Assembly passed, unanimously, a resolution urging member nations to ban the practice, calling it “irreparable and irreversible.“
While it isn’t legally binding, the resolution asks the 193 U.N. members to “take all necessary measures, including enacting and enforcing legislation to prohibit female genital mutilations and to protect women and girls from this form of violence.”
WHO will release “Guidelines on the Management of Health Complications from Female Genital Mutilation” in 2016, which aim to aid health care professionals in their support for girls and women who have been subjected to FGM.