What is Female Genital Mutilation?
While one is more likely to hear of male circumcision as part of the culture or ritualistic practices, its counterpart exists as a much more dangerous practice.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) consists of procedures (which are non-medical) that involve the 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 many countries carry out this practice under the assumption that it is safe.
However, in a report, WHO strongly urged health professionals not to perform such procedures.
Where did it originate?
- 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. gives us the idea that this was performed as a ritual before marriage and might have a cultural, not medical, background.
- The 6th century A.D. Greek physician Aetius 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 the time when the girls were about to be married,” Aetius wrote in The Gynecology and Obstetrics of the Sixth Century A.D.
- The highly moralistic Victorian era saw a rise in this medical practice. 19th Century gynecologists in England and the United States prescribed it as a cure for “hysteria,” which they assumed arose from 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 extreme discrimination against women.
It is nearly always carried out on minors, which is a gross violation of child rights in addition to being horrifying. Not only is it against the right to safety and health, but it is also the worst violation of the right to life because the procedure usually 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, 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 aims to aid health care professionals in their support for girls and women who have been subjected to FGM.