Friday, May 14, 2010

Female Circumcision or Genital Mutiliation?

Female genital mutilation is illegal in Sweden, Norway, Australia, and the United Kingdom. In the US “any nonmedical procedure performed on the genitals” of a girl is illegal. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics softened its opposition to FGM because it fears that it could actually worsen the situation. Because American doctors refuse, parents often take girls back to their home countries where FGM is done in unhygienic and unsafe conditions. In a revised policy statement, the AAP’s bioethics committee suggests a compromise:

“It might be more effective if federal and state laws enabled pediatricians to reach out to families by offering a ritual nick as a possible compromise to avoid greater harm.”

Dr. Friedman Ross told the New York Times that the AAP opposes “all types of female genital cutting that impose risks or physical or psychological harm,” and consider the ritual nick “a last resort,” but that the nick is “supposed to be as benign as getting a girl’s ears pierced. It’s taking a pin and creating a drop of blood.”

However, critics of FGM were adamant that even this concession was completely immoral. In the UK, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health issued their own statement:

"To suggest that a qualified medical practitioner is involved in this practice as a ‘compromise’ does not make it less brutal and has the danger of giving legitimacy to FGM. Two wrongs do not make a right. The main objective for all civilised societies has to be the complete eradication of an unacceptable practice."

From here.

Originally, circumcisions were done with obsidian knives of a high salt content which inhibited infection.  The introduction of steel, while seeming a modern advance to Africans, actually increases the risk of infection. To understand female circumcision in cultural context read this.


Alice C. Linsley said...

Thanks for your thoughts on this, Teena. There are different kinds of female circumcision, some less extreme. It is difficult to determine the form that was practiced in ancient times, but it appears to have been Pharaonic circumcision, which fits the binary worldview of the ancient Afro-Asiatics. I'm attmepting to provide cultural background which can help us understand the practice of circumcision in context. The rhetoric of feminists and other groups against this practice hasn't been helpful in this effort.

Teena Blackburn said...

Well, I'm not a feminist, but I think the rhetoric in this case is correct. I don't really care whether it fits into the binary worldview, although it is of historical and religious interest to know this. It certainly helps to see where it comes from, assuming that this is indeed the root cause. However, once again, it is an act of incredible violence on a female body. To cut off a male foreskin (which frankly, I also oppose for Christians), removes something, but not the organ itself. Function is still there. To remove a clitoris and labia, it seems to me, is to suggest that God made some part of the human body that is not good, that is impure. There is also the connection in these people's minds of being uncircumcised as leading to or being equal to being sexually impure. This is patent nonsense. The study you cited said circumcised women could still have sexual pleasure. I hope this is true, but there is something really grotesque about removing one of the major organs of sexual pleasure in the female, since after all, sex in marriage is a divinely sanctioned act. I would bet that a lot of circumcised women experience sex as very unpleasant. The scar tissue and tearing associated with this practice is just terrible. Just because a feminist complains about it doesn't mean it isn't wrong. :) I consider this a major human rights abuse. If a woman is of age, and can choose it, fine. A little girl? No. I would pass laws against it, and I would make receiving foreign aid at least partially dependent on good faith efforts to stamp it out in the countries of origin. Chinese women bound the feet of their daughters. It was barbaric, no matter how much they thought there were good reasons for it.

Anonymous said...

Teena, you do the campaign against forced genital cutting a great dis-service by claiming that the excision of genital skin is no big deal. If what you say is true it would be no big deal that girls/women are subjected to type Ia or type IIa female circumcision, the former which is common in Southeast Asia, the latter which the US government has said forms some 8% of cuts in Egypt.

Removing genital skin which is highly rich in nerve endings, especially the super sensitive prepuce; can have a huge impact on sexual sensitivity, not just because of the loss of nerves but because the mucous membrane underneath may become dry and damaged due to the loss of protection.

And the point is you do not have a right to do this to another person - their gender is utterly irrelevant [that's why they're called human rights, not womens' rights]. Religious rights stop where another person's skin begins.

Today the AAP are asking to be able to nick a baby girl's foreskin, just a bit, to satisfy parental religion or culture. But some Indonesian parents will want the tip of her hood snipped off so she conforms to the obligations of Shafi'i Islam.

How are we going to resist that pressure when so many people just like you have said parents have a right to remove genital skin from their children for religious reasons...?

Alice C. Linsley said...

Ladies, read the links and comment based on the information provided there.