LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Countries that have banned female genital mutilation (FGM) should allow less invasive practices such as small surgical nicks to girls' genitalia as a compromise, two American gynecologists said on Monday.
But campaigners against FGM strongly criticized the proposal, saying it would undermine global efforts to eradicate the internationally condemned ritual.
At least 200 million girls and women have been subjected to FGM in over 30 countries, according to U.N. estimates.
The ancient practice usually involves the partial or total removal of a girl's external genitalia. In some cases the vaginal opening is also sewn up.
But some communities practice less invasive rituals such as pricking or nicking the clitoris.
The U.S. gynecologists, writing in the Journal of Medical Ethics, argued that permitting more minimal procedures could allow families to uphold cultural and religious traditions while protecting girls from more dangerous forms of cutting.
Communities which support FGM often consider it a prerequisite for marriage. Many also see it as a religious obligation although it is not mentioned in the Koran or Bible.
But FGM can cause a host of physical and psychological problems.
Gynecologists Kavita Shah Arora and Allan Jacobs said procedures that slightly changed the look of a girl's genitalia without damaging them were comparable to male circumcision or cosmetic procedures in Western countries like labiaplasty.
Laws against mild modifications were "culturally insensitive and supremacist and discriminatory towards women," they wrote in the specialist journal, which is published by the British Medical Journal.
"BEHIND THE TIMES"
FGM is practiced in a swathe of African countries, pockets of Asia and the Middle East, as well as by diaspora communities living in the West.
The gynecologists suggested that global attempts to stamp out FGM with legislation had failed and may be driving the practice underground.
"We are not arguing that any procedure on the female genitalia is desirable," they said. "Rather, we only argue that certain procedures ought to be tolerated by liberal societies."
They said the term "female genital mutilation" should be replaced with the less emotive "female genital alteration" (FGA) to avoid "demonizing important cultural practices."
But experts on medical ethics, commenting on the proposal, said procedures to modify girls' genitals could not be compared to male circumcision because they are designed to control women and curb their sexual desire.
They also predicted that legalizing more minimal procedures would generate a litany of legal, regulatory and medical problems.
Global campaigners against FGM said doctors should challenge harmful social norms, not condone them.
"Any form of FGM is a violation of a child's rights," said Adwoa Kwateng-Kluvitse, head of global advocacy at the charity FORWARD which campaigns against FGM in Africa and Europe.
"Why would you put a little girl through that? There should be no medicalization of FGM. They (the gynecologists) are completely behind the times.
"This is very different to male circumcision. With male circumcision there is no intention to attenuate sexual desire, control sexuality or enforce chastity."
Rights group Equality Now said the "medicalization" of FGM remained one of the biggest threats to its elimination.
It said FGM prevalence rates had fallen significantly in many countries and that properly implemented laws had been very effective in countries like Kenya.
(Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visitto see more stories.)
Those nicks have been going on for years (it is not new at all but has been happening in Eretrea and Djibouti for some time). It leaves the girls private parts in tact but is still cause a small amount of pain...and communicate to the girls that several women must hold her town and touch her genitals (that there is something urgent and taboo and even bad about their vagina). This is the lesser of two evils...but still must stop.
I think they should be working towards banning ALL genital mutilation, both male AND female.
These sorts of compromises allow people to continue thinking that 'some' mutilation is OK. And it's not.
Hi Martyn, the sarcasm of my geniuses comment doesn't travel well via the web! I agree with you completely!
I couldn't agree more. Male circumcision is still the mutilation of a sex organ which can result in sexual handicap (less sensitivity and even serious problems) and is no less crazy than female circumcision. I am also rather uncomfortable when I see a young child with a piercing in their ears. What do you people think?
Except that there are medically-justifiable reasons for male circumcision as well as epidemiological ones. And if it's "mutilation," then all surgery is mutilation.
As for reduced sensitivity, there's no way to document that. How do I know what a banana tastes like to you, or how sex feels to you? All I know is that my orgasms are so intense, I wouldn;t even want them to be more intense. And a good BJ feels just fine. And all you can provide is speculation.
The glans is the sensitive part of the penis. Guess you didn't know that. The glans isn't interfered with in circumcision.
If you're for vaccination, you should also be for male circumcision.
I notice that you aren't documenting your opinion, so I take it it's just an opinion. When you don't have the facts on your side, go emotional.
Unfortunately, at least here in the US, circumcision is tied up with religious liberty. No politician in his right mind would dare to propose ending it.
Yes it is correct. Totally illegal in the US (including taking the girl somewhere else to knowingly butcher her genitals). The fact sheet on FGM is a good one...though I disagree with the male/female circumcision comparison.
It is not true that male genital mutilation doesn't effect their sex organ. If botched up it can mean a life of pain and sexual disfunction. Aso...any complication that arrises from a "well performed one" such as infections or not healing over well...can lead to life long complications. Sexual disfunction ranges from inability to maintain an errection to painful sex. Lacking a foreskin..it reduces the sensitivity of the penis (meaning all mutilated boys suffer to some extent a sexual handicap).
That doesn't mean that you can compare the worst form of female circumcision with a boy. In that case a full out castration would be the male counterpart.
It is all horrible. You are touching a childs genitals without their clear consent (they cannot possibly consent to it as we define consent).´It is a dismemberment. It is torture. Useless cruelty. Flabbergasting that it is still allowed
It should be noted that some surgical male circumcision is necessary for medical reasons. They are rare, performed by doctors and only done when absolutely necesary
As we define rape...FGM (and male genital mutilation) is not rape unless there is some form of penetration.
It is however just as bad as rape as it is a full out sexual assault. An adult touching a child´s genitals without their consent (without a medical or sanitary reason). It is also sexual violence (causing pain, dismemberment, forcing it against the cries of the child).
Those who stand around and watch are voyeurs to the practice. They are complicit in the sexual assault against the child as they help the adult who sexually assaults the child (or at least do nothing to stop the sexual abuse).
Yes...I knew that you understood the difference (clearly). The point I'm trying to make is...sexual assault is just as abhorrent as rape.
However...men are not solely responsible. In Djibouti it is carried out by mothers/grandmothers in Djibouti, Pakistan and Niger.