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.)
People can talk as much as they want about shoulds or shouldn'ts, but it doesn't address what strategy will actually work. That's all I'm saying. It's not constructive to just criticize the advocates for cultural compromise by trying to make it look like they don't care about the injustices. They do care, but want to affect change in a way they think will be more effective, at least in some countries.
We all want the same thing. I just disagree with many people here who claim there's only one way to achieve those results, damn the evil compromisers. Did anyone read the data about how the "just say no" (my phrase) tactic hasn't been working in many countries?
Forcing change on people usually doesn't go well.
I think some of us simply say "This is bad and should stop", and others are saying "This is bad and should stop, but, it doesn't look like telling them they can't anymore works".
The analogy would be prohibition in the US. Alcohol is bad for you, and you can't drink it anymore, its illegal.
If the US had been say, all people who did not grow up with drinking as a cultural norm...that might have gone down differently.
Same with tobacco. We all know its bad, and should stop...but, its still going on.
Its relatively easy to make things illegal, its another thing to make people stop it even after its illegal.
So, if a barbaric and horrifically damaging procedure is considered a normal rite of passage in some cultures...while it SHOULD STOP< RIGHT NOW...even if banned, it will simply continue.
The stuff about throwing people off first floor vs 16th floor etc, are not really applicable...
Its like a street where people are going 100 mph in a 35 mph zone, so they try to stop it by making the speed limit only 25 mph.
The real solution, as Pope is alluding to, is to understand WHY the parents are compelled to do this, and work on changing their opinions of it.
Banning it, sure, make it all illegal as all get out, with harsh penalties.
But, they'll do it anyway unless their opinions change.
I am against nicking as an alternative...but I understand the concept of trying to substitute a less damaging alternative as a stop gap.
I am for banning it, making it illegal with harsh penalties, and working on the opinions of the parents and parents TO BE.
So, in school, they need to be taught its wrong, illegal, and horrifically bad.
One day, those kids will be parents, and they might remember that, if the grandparents don't use to much pressure on them...etc.
...and, later THEY will be the grandparents, and, at that point, the cycle might be broken.
That's a realistic expectation...not an idealistic expectation, but realistic.
@Michelle, I will delete this post if you think it detracts from your intended theme. I endeavor to find "larger context" that might shed light on sets of specific issues... in this case child abuse that includes more than just FGM. It's a CNN Freedom Project video that happens to focus on something the National Association to Protect Children is doing. (I'd be happy to put this post somewhere else, if not here.)
This is simply another way society is bending to a religious sect that practices torturing girls, and negating any pleasure she may get from sexual acts. These sick individuals think that only men have a right to enjoy sex. They should just stick to screwing goats!