Female genital mutilation (FGM), also known as female genital cutting and female circumcision,[a] is the ritual cutting or removal of some or all of the external female genitalia. The practice is found in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, and within communities from countries in which FGM is common. UNICEF estimated in 2016 that 200 million women living today in 30 countries—27 African countries, Indonesia, Iraqi Kurdistan and Yemen—have undergone the procedures.
Typically carried out by a traditional circumciser using a blade, FGM is conducted from days after birth to puberty and beyond. In half the countries for which national figures are available, most girls are cut before the age of five. Procedures differ according to the country or ethnic group. They include removal of the clitoral hood and clitoral glans; removal of the inner labia; and removal of the inner and outer labia and closure of the vulva. In this last procedure, known as infibulation, a small hole is left for the passage of urine and menstrual fluid; the vagina is opened for intercourse and opened further for childbirth.
The practice is rooted in gender inequality, attempts to control women's sexuality, and ideas about purity, modesty and beauty. It is usually initiated and carried out by women, who see it as a source of honour and fear that failing to have their daughters and granddaughters cut will expose the girls to social exclusion. Adverse health effects depend on the type of procedure; they can include recurrent infections, difficulty urinating and passing menstrual flow, chronic pain, the development of cysts, an inability to get pregnant, complications during childbirth, and fatal bleeding. There are no known health benefits.
There have been international efforts since the 1970s to persuade practitioners to abandon FGM, and it has been outlawed or restricted in most of the countries in which it occurs, although the laws are poorly enforced. Since 2010 the United Nations has called upon healthcare providers to stop performing all forms of the procedure, including reinfibulation after childbirth and symbolic "nicking" of the clitoral hood. The opposition to the practice is not without its critics, particularly among anthropologists, who have raised difficult questions about cultural relativism and the universality of human rights.
|Definition||"Partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons" (WHO, UNICEF, and UNFPA, 1997).|
|Areas||Africa, Southeast Asia, Middle East, and within communities from these areas|
|Numbers||Over 200 million women and girls in 27 African countries; Indonesia; Iraqi Kurdistan; and Yemen (as of 2016)|
|Age||Days after birth to puberty|
Until the 1980s FGM was widely known in English as female circumcision, implying an equivalence in severity with male circumcision. From 1929 the Kenya Missionary Council referred to it as the sexual mutilation of women, following the lead of Marion Scott Stevenson, a Church of Scotland missionary. References to the practice as mutilation increased throughout the 1970s. In 1975 Rose Oldfield Hayes, an American anthropologist, used the term female genital mutilation in the title of a paper in American Ethnologist, and four years later Fran Hosken, an Austrian-American feminist writer, called it mutilation in her influential The Hosken Report: Genital and Sexual Mutilation of Females. The Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children began referring to it as female genital mutilation in 1990, and the World Health Organization (WHO) followed suit in 1991. Other English terms include female genital cutting (FGC) and female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), preferred by those who work with practitioners.
In countries where FGM is common, the practice's many variants are reflected in dozens of terms, often alluding to purification. In the Bambara language, spoken mostly in Mali, it is known as bolokoli ("washing your hands") and in the Igbo language in eastern Nigeria as isa aru or iwu aru ("having your bath").[b] Other terms include khifad, tahoor, quodiin, irua, bondo, kuruna, negekorsigin, and kene-kene. A common Arabic term for purification has the root t-h-r, used for male and female circumcision (tahur and tahara). It is also known in Arabic as khafḍ or khifaḍ. Communities may refer to FGM as "pharaonic" for infibulation and sunna circumcision for everything else. Sunna means "path or way" in Arabic and refers to the tradition of Muhammad, although none of the procedures are required within Islam. The term infibulation derives from fibula, Latin for clasp; the Ancient Romans reportedly fastened clasps through the foreskins or labia of slaves to prevent sexual intercourse. The surgical infibulation of women came to be known as pharaonic circumcision in Sudan, and as Sudanese circumcision in Egypt. In Somalia it is known simply as qodob ("to sew up").
The procedures are generally performed by a traditional circumciser (cutter or exciseuse) in the girls' homes, with or without anaesthesia. The cutter is usually an older woman, but in communities where the male barber has assumed the role of health worker he will also perform FGM.[c] When traditional cutters are involved, non-sterile devices are likely to be used, including knives, razors, scissors, glass, sharpened rocks and fingernails. According to a nurse in Uganda, quoted in 2007 in The Lancet, a cutter would use one knife on up to 30 girls at a time. Health professionals are often involved in Egypt, Kenya, Indonesia and Sudan; in Egypt 77 percent of FGM procedures, and in Indonesia over 50 percent, were performed by medical professionals as of 2008 and 2016. Women in Egypt reported in 1995 that a local anaesthetic had been used on their daughters in 60 percent of cases, a general anaesthetic in 13 percent, and neither in 25 percent (two percent were missing/don't know).
The WHO, UNICEF and UNFPA issued a joint statement in 1997 defining FGM as "all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs whether for cultural or other non-therapeutic reasons". The procedures vary considerably according to ethnicity and individual practitioners. During a 1998 survey in Niger, women responded with over 50 different terms when asked what was done to them. Translation problems are compounded by the women's confusion over which type of FGM they experienced, or even whether they experienced it. Several studies have suggested that survey responses are unreliable. A 2003 study in Ghana found that in 1995 four percent said they had not undergone FGM, but in 2000 said they had, while 11 percent switched in the other direction. In Tanzania in 2005, 66 percent reported FGM, but a medical exam found that 73 percent had undergone it. In Sudan in 2006, a significant percentage of infibulated women and girls reported a less severe type.
Standard questionnaires from United Nations bodies ask women whether they or their daughters have undergone the following: (1) cut, no flesh removed (symbolic nicking); (2) cut, some flesh removed; (3) sewn closed; or (4) type not determined/unsure/doesn't know.[d] The most common procedures fall within the "cut, some flesh removed" category and involve complete or partial removal of the clitoral glans. The World Health Organization (a UN agency) created a more detailed typology: Types I–III vary in how much tissue is removed; Type III is equivalent to the UNICEF category "sewn closed"; and Type IV describes miscellaneous procedures, including symbolic nicking.
Type I is "partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or the prepuce". Type Ia[e] involves removal of the clitoral hood only. This is rarely performed alone.[f] The more common procedure is Type Ib (clitoridectomy), the complete or partial removal of the clitoral glans (the visible tip of the clitoris) and clitoral hood. The circumciser pulls the clitoral glans with her thumb and index finger and cuts it off.[g]
Type II (excision) is the complete or partial removal of the inner labia, with or without removal of the clitoral glans and outer labia. Type IIa is removal of the inner labia; Type IIb, removal of the clitoral glans and inner labia; and Type IIc, removal of the clitoral glans, inner and outer labia. Excision in French can refer to any form of FGM.
Type III (infibulation or pharaonic circumcision), the "sewn closed" category, involves the removal of the external genitalia and fusion of the wound. The inner and/or outer labia are cut away, with or without removal of the clitoral glans.[h] Type III is found largely in northeast Africa, particularly Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Sudan (although not in South Sudan). According to one 2008 estimate, over eight million women in Africa are living with Type III FGM.[i] According to UNFPA in 2010, 20 percent of women with FGM have been infibulated. In Somalia "[t]he child is made to squat on a stool or mat facing the circumciser at a height that offers her a good view of the parts to be handled. ... adult helpers grab and pull apart the legs of the girl. ... If available, this is the stage at which a local anaesthetic would be used":
The element of speed and surprise is vital and the circumciser immediately grabs the clitoris by pinching it between her nails aiming to amputate it with a slash. The organ is then shown to the senior female relatives of the child who will decide whether the amount that has been removed is satisfactory or whether more is to be cut off.
After the clitoris has been satisfactorily amputated ... the circumciser can proceed with the total removal of the labia minora and the paring of the inner walls of the labia majora. Since the entire skin on the inner walls of the labia majora has to be removed all the way down to the perineum, this becomes a messy business. By now, the child is screaming, struggling, and bleeding profusely, which makes it difficult for the circumciser to hold with bare fingers and nails the slippery skin and parts that are to be cut or sutured together. ...
Having ensured that sufficient tissue has been removed to allow the desired fusion of the skin, the circumciser pulls together the opposite sides of the labia majora, ensuring that the raw edges where the skin has been removed are well approximated. The wound is now ready to be stitched or for thorns to be applied. If a needle and thread are being used, close tight sutures will be placed to ensure that a flap of skin covers the vulva and extends from the mons veneris to the perineum, and which, after the wound heals, will form a bridge of scar tissue that will totally occlude the vaginal introitus.
The amputated parts might be placed in a pouch for the girl to wear. A single hole of 2–3 mm is left for the passage of urine and menstrual fluid.[j] The vulva is closed with surgical thread, or agave or acacia thorns, and might be covered with a poultice of raw egg, herbs and sugar. To help the tissue bond, the girl's legs are tied together, often from hip to ankle; the bindings are usually loosened after a week and removed after two to six weeks. If the remaining hole is too large in the view of the girl's family, the procedure is repeated.
The vagina is opened for sexual intercourse, for the first time either by a midwife with a knife or by the woman's husband with his penis. In some areas, including Somaliland, female relatives of the bride and groom might watch the opening of the vagina to check that the girl is a virgin. The woman is opened further for childbirth (defibulation or deinfibulation), and closed again afterwards (reinfibulation). Reinfibulation can involve cutting the vagina again to restore the pinhole size of the first infibulation. This might be performed before marriage, and after childbirth, divorce and widowhood.[k] Hanny Lightfoot-Klein interviewed hundreds of women and men in Sudan in the 1980s about sexual intercourse with Type III:
The penetration of the bride's infibulation takes anywhere from 3 or 4 days to several months. Some men are unable to penetrate their wives at all (in my study over 15%), and the task is often accomplished by a midwife under conditions of great secrecy, since this reflects negatively on the man's potency. Some who are unable to penetrate their wives manage to get them pregnant in spite of the infibulation, and the woman's vaginal passage is then cut open to allow birth to take place. ... Those men who do manage to penetrate their wives do so often, or perhaps always, with the help of the "little knife". This creates a tear which they gradually rip more and more until the opening is sufficient to admit the penis.
Type IV is "[a]ll other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes", including pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterization. It includes nicking of the clitoris (symbolic circumcision), burning or scarring the genitals, and introducing substances into the vagina to tighten it. Labia stretching is also categorized as Type IV. Common in southern and eastern Africa, the practice is supposed to enhance sexual pleasure for the man and add to the sense of a woman as a closed space. From the age of eight, girls are encouraged to stretch their inner labia using sticks and massage. Girls in Uganda are told they may have difficulty giving birth without stretched labia.[l]
A definition of FGM from the WHO in 1995 included gishiri cutting and angurya cutting, found in Nigeria and Niger. These were removed from the WHO's 2008 definition because of insufficient information about prevalence and consequences. Angurya cutting is excision of the hymen, usually performed seven days after birth. Gishiri cutting involves cutting the vagina's front or back wall with a blade or penknife, performed in response to infertility, obstructed labour and other conditions. In a study by Nigerian physician Mairo Usman Mandara, over 30 percent of women with gishiri cuts were found to have vesicovaginal fistulae (holes that allow urine to seep into the vagina).
FGM harms women's physical and emotional health throughout their lives. It has no known health benefits. The short-term and late complications depend on the type of FGM, whether the practitioner has had medical training, and whether they used antibiotics and sterilized or single-use surgical instruments. In the case of Type III, other factors include how small a hole was left for the passage of urine and menstrual blood, whether surgical thread was used instead of agave or acacia thorns, and whether the procedure was performed more than once (for example, to close an opening regarded as too wide or re-open one too small).
Common short-term complications include swelling, excessive bleeding, pain, urine retention, and healing problems/wound infection. A 2014 systematic review of 56 studies suggested that over one in ten girls and women undergoing any form of FGM, including symbolic nicking of the clitoris (Type IV), experience immediate complications, although the risks increased with Type III. The review also suggested that there was under-reporting.[m] Other short-term complications include fatal bleeding, anaemia, urinary infection, septicaemia, tetanus, gangrene, necrotizing fasciitis (flesh-eating disease), and endometritis. It is not known how many girls and women die as a result of the practice, because complications may not be recognized or reported. The practitioners' use of shared instruments is thought to aid the transmission of hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV, although no epidemiological studies have shown this.
Late complications vary depending on the type of FGM. They include the formation of scars and keloids that lead to strictures and obstruction, epidermoid cysts that may become infected, and neuroma formation (growth of nerve tissue) involving nerves that supplied the clitoris. An infibulated girl may be left with an opening as small as 2–3 mm, which can cause prolonged, drop-by-drop urination, pain while urinating, and a feeling of needing to urinate all the time. Urine may collect underneath the scar, leaving the area under the skin constantly wet, which can lead to infection and the formation of small stones. The opening is larger in women who are sexually active or have given birth by vaginal delivery, but the urethra opening may still be obstructed by scar tissue. Vesicovaginal or rectovaginal fistulae can develop (holes that allow urine or faeces to seep into the vagina). This and other damage to the urethra and bladder can lead to infections and incontinence, pain during sexual intercourse and infertility. Painful periods are common because of the obstruction to the menstrual flow, and blood can stagnate in the vagina and uterus. Complete obstruction of the vagina can result in hematocolpos and hematometra (where the vagina and uterus fill with menstrual blood). The swelling of the abdomen that results from the collection of fluid, together with the lack of menstruation, can lead to suspicion of pregnancy; Asma El Dareer, a Sudanese physician, reported in 1979 that a girl in Sudan with this condition was killed by her family.
FGM may place women at higher risk of problems during pregnancy and childbirth, which are more common with the more extensive FGM procedures. Infibulated women may try to make childbirth easier by eating less during pregnancy to reduce the baby's size.:99 In women with vesicovaginal or rectovaginal fistulae, it is difficult to obtain clear urine samples as part of prenatal care, making the diagnosis of conditions such as pre-eclampsia harder. Cervical evaluation during labour may be impeded and labour prolonged or obstructed. Third-degree laceration (tears), anal-sphincter damage and emergency caesarean section are more common in infibulated women.
Neonatal mortality is increased. The WHO estimated in 2006 that an additional 10–20 babies die per 1,000 deliveries as a result of FGM. The estimate was based on a study conducted on 28,393 women attending delivery wards at 28 obstetric centres in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal and Sudan. In those settings all types of FGM were found to pose an increased risk of death to the baby: 15 percent higher for Type I, 32 percent for Type II, and 55 percent for Type III. The reasons for this were unclear, but may be connected to genital and urinary tract infections and the presence of scar tissue. According to the study, FGM was associated with an increased risk to the mother of damage to the perineum and excessive blood loss, as well as a need to resuscitate the baby, and stillbirth, perhaps because of a long second stage of labour.
According to a 2015 systematic review there is little high-quality information available on the psychological effects of FGM. Several small studies have concluded that women with FGM suffer from anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Feelings of shame and betrayal can develop when women leave the culture that practises FGM and learn that their condition is not the norm, but within the practising culture they may view their FGM with pride, because for them it signifies beauty, respect for tradition, chastity and hygiene. Studies on sexual function have also been small. A 2013 meta-analysis of 15 studies involving 12,671 women from seven countries concluded that women with FGM were twice as likely to report no sexual desire and 52 percent more likely to report dyspareunia (painful sexual intercourse). One third reported reduced sexual feelings.
Aid agencies define the prevalence of FGM as the percentage of the 15–49 age group that has experienced it. These figures are based on nationally representative household surveys known as Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS), developed by Macro International and funded mainly by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID); and Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) conducted with financial and technical help from UNICEF. These surveys have been carried out in Africa, Asia, Latin America and elsewhere roughly every five years, since 1984 and 1995 respectively. The first to ask about FGM was the 1989–1990 DHS in northern Sudan. The first publication to estimate FGM prevalence based on DHS data (in seven countries) was written by Dara Carr of Macro International in 1997.
Questions the women are asked during the surveys include: "Was the genital area just nicked/cut without removing any flesh? Was any flesh (or something) removed from the genital area? Was your genital area sewn?" Most women report "cut, some flesh removed" (Types I and II).
Type I is the most common form in Egypt, and in the southern parts of Nigeria. Type III (infibulation) is concentrated in northeastern Africa, particularly Djibouti, Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan. In surveys in 2002–2006, 30 percent of cut girls in Djibouti, 38 percent in Eritrea, and 63 percent in Somalia had experienced Type III. There is also a high prevalence of infibulation among girls in Niger and Senegal, and in 2013 it was estimated that in Nigeria three percent of the 0–14 age group had been infibulated. The type of procedure is often linked to ethnicity. In Eritrea, for example, a survey in 2002 found that all Hedareb girls had been infibulated, compared with two percent of the Tigrinya, most of whom fell into the "cut, no flesh removed" category.
FGM is mostly found in what Gerry Mackie called an "intriguingly contiguous" zone in Africa—east to west from Somalia to Senegal, and north to south from Egypt to Tanzania. Nationally representative figures are available for 27 countries in Africa, as well as Indonesia, Iraqi Kurdistan and Yemen. Over 200 million women and girls are thought to be living with FGM in those 30 countries.
The highest concentrations among the 15–49 age group are in Somalia (98 percent), Guinea (97 percent), Djibouti (93 percent), Egypt (91 percent) and Sierra Leone (90 percent). As of 2013, 27.2 million women had undergone FGM in Egypt, 23.8 million in Ethiopia, and 19.9 million in Nigeria. There is a high concentration in Indonesia, where according to UNICEF Type I (clitoridectomy) and Type IV (symbolic nicking) are practised; the Indonesian Ministry of Health and Indonesian Ulema Council both say the clitoris should not be cut. The prevalence rate for the 0–11 group in Indonesia is 49 percent (13.4 million).:2 Smaller studies or anecdotal reports suggest that FGM is also practised in Colombia, Jordan, Oman, Saudi Arabia and parts of Malaysia; in the United Arab Emirates; and in India[n] by the Dawoodi Bohra.[o] It is found within immigrant communities around the world.
Prevalence figures for the 15–19 age group and younger show a downward trend.[p] For example, Burkina Faso fell from 89 percent (1980) to 58 percent (2010); Egypt from 97 percent (1985) to 70 percent (2015); and Kenya from 41 percent (1984) to 11 percent (2014). Beginning in 2010, household surveys asked women about the FGM status of all their living daughters. The highest concentrations among girls aged 0–14 were in Gambia (56 percent), Mauritania (54 percent), Indonesia (49 percent for 0–11) and Guinea (46 percent). The figures suggest that a girl was one third less likely in 2014 to undergo FGM than she was 30 years ago. According to a 2018 study published in BMJ Global Health, the prevalence within the 0–14 year old group fell in East Africa from 71.4 percent in 1995 to 8 percent in 2016; in North Africa from 57.7 percent in 1990 to 14.1 percent in 2015; and in West Africa from 73.6 percent in 1996 to 25.4 percent in 2017. If the current rate of decline continues, the number of girls cut will nevertheless continue to rise because of population growth, according to UNICEF in 2014; they estimate that the figure will increase from 3.6 million a year in 2013 to 4.1 million in 2050.[q]
Surveys have found FGM to be more common in rural areas, less common in most countries among girls from the wealthiest homes, and (except in Sudan and Somalia) less common in girls whose mothers had access to primary or secondary/higher education. In Somalia and Sudan the situation was reversed: in Somalia the mothers' access to secondary/higher education was accompanied by a rise in prevalence of FGM in their daughters, and in Sudan access to any education was accompanied by a rise.
FGM is not invariably a rite of passage between childhood and adulthood, but is often performed on much younger children. Girls are most commonly cut shortly after birth to age 15. In half the countries for which national figures were available in 2000–2010, most girls had been cut by age five. Over 80 percent (of those cut) are cut before the age of five in Nigeria, Mali, Eritrea, Ghana and Mauritania. The 1997 Demographic and Health Survey in Yemen found that 76 percent of girls had been cut within two weeks of birth. The percentage is reversed in Somalia, Egypt, Chad and the Central African Republic, where over 80 percent (of those cut) are cut between five and 14. Just as the type of FGM is often linked to ethnicity, so is the mean age. In Kenya, for example, the Kisi cut around age 10 and the Kamba at 16.
A country's national prevalence often reflects a high sub-national prevalence among certain ethnicities, rather than a widespread practice. In Iraq, for example, FGM is found mostly among the Kurds in Erbil (58 percent prevalence within age group 15–49, as of 2011), Sulaymaniyah (54 percent) and Kirkuk (20 percent), giving the country a national prevalence of eight percent. The practice is sometimes an ethnic marker, but it may differ along national lines. For example, in the northeastern regions of Ethiopia and Kenya, which share a border with Somalia, the Somali people practise FGM at around the same rate as they do in Somalia. But in Guinea all Fulani women responding to a survey in 2012 said they had experienced FGM, against 12 percent of the Fulani in Chad, while in Nigeria the Fulani are the only large ethnic group in the country not to practise it.
Dahabo Musa, a Somali woman, described infibulation in a 1988 poem as the "three feminine sorrows": the procedure itself, the wedding night when the woman is cut open, then childbirth when she is cut again. Despite the evident suffering, it is women who organize all forms of FGM. Anthropologist Rose Oldfield Hayes wrote in 1975 that educated Sudanese men who did not want their daughters to be infibulated (preferring clitoridectomy) would find the girls had been sewn up after the grandmothers arranged a visit to relatives. Gerry Mackie has compared the practice to footbinding. Like FGM, footbinding was carried out on young girls, nearly universal where practised, tied to ideas about honour, chastity and appropriate marriage, and "supported and transmitted" by women.[r]
FGM practitioners see the procedures as marking not only ethnic boundaries but also gender difference. According to this view, male circumcision defeminizes men while FGM demasculinizes women. Fuambai Ahmadu, an anthropologist and member of the Kono people of Sierra Leone, who in 1992 underwent clitoridectomy as an adult during a Sande society initiation, argued in 2000 that it is a male-centred assumption that the clitoris is important to female sexuality. African female symbolism revolves instead around the concept of the womb. Infibulation draws on that idea of enclosure and fertility. "[G]enital cutting completes the social definition of a child's sex by eliminating external traces of androgyny," Janice Boddy wrote in 2007. "The female body is then covered, closed, and its productive blood bound within; the male body is unveiled, opened and exposed."
In communities where infibulation is common, there is a preference for women's genitals to be smooth, dry and without odour, and both women and men may find the natural vulva repulsive. Some men seem to enjoy the effort of penetrating an infibulation. The local preference for dry sex causes women to introduce substances into the vagina to reduce lubrication, including leaves, tree bark, toothpaste and Vicks menthol rub. The WHO includes this practice within Type IV FGM, because the added friction during intercourse can cause lacerations and increase the risk of infection. Because of the smooth appearance of an infibulated vulva, there is also a belief that infibulation increases hygiene.
Common reasons for FGM cited by women in surveys are social acceptance, religion, hygiene, preservation of virginity, marriageability and enhancement of male sexual pleasure. In a study in northern Sudan, published in 1983, only 17.4 percent of women opposed FGM (558 out of 3,210), and most preferred excision and infibulation over clitoridectomy. Attitudes are changing slowly. In Sudan in 2010, 42 percent of women who had heard of FGM said the practice should continue. In several surveys since 2006, over 50 percent of women in Mali, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Gambia and Egypt supported FGM's continuance, while elsewhere in Africa, Iraq and Yemen most said it should end, although in several countries only by a narrow margin.[s]
Against the argument that women willingly choose FGM for their daughters, UNICEF calls the practice a "self-enforcing social convention" to which families feel they must conform to avoid uncut daughters facing social exclusion. Ellen Gruenbaum reported that, in Sudan in the 1970s, cut girls from an Arab ethnic group would mock uncut Zabarma girls with Ya, Ghalfa! ("Hey, unclean!"). The Zabarma girls would respond Ya, mutmura! (A mutmara was a storage pit for grain that was continually opened and closed, like an infibulated woman.) But despite throwing the insult back, the Zabarma girls would ask their mothers, "What's the matter? Don't we have razor blades like the Arabs?"
Because of poor access to information, and because circumcisers downplay the causal connection, women may not associate the health consequences with the procedure. Lala Baldé, president of a women's association in Medina Cherif, a village in Senegal, told Mackie in 1998 that when girls fell ill or died, it was attributed to evil spirits. When informed of the causal relationship between FGM and ill health, Mackie wrote, the women broke down and wept. He argued that surveys taken before and after this sharing of information would show very different levels of support for FGM. The American non-profit group Tostan, founded by Molly Melching in 1991, introduced community-empowerment programs in several countries that focus on local democracy, literacy, and education about healthcare, giving women the tools to make their own decisions. In 1997, using the Tostan program, Malicounda Bambara in Senegal became the first village to abandon FGM. By 2018 over 8,000 communities in eight countries had pledged to abandon FGM and child marriage.
Surveys have shown a widespread belief, particularly in Mali, Mauritania, Guinea and Egypt, that FGM is a religious requirement. Gruenbaum has argued that practitioners may not distinguish between religion, tradition and chastity, making it difficult to interpret the data. FGM's origins in northeastern Africa are pre-Islamic, but the practice became associated with Islam because of that religion's focus on female chastity and seclusion.[t] There is no mention of it in the Quran. It is praised in a few daʻīf (weak) hadith (sayings attributed to Muhammad) as noble but not required,[u] although it is regarded as obligatory by the Shafi'i version of Sunni Islam. In 2007 the Al-Azhar Supreme Council of Islamic Research in Cairo ruled that FGM had "no basis in core Islamic law or any of its partial provisions".[v]
There is no mention of FGM in the Bible. Christian missionaries in Africa were among the first to object to FGM, but Christian communities in Africa do practise it. A 2013 UNICEF report identified 17 African countries in which at least 10 percent of Christian women and girls aged 15 to 49 had undergone FGM; in Niger 55 percent of Christian women and girls had experienced it, compared with two percent of their Muslim counterparts. The only Jewish group known to have practised it are the Beta Israel of Ethiopia. Judaism requires male circumcision, but does not allow FGM. FGM is also practised by animist groups, particularly in Guinea and Mali.
The practice's origins are unknown. Gerry Mackie has suggested that, because FGM's east-west, north-south distribution in Africa meets in Sudan, infibulation may have begun there with the Meroite civilization (c. 800 BCE – c. 350 CE), before the rise of Islam, to increase confidence in paternity. According to historian Mary Knight, Spell 1117 (c. 1991–1786 BCE) of the Ancient Egyptian Coffin Texts may refer in hieroglyphs to an uncircumcised girl ('m't):
The spell was found on the sarcophagus of Sit-hedjhotep, now in the Egyptian Museum, and dates to Egypt's Middle Kingdom.[w] (Paul F. O'Rourke argues that 'm't probably refers instead to a menstruating woman.) The proposed circumcision of an Egyptian girl, Tathemis, is also mentioned on a Greek papyrus, from 163 BCE, in the British Museum: "Sometime after this, Nephoris [Tathemis's mother] defrauded me, being anxious that it was time for Tathemis to be circumcised, as is the custom among the Egyptians."[x]
The examination of mummies has shown no evidence of FGM. Citing the Australian pathologist Grafton Elliot Smith, who examined hundreds of mummies in the early 20th century, Knight writes that the genital area may resemble Type III because during mummification the skin of the outer labia was pulled toward the anus to cover the pudendal cleft, possibly to prevent sexual violation. It was similarly not possible to determine whether Types I or II had been performed, because soft tissues had deteriorated or been removed by the embalmers.
The Greek geographer Strabo (c. 64 BCE – c. 23 CE) wrote about FGM after visiting Egypt around 25 BCE: "This is one of the customs most zealously pursued by them [the Egyptians]: to raise every child that is born and to circumcise [peritemnein] the males and excise [ektemnein] the females ..."[y][z] Philo of Alexandria (c. 20 BCE – 50 CE) also made reference to it: "the Egyptians by the custom of their country circumcise the marriageable youth and maid in the fourteenth (year) of their age, when the male begins to get seed, and the female to have a menstrual flow." It is mentioned briefly in a work attributed to the Greek physician Galen (129 – c. 200 CE): "When [the clitoris] sticks out to a great extent in their young women, Egyptians consider it appropriate to cut it out."[aa] Another Greek physician, Aëtius of Amida (mid-5th to mid-6th century CE), offered more detail in book 16 of his Sixteen Books on Medicine, citing the physician Philomenes. The procedure was performed in case the clitoris, or nymphê, grew too large or triggered sexual desire when rubbing against clothing. "On this account, it seemed proper to the Egyptians to remove it before it became greatly enlarged," Aëtius wrote, "especially at that time when the girls were about to be married":
The surgery is performed in this way: Have the girl sit on a chair while a muscled young man standing behind her places his arms below the girl's thighs. Have him separate and steady her legs and whole body. Standing in front and taking hold of the clitoris with a broad-mouthed forceps in his left hand, the surgeon stretches it outward, while with the right hand, he cuts it off at the point next to the pincers of the forceps. It is proper to let a length remain from that cut off, about the size of the membrane that's between the nostrils, so as to take away the excess material only; as I have said, the part to be removed is at that point just above the pincers of the forceps. Because the clitoris is a skinlike structure and stretches out excessively, do not cut off too much, as a urinary fistula may result from cutting such large growths too deeply.[ab]
The genital area was then cleaned with a sponge, frankincense powder and wine or cold water, and wrapped in linen bandages dipped in vinegar, until the seventh day when calamine, rose petals, date pits or a "genital powder made from baked clay" might be applied.
Whatever the practice's origins, infibulation became linked to slavery. Mackie cites the Portuguese missionary João dos Santos, who in 1609 wrote of a group near Mogadishu who had a "custome to sew up their Females, especially their slaves being young to make them unable for conception, which makes these slaves sell dearer, both for their chastitie, and for better confidence which their Masters put in them". Thus, Mackie argues, a "practice associated with shameful female slavery came to stand for honor".
Gynaecologists in 19th-century Europe and the United States removed the clitoris to treat insanity and masturbation. A British doctor, Robert Thomas, suggested clitoridectomy as a cure for nymphomania in 1813. The first reported clitoridectomy in the West, described in The Lancet in 1825, was performed in 1822 in Berlin by Karl Ferdinand von Graefe on a 15-year-old girl who was masturbating excessively.
Isaac Baker Brown, an English gynaecologist, president of the Medical Society of London and co-founder in 1845 of St. Mary's Hospital, believed that masturbation, or "unnatural irritation" of the clitoris, caused hysteria, spinal irritation, fits, idiocy, mania and death. He therefore "set to work to remove the clitoris whenever he had the opportunity of doing so", according to his obituary. Brown performed several clitoridectomies between 1859 and 1866. In the United States, J. Marion Sims followed Brown's work and in 1862 slit the neck of a woman's uterus and amputated her clitoris, "for the relief of the nervous or hysterical condition as recommended by Baker Brown". When Brown published his views in On the Curability of Certain Forms of Insanity, Epilepsy, Catalepsy, and Hysteria in Females (1866), doctors in London accused him of quackery and expelled him from the Obstetrical Society.
Later in the 19th century, A. J. Bloch, a surgeon in New Orleans, removed the clitoris of a two-year-old girl who was reportedly masturbating. According to a 1985 paper in the Obstetrical & Gynecological Survey, clitoridectomy was performed in the United States into the 1960s to treat hysteria, erotomania and lesbianism. From the mid-1950s, James Burt, a gynaecologist in Dayton, Ohio, performed non-standard repairs of episiotomies after childbirth, adding more stitches to make the vaginal opening smaller. From 1966 until 1989, he performed "love surgery" by cutting women's pubococcygeus muscle, repositioning the vagina and urethra, and removing the clitoral hood, thereby making their genital area more appropriate, in his view, for intercourse in the missionary position. "Women are structurally inadequate for intercourse," he wrote; he said he would turn them into "horny little mice". In the 1960s and 1970s he performed these procedures without consent while repairing episiotomies and performing hysterectomies and other surgery; he said he had performed a variation of them on 4,000 women by 1975. Following complaints, he was required in 1989 to stop practicing medicine in the United States.
Protestant missionaries in British East Africa (present-day Kenya) began campaigning against FGM in the early 20th century, when Dr. John Arthur joined the Church of Scotland Mission (CSM) in Kikuyu. An important ethnic marker, the practice was known by the Kikuyu, the country's main ethnic group, as irua for both girls and boys. It involved excision (Type II) for girls and removal of the foreskin for boys. Unexcised Kikuyu women (irugu) were outcasts.
Jomo Kenyatta, general secretary of the Kikuyu Central Association and later Kenya's first prime minister, wrote in 1938 that, for the Kikuyu, the institution of FGM was the "conditio sine qua non of the whole teaching of tribal law, religion and morality". No proper Kikuyu man or woman would marry or have sexual relations with someone who was not circumcised. A woman's responsibilities toward the tribe began with her initiation. Her age and place within tribal history was traced to that day, and the group of girls with whom she was cut was named according to current events, an oral tradition that allowed the Kikuyu to track people and events going back hundreds of years.
Beginning with the CSM mission in 1925, several missionary churches declared that FGM was prohibited for African Christians. The CSM announced that Africans practising it would be excommunicated, which resulted in hundreds leaving or being expelled. The stand-off turned FGM into a focal point of the Kenyan independence movement; the 1929–1931 period is known in the country's historiography as the female circumcision controversy.
In 1929 the Kenya Missionary Council began referring to FGM as the "sexual mutilation of women", rather than circumcision, and a person's stance toward the practice became a test of loyalty, either to the Christian churches or to the Kikuyu Central Association. Hulda Stumpf, an American missionary with the Africa Inland Mission who opposed FGM in the girls' school she helped to run, was murdered in 1930. Edward Grigg, the governor of Kenya, told the British Colonial Office that the killer, who was never identified, had tried to circumcise her.
In 1956 the council of male elders (the Njuri Nchecke) in Meru announced a ban on FGM. Over the next three years, thousands of girls cut each other's genitals with razor blades as a symbol of defiance. The movement came to be known as Ngaitana ("I will circumcise myself"), because to avoid naming their friends the girls said they had cut themselves. Historian Lynn Thomas described the episode as significant in the history of FGM because it made clear that its victims were also its perpetrators. FGM was eventually outlawed in Kenya in 2001, although the practice continued, reportedly driven by older women.
The first known non-colonial campaign against FGM began in Egypt in the 1920s, when the Egyptian Doctors' Society called for a ban. There was a parallel campaign in Sudan, run by religious leaders and British women. Infibulation was banned there in 1946, but the law was unpopular and barely enforced.[ac] The Egyptian government banned infibulation in state-run hospitals in 1959, but allowed partial clitoridectomy if parents requested it. (Egypt banned FGM entirely in 2007.)
In 1959, the UN asked the WHO to investigate FGM, but the latter responded that it was not a medical matter. Feminists took up the issue throughout the 1970s. The Egyptian physician and feminist Nawal El Saadawi criticized FGM in her book Women and Sex (1972); the book was banned in Egypt and El Saadawi lost her job as director general of public health. She followed up with a chapter, "The Circumcision of Girls", in her book The Hidden Face of Eve: Women in the Arab World (1980), which described her own clitoridectomy when she was six years old:
I did not know what they had cut off from my body, and I did not try to find out. I just wept, and called out to my mother for help. But the worst shock of all was when I looked around and found her standing by my side. Yes, it was her, I could not be mistaken, in flesh and blood, right in the midst of these strangers, talking to them and smiling at them, as though they had not participated in slaughtering her daughter just a few moments ago.
In 1975, Rose Oldfield Hayes, an American social scientist, became the first female academic to publish a detailed account of FGM, aided by her ability to discuss it directly with women in Sudan. Her article in American Ethnologist called it "female genital mutilation", rather than female circumcision, and brought it to wider academic attention. Edna Adan Ismail, who worked at the time for the Somalia Ministry of Health, discussed the health consequences of FGM in 1977 with the Somali Women's Democratic Organization. Two years later Fran Hosken, an Austria-American feminist, published The Hosken Report: Genital and Sexual Mutilation of Females (1979), the first to offer global figures. She estimated that 110,529,000 women in 20 African countries had experienced FGM. The figures were speculative but consistent with later surveys. Describing FGM as a "training ground for male violence", Hosken accused female practitioners of "participating in the destruction of their own kind". The language caused a rift between Western and African feminists; African women boycotted a session featuring Hosken during the UN's Mid-Decade Conference on Women in Copenhagen in July 1980.
In 1979, the WHO held a seminar, "Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children", in Khartoum, Sudan, and in 1981, also in Khartoum, 150 academics and activists signed a pledge to fight FGM after a workshop held by the Babiker Badri Scientific Association for Women's Studies (BBSAWS), "Female Circumcision Mutilates and Endangers Women – Combat it!" Another BBSAWS workshop in 1984 invited the international community to write a joint statement for the United Nations. It recommended that the "goal of all African women" should be the eradication of FGM and that, to sever the link between FGM and religion, clitoridectomy should no longer be referred to as sunna.
The Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children, founded in 1984 in Dakar, Senegal, called for an end to the practice, as did the UN's World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna in 1993. The conference listed FGM as a form of violence against women, marking it as a human-rights violation, rather than a medical issue. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s governments in Africa and the Middle East passed legislation banning or restricting FGM. In 2003 the African Union ratified the Maputo Protocol on the rights of women, which supported the elimination of FGM. By 2015 laws restricting FGM had been passed in at least 23 of the 27 African countries in which it is concentrated, although several fell short of a ban.[ad]
In December 1993, the United Nations General Assembly included FGM in resolution 48/104, the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and from 2003 sponsored International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, held every 6 February. UNICEF began in 2003 to promote an evidence-based social norms approach, using ideas from game theory about how communities reach decisions about FGM, and building on the work of Gerry Mackie on the demise of footbinding in China. In 2005 the UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre in Florence published its first report on FGM. UNFPA and UNICEF launched a joint program in Africa in 2007 to reduce FGM by 40 percent within the 0–15 age group and eliminate it from at least one country by 2012, goals that were not met and which they later described as unrealistic.[ae] In 2008 several UN bodies recognized FGM as a human-rights violation, and in 2010 the UN called upon healthcare providers to stop carrying out the procedures, including reinfibulation after childbirth and symbolic nicking. In 2012 the General Assembly passed resolution 67/146, "Intensifying global efforts for the elimination of female genital mutilations".
Immigration spread the practice to Australia, New Zealand, Europe and North America, all of which outlawed it entirely or restricted it to consenting adults. Sweden outlawed FGM in 1982 with the Act Prohibiting the Genital Mutilation of Women, the first Western country to do so. Several former colonial powers, including Belgium, Britain, France and the Netherlands, introduced new laws or made clear that it was covered by existing legislation. As of 2013 legislation banning FGM had been passed in 33 countries outside Africa and the Middle East.
In the United States an estimated 513,000 women and girls had experienced FGM or were at risk as of 2012.[af] A Nigerian woman successfully contested deportation in March 1994 on the grounds that her daughters might be cut, and in 1996 Fauziya Kasinga from Togo became the first to be granted asylum to escape FGM. In 1996 the Federal Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act made it illegal to perform FGM on minors for non-medical reasons, and in 2013 the Transport for Female Genital Mutilation Act prohibited transporting a minor out of the country for the purpose of FGM.:2 The first FGM conviction in the US was in 2006, when Khalid Adem, who had emigrated from Ethiopia, was sentenced to ten years for aggravated battery and cruelty to children after severing his two-year-old daughter's clitoris with a pair of scissors. A federal judge ruled in 2018 that the 1996 Act was unconstitutional, arguing that FGM is a "local criminal activity" that should be regulated by states, not by Congress; he made his ruling during a case against members of the Dawoodi Bohra community in Michigan accused of carrying out FGM. Twenty-four states had legislation banning FGM as of 2016.:2 The American Academy of Pediatrics opposes all forms of the practice, including pricking the clitoral skin.[ag]
Canada recognized FGM as a form of persecution in July 1994, when it granted refugee status to Khadra Hassan Farah, who had fled Somalia to avoid her daughter being cut. In 1997 section 268 of its Criminal Code was amended to ban FGM, except where "the person is at least eighteen years of age and there is no resulting bodily harm". As of July 2017 there had been no prosecutions. Canadian officials have expressed concern that a few thousand Canadian girls are at risk of "vacation cutting", whereby girls are taken overseas to undergo the procedure, but as of 2017 there were no firm figures.
According to the European Parliament, 500,000 women in Europe had undergone FGM as of March 2009. France is known for its tough stance against FGM. Up to 30,000 women there were thought to have experienced it as of 1995. According to Colette Gallard, a family-planning counsellor, when FGM was first encountered in France, the reaction was that Westerners ought not to intervene. It took the deaths of two girls in 1982, one of them three months old, for that attitude to change. In 1991 a French court ruled that the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees offered protection to FGM victims; the decision followed an asylum application from Aminata Diop, who fled an FGM procedure in Mali. The practice is outlawed by several provisions of France's penal code that address bodily harm causing permanent mutilation or torture. All children under six who were born in France undergo medical examinations that include inspection of the genitals, and doctors are obliged to report FGM. The first civil suit was in 1982, and the first criminal prosecution in 1993. In 1999 a woman was given an eight-year sentence for having performed FGM on 48 girls. By 2014 over 100 parents and two practitioners had been prosecuted in over 40 criminal cases.
Around 137,000 women and girls living in England and Wales were born in countries where FGM is practised, as of 2011. Performing FGM on children or adults was outlawed under the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985. This was replaced by the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 and Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation (Scotland) Act 2005, which added a prohibition on arranging FGM outside the country for British citizens or permanent residents.[ah] The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) asked the government in July 2013 to "ensure the full implementation of its legislation on FGM". The first charges were brought in 2014 against a physician and another man; the physician had stitched an infibulated woman after opening her for childbirth. Both men were acquitted in 2015.
Anthropologists have accused FGM eradicationists of cultural colonialism, and have been criticized in turn for their moral relativism and failure to defend the idea of universal human rights. According to critics of the eradicationist position, the biological reductionism of the opposition to FGM, and the failure to appreciate FGM's cultural context, serves to "other" practitioners and undermine their agency—in particular when parents are referred to as "mutilators".
Africans who object to the tone of FGM opposition risk appearing to defend the practice. The feminist theorist Obioma Nnaemeka, herself strongly opposed to FGM, argued in 2005 that renaming the practice female genital mutilation had introduced "a subtext of barbaric African and Muslim cultures and the West's relevance (even indispensability) in purging [it]". According to Ugandan law professor Sylvia Tamale, the early Western opposition to FGM stemmed from a Judeo-Christian judgment that African sexual and family practices, including not only FGM but also dry sex, polygyny, bride price and levirate marriage, required correction. African feminists "take strong exception to the imperialist, racist and dehumanising infantilization of African women", she wrote in 2011. Commentators highlight the voyeurism in the treatment of women's bodies as exhibits. Examples include images of women's vaginas after FGM or girls undergoing the procedure. The 1996 Pulitzer-prize-winning photographs of a 16-year-old Kenyan girl experiencing FGM were published by 12 American newspapers, without her consent either to be photographed or to have the images published.
The debate has highlighted a tension between anthropology and feminism, with the former's focus on tolerance and the latter's on equal rights for women. According to the anthropologist Christine Walley, a common position in anti-FGM literature has been to present African women as victims of false consciousness participating in their own oppression, a position promoted by feminists in the 1970s and 1980s, including Fran Hosken, Mary Daly and Hanny Lightfoot-Klein. It prompted the French Association of Anthropologists to issue a statement in 1981, at the height of the early debates, that "a certain feminism resuscitates (today) the moralistic arrogance of yesterday's colonialism".
Nnaemeka argues that the crucial question, broader than FGM, is why the female body is subjected to so much "abuse and indignity", including in the West. Several authors have drawn a parallel between FGM and cosmetic procedures. Ronán Conroy of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland wrote in 2006 that cosmetic genital procedures were "driving the advance" of FGM by encouraging women to see natural variations as defects. Anthropologist Fadwa El Guindi compared FGM to breast enhancement, in which the maternal function of the breast becomes secondary to men's sexual pleasure. Benoîte Groult, the French feminist, made a similar point in 1975, citing FGM and cosmetic surgery as sexist and patriarchal. Against this, the medical anthropologist Carla Obermeyer argued in 1999 that FGM may be conducive to a subject's social well-being in the same way that rhinoplasty and male circumcision are. Despite the 2007 ban in Egypt, Egyptian women wanting FGM for their daughters seek amalyet tajmeel (cosmetic surgery) to remove what they see as excess genital tissue.
Cosmetic procedures such as labiaplasty and clitoral hood reduction do fall within the WHO's definition of FGM, which aims to avoid loopholes, but the WHO notes that these elective practices are generally not regarded as FGM.[ai] Some legislation banning FGM, such as in Canada and the US, covers minors only, but several countries, including Sweden and the UK, have banned it regardless of consent. Sweden, for example, has banned operations "on the outer female sexual organs with a view to mutilating them or bringing about some other permanent change in them, regardless of whether or not consent has been given for the operation". Gynaecologist Birgitta Essén and anthropologist Sara Johnsdotter argue that the law seems to distinguish between Western and African genitals, and deems only African women (such as those seeking reinfibulation after childbirth) unfit to make their own decisions.
The philosopher Martha Nussbaum argues that a key concern with FGM is that it is mostly conducted on children using physical force. The distinction between social pressure and physical force is morally and legally salient, comparable to the distinction between seduction and rape. She argues further that the literacy of women in practising countries is generally poorer than in developed nations, which reduces their ability to make informed choices.
Several commentators maintain that children's rights are violated not only by FGM but also by the genital alteration of intersex children, who are born with anomalies that physicians choose to correct. Arguments have been made that non-therapeutic male circumcision, practised by Muslims, Jews and some Christian groups, also violates children's rights. Globally about 30 percent of males over 15 are circumcised; of these, about two-thirds are Muslim. An American Academy of Pediatrics circumcision task force issued a policy statement in 2012 that the health benefits of male circumcision outweigh the risks; they recommended that it be carried out, if it is performed, by "trained and competent practitioners ... using sterile techniques and effective pain management". The statement met with protests from a group of 38 doctors in Europe, who accused the task force of "cultural bias". At least half the male population of the United States is circumcised, while most men in Europe are not.
WHO (2008): "[There is a] common tendency to describe Type I as removal of the prepuce, whereas this has not been documented as a traditional form of female genital mutilation. However, in some countries, medicalized female genital mutilation can include removal of the prepuce only (Type Ia) (Thabet and Thabet, 2003), but this form appears to be relatively rare (Satti et al., 2006). Almost all known forms of female genital mutilation that remove tissue from the clitoris also cut all or part of the clitoral glans itself."
Pam Belluck (The New York Times, 10 June 2017): "The focus on the Dawoodi Bohra, a sect of about 1.2 million based in western India, with clusters in the United States, Pakistan and elsewhere, is spurring Bohra women to describe their experiences publicly. Some are doing so for the first time, defying the sect's historic secrecy about cutting and taking a risk that they or relatives will be ostracized."
Book XVI, chapter 4, 16.4.9: "And then to the Harbour of Antiphilus, and, above this, to the Creophagi [meat-eaters], of whom the males have their sexual glands mutilated [kolobos] and the women are excised [ektemnein] in the Jewish fashion."
Cantera, Angel L. Martínez (6 March 2018). "'I was crying with unbearable pain': study reveals extent of FGM in India'". The Guardian, citing Anantnarayan, Lakshmi et al. (2018). "The Clitoral Hood: A Contested Site", WeSpeakOut.
Esther K. Hicks, Infibulation: Female Mutilation in Islamic Northeastern Africa, Transaction Publishers, 1996, 19ff.
Donaldson James, Susan (13 December 2012). "Ohio Woman Still Scarred By 'Love' Doctor's Sex Surgery". ABC News.
Also see Robert Strayer, Jocelyn Murray, "The CMS and Female Circumcision", in Robert Strayer (ed.), The Making of Missionary Communities in East Africa, New York: State University of New York Press, 1978, 139ff.
Canada: Section 268, Criminal Code, Justice Laws website, Government of Canada.
"In re Fauziya KASINGA, file A73 476 695", U.S. Department of Justice, Executive Office for Immigration Review, decided 13 June 1996.
Pam Belluck, "Group Backs Ritual 'Nick' as Female Circumcision Option", The New York Times, 6 May 2010.
For an early article on FGM in the UK, see Black & Debelle (1995)
Gregorio, I. W. (26 April 2017). "Should Surgeons Perform Irreversible Genital Surgery on Children?". Newsweek.
Freedman, Andrew L. (May 2016). "The Circumcision Debate: Beyond Benefits and Risks". Pediatrics. 137 (5): e20160594. doi:10.1542/peds.2016-0594. PMID 27244839.
American Academy of Pediatrics Task Force on Circumcision (April 2013). "Cultural Bias and Circumcision: The AAP Task Force on Circumcision Responds". Pediatrics. 131 (4): 801–4. doi:10.1542/peds.2013-0081. PMID 23509171.
Books and book chapters
United Nations reports
The campaign against female genital mutilation in colonial Kenya (1929–1932), known as the female circumcision controversy, is a period within Kenyan historiography known for efforts by British missionaries, particularly from the Church of Scotland, to stop the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) in Kenya. The British campaign was met with resistance by the Kikuyu people, the country's largest tribe. According to American historian Lynn M. Thomas, FGM became a focal point of the independence movement against British colonial rule, and a test of loyalty, either to the Christian churches or to the Kikuyu Central Association, the association of the Kikuyu people.Clitoridectomy
Clitoridectomy or clitorectomy is the surgical removal, reduction, or partial removal of the clitoris. It is rarely used as a therapeutic medical procedure, such as when cancer has developed in or spread to the clitoris. It is often performed on intersex newborns. Commonly, non-medical removal of the clitoris is performed during female genital mutilation (FGM).Efua Dorkenoo
Efua Dorkenoo, OBE (6 September 1949 – 18 October 2014), affectionately known as "Mama Efua", was a Ghanaian-British campaigner against female genital mutilation (FGM) who pioneered the global movement to end the practice and worked internationally for more than 30 years to see the campaign "move from a problem lacking in recognition to a key issue for governments around the world."Equality Now
Equality Now is a non-governmental organization founded in 1992 whose purpose is to, in its own words, work "for the protection and promotion of the human rights of women and girls around the world". The group provides an international framework for spreading awareness of issues and providing support to local grassroots groups working to address issues of concern to it. The organization lists its primary concerns as being sexual violence, trafficking of women, female genital mutilation, and discrimination in law.Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003
The Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 (c. 31) is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom applying to England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It replaced the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985, extending the ban on female genital mutilation to address the practice of taking girls abroad to undergo FGM procedures, and increased the maximum penalty from 5 to 14 years' imprisonment. The Act does not extend to Scotland: the corresponding legislation there is the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation (Scotland) Act 2005.
Experts said in 2003 that about 74,000 women in the UK have been subjected to the procedure, and that up to 7,000 girls would be at risk of being subjected to it abroad, and on 14 July of that year the proposed new law was introduced by the Labour peer Ruth Rendell as House of Lords Bill 98.Female genital mutilation in Nigeria
Female genital mutilation (FGM), also known as Female Genital Cutting (FGC) in Nigeria accounts for the most female genital cutting/mutilation (FGM/C) cases worldwide. The practices is customarily a family tradition that the young female of the age 0-15 would experience. It is a procedure that involves partial or completely removing the external females genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs whenever for non-medical reasons. The practice is considered harmful to girls and women and a violation of human rights. FGM causes infertility, maternal death, infections, and the loss of sexual pleasure.Nationally, 27% of Nigerian women between the ages of 15 and 49 were victims of FGM, as of 2012. In the last 30 years, prevalence of the practice has decreased by half in some parts of Nigeria.In May 2015, then President Goodluck Jonathan signed a federal law banning FGM. Opponents of the practice cite this move as an important step forward in Africa, as Nigeria is the most populous country and has set an important precedent. Though the practice has declined, activists and scholars say a cultural shift is necessary to abolish the practice, as the new law will not singularly change the wider violence against women in Nigeria.Female genital mutilation in Sierra Leone
Female genital mutilation in Sierra Leone (also known as female genital cutting) is the common practice of removing all or part of the female’s genitalia for cultural and religious initiation purposes, or as a custom to prepare them for marriage. Sierra Leone is one of 28 countries in Africa where female genital mutilation (FGM) is known to be practiced.Female genital mutilation in the United Kingdom
Female genital mutilation in the United Kingdom is the ritual removal of some or all of the external female genitalia of women and girls living in the UK. According to Equality Now and City University London, an estimated 103,000 women and girls aged 15–49 were thought to be living with female genital mutilation (FGM) in England and Wales as of 2011.FGM was outlawed in the UK by the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985, which made it an offence to perform FGM on children or adults. The Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 and the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation (Scotland) Act 2005 made it an offence to arrange FGM outside the country for British citizens or permanent residents, whether or not it is lawful in the country to which the girl is taken.The first prosecutions for FGM took place in 2015 against a doctor for performing FGM and another man for aiding and abetting; both were found not guilty. The first successful conviction was secured in February 2019.Female genital mutilation in the United States
Female genital mutilation (FGM), also known as female circumcision or female genital cutting, includes any procedure involving the removal or injury of part or all of external female genitalia for non medical reasons. While the practice is most common in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, FGM is also widespread in immigrant communities and metropolitan areas in the United States, and was performed by doctors regularly until the 1980s.There are four main types of FGM, distinguished by the World Health Organization by their severity. Type 1, clitoridectomy, describes the partial or total removal of the clitoris, and includes circumcision (removal of just the clitoral hood) and clitoridectomy (removal of the entire clitoral glans and hood). Type 2, excision, involves the partial or total removal of the clitoris and labia minora, with or without the additional removal of the labia majora. Type 3, infibulation, is the most severe type of FGM. It describes the narrowing of the vaginal opening through creation of a seal, by cutting and repositioning the labia minora or labia majora. Type 4 describes any other type of harmful non-medical procedures performed on female genitalia, including cutting, burning, and scraping.In the United States, FGM is most common in immigrant communities and in major metropolitan areas. Data on the prevalence of FGM in the United States was first collected in 1990, using census information. CDC reports using information from the early 2010-2013 have shown a decrease in FGM in the United States, although growing levels of immigration cause numbers to appear higher.In addition to its prevalence in immigrant communities in the US, FGM was considered a standard medical procedure in America for most of the 19th and 20th centuries. Physicians performed surgeries of varying invasiveness to treat a number of diagnoses, including hysteria, depression, nymphomania, and frigidity. The medicalization of FGM in the United States allowed these practices to continue until the end of the 20th century, with some procedures covered by Blue Cross Blue Shield Insurance until 1977.With the passage of the federal law ban, the Female Genital Mutilation Act in 1996, performing FGM on anyone under age 18 became a felony in the United States. However in 2018, the act was stuck down as unconstitutional by US federal district judge Bernard A. Friedman in Michigan, who argued that the federal government did not have authority to enact legislation outside the "Interstate commerce" clause. As part of the ruling, Friedman also ordered that charges be dropped against 8 people who had mutilated the genitals of 9 girls.
As of 2019, 28 U.S. states have made specific laws that prohibit FGM, while the remaining 22 states had no specific laws against FGM. The US has also participated in several UN resolutions that advocate for the eradication of FGM, including the UN's 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).Gishiri cutting
Gishiri or gishiri cutting is a form of female genital mutilation performed commonly by the peoples of the Hausa and Fulani regions of northern Nigeria and southern Niger. The procedure is believed by traditional practitioners to treat a variety of gynaecological ailments, although there is no scientific basis for this procedure, and it is considered pseudoscience.Infibulation
Infibulation is the surgical removal of the external female genitalia and the suturing of the vulva. It can also refer to placing a clasp through the foreskin in men.International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation
International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation is a United Nations-sponsored annual awareness day that takes place on February 6 as part of the UN's efforts to eradicate female genital mutilation. It was first introduced in 2003.Mae Azango
Mae Azango is a Liberian journalist for FrontPage Africa. She is particularly known for her reports on female genital mutilation (FGM), which helped suspend the practice in the nation. In 2012, she was awarded the International Press Freedom Award of the Committee to Protect Journalists.Nahid Toubia
Nahid Toubia (Arabic:ناهد طوبيا) (born 1951) is a Sudanese surgeon and women's health rights activist, specializing in research into female genital mutilation.Toubia is the co-founder and director of RAINBO, the Research, Action and Information Network for Bodily Integrity of Women. She is an associate professor at Columbia University School of Public Health. She sits on scientific and advisory committees for the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and UNDP. She is also vice-chair of the advisory committee of the Women's Rights Watch Project of Human Rights Watch.Focusing on reproductive health and gender inequality in Africa and the Middle East, Toubia is the author or co-author of several books, including Women of the Arab World: The Coming Challenge (1988), Female Genital Mutilation: A Call for Global Action (1995), and Female Genital Mutilation: A Guide to Worldwide Laws and Policies (2000).Prevalence of female genital mutilation by country
Female genital mutilation (FGM), also known as female genital cutting (FGC), is practised in 30 countries in western, eastern, and north-eastern Africa, in parts of the Middle East and Asia, and within some immigrant communities in Europe, North America and Australia. The WHO defines the practice as "all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons."In a 2013 UNICEF report covering 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East, Egypt had the region's highest total number of women that have undergone FGM (27.2 million), while Somalia had the highest percentage (prevalence) of FGM (98%).The world's first known campaign against FGM took place in Egypt in the 1920s. FGM prevalence in Egypt in 1995 was still at least as high as Somalia's 2013 world record (98%), despite dropping significantly since then among young women. Estimates of the prevalence of FGM vary according to source.Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985
The Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985 (c. 38) is a repealed Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It made female genital mutilation a crime throughout the UK, allowing for sentences of up to five years' imprisonment. It was introduced to the House of Lords by Wayland Young, 2nd Baron Kennet, and passed on 16 July 1985, coming into force two months later.No one was ever successfully prosecuted under the Act, but a medical practitioner was stricken from the Medical Register in 1993 for having performed the procedure. The Act was replaced by the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation (Scotland) Act 2005 in Scotlant, both of which extend the legislation to cover acts committed by UK nationals outside of the UK's borders, so that it became a crime to take a girl abroad to undergo FGM.Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation (Scotland) Act 2005
The Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation (Scotland) Act 2005 (asp 8) is an Act of the Scottish Parliament. It extended previous legislation by also making it illegal for UK nationals to perform female genital mutilation outside the borders of the UK. There have been no known cases of girls from Scotland being sent abroad for the procedure. The Act also increased the maximum penalty from five to 14 years.
It replaced the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985. The corresponding legislation for the rest of the United Kingdom is the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003.
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) has
been illegal in the United Kingdom since 1985 when the Prohibition of Female
Circumcision Act 1985 was passed in Scotland. The rest of the United Kingdom
quickly followed suit with each country creating its own version of the law. Over
the decades that this law was in place, no conviction could be mounted as the law
itself was too vague to be enforced properly. In order to protect the women of
the British Isles the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985 was replied and
replaced in 2003 when the United Kingdom passed the stricter Female Genital
Mutilation Act 2003 and Scotland’s corresponding Prohibition of Female Genital
Mutilation (Scotland) Act 2005.The Scottish Prohibition of Female
Genital Mutilation (Scotland) Act 2005 strengthens the original Prohibition of
Female Circumcision Act 1985 by defining Female genital mutilation in multiple
forms. Female genital mutilation (FGM)
is defined in section 1 of the act is "to excise, infibulate or otherwise
mutilate the whole or any part of the labia majora, labia minora, prepuce of
the clitoris, clitoris or vagina of another person". While this was useful
to draw convictions originally, the wording in advertently also prohibited doctors
and other people in the medical professions from giving several types of operations
that may be necessary during and after child birth. The law was soon revised to
say that no crime may be committed by an approved individual if the operation
or procedure on another person is necessary for their physical or mental health;
or if the surgical operation in question takes place during any stage of labor,
or child birth, or if the operation takes place immediately after child birth
for a purpose connected with said child birth or labor.The Scottish Prohibition of Female
Genital Mutilation (Scotland) Act 2005 continues to surpass the original Prohibition
of Female Circumcision Act 1985 in preventing mutilation on a further level by adding
the “Aiding and abetting female genital mutilation” clause to the act. The Aiding and abetting clause as well as
related article define aiding and abetting as “To plan, help, assist,
brainwash, intimidate, persuade, encourage or to be involved in any way in
circumcising any girl or woman. This includes fathers and grandfathers who
demand that their daughter or granddaughter is circumcised, even if they do not
arrange the ritual to be involved in any way in getting any woman or girl to
circumcise herself.” The clause was crucial in the process of mounting
convictions for female genital mutilation as the original Prohibition of Female
Circumcision Act 1985 only prohibited the actual act of the mutilation by
whoever commits the procedure, but not the people who would arrange the
procedure or those who convinced the woman in question to have her genitals
mutilated.Mutilation (Scotland) Act was further strengthened the Prohibition of Female
Circumcision Act 1985, by outlining the punishments for committing Female genital
mutilation of aiding and abetting female genital mutilation. Anyone convicted of
Female genital mutilation or related offenses will be jailed for up to 14 years
as well as a non-disclosed fine, and have their children sent to live with
relatives. If the convicted does not have a visa or necessary documentation to
remain in Britain, the convict in question as well as their immediate family
will be deported to their country of origin and punished to the full extent of
the law, as well as the possibility of being banned from working with children
or returning to Britain. If the woman who has been mutilated is under the age
of 17, she may be removed from the custody of her parents and be given medical
treatment, while her parents or Care takers will be given strict conditions that
they must comply with for the girl in question's health and protection. Furthermore
any United Kingdom national or United Kingdom resident found attempting to
leave the United Kingdom for the purpose of female genital mutilation will be
treated as thought the offence was committed in Scotland, regardless of the
actual location or destination.There was controversy over the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act (Scotland) 2005, as some claim the law discriminated against African immigrants; to which the Scottish government
responded “This new law applies to everyone in Scotland, no matter where they
are from. Many communities which circumcise girls are African, but female
circumcision also happens in other countries, including in some parts of the
Middle East, India, Sri Lanka and Australia.”Religious views on female genital mutilation
There is a widespread view among practitioners of female genital mutilation (FGM) that it is a religious requirement, although prevalence rates often vary according to geography and ethnic group. There is an ongoing debate about the extent to which the practice's continuation is influenced by custom, social pressure, lack of health-care information, and the position of women in society. The procedures confer no health benefits and can lead to serious health problems.FGM is practised predominantly within certain Muslim societies, but it also exists within some adjacent Christian and animist groups. The practice isn't required by most forms of Islam and many Muslim scholars have declared it un-Islamic. However, FGM was introduced in Southeast Asia by the spread of Shafi'i version of Islamic jurisprudence, which considers the practice obligatory. There is mention of it on a Greek papyrus from 163 BCE and a possible indirect reference to it on a coffin from Egypt's Middle Kingdom (c. 1991–1786 BCE). It has been found among Coptic Christians in Egypt, Orthodox Christians in Ethiopia, and Protestants and Catholics in Sudan and Kenya. The only Jewish group known to have practised it are the Beta Israel of Ethiopia.Women in Nigeria
Women's social role in Nigeria differs according to religious and geographic factors. Women's role is primarily understood as mothers, sisters, daughters and wives. Additionally, women's roles are in accordance with ethnic differences and religious background, with women in Northern Nigeria being more likely to be secluded in the home, than women in Southern Nigeria, who participate more in public life. Modern challenges for the women of Nigeria include child marriage and female genital mutilation.
Female genital mutilation
|By country and religion|
|Sexual assault, rape|