Writing in the British Journal of Medial Ethics, two U.S.-based doctors have proposed that as a “compromise solution,” it would be better to adopt a “more nuanced position” on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) — one “that acknowledges a wide spectrum of procedures that alter female genitalia.”
The doctors think that the worldwide drive in recent years to completely eradicate the brutal practice, without allowing “minor” modifications is "culturally insensitive and supremacist and discriminatory towards women."
They argue that criminalizing FGM in Western countries has pushed the practice underground in the U.K. and the U.S. and given rise to “vacation cutting,” a phenomena where girls are taken to their native countries during summer vacations for the harmful and traumatic procedure.
Doctors Kavita Shah Arora, director of quality, obstetrics and gynecology at the MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland and Dr. Allan Jacobs, professor of reproductive medicine at Stony Brook University, believe that minor alterations of the female genitalia do not “reach the threshold of a human rights violation” and should not be considered child abuse.
Although the doctors say that a “wide spectrum” of procedures that alter the female genitalia would be acceptable, they fail to delineate exactly what these alterations would entail, save for two specifically mentioned: a small cut to the external genitalia or the removal of the hood that covers the clitoris.
The faultiness of their arguments is many-fold. But first, let us own up to the facts.
FGM is a brutal, barbarian practice in which involves partial or complete removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
FGM ranges from the removal of the clitoral hood, the partial or total removal of the clitoris, the removal of part or all of the exterior female genitalia including the labia minora and labia majora to the stitching or narrowing of the vaginal opening, leaving a small opening for urine and menstrual blood.
The procedure, in its worst cases, can also involve burning the tissue, scraping of tissue surrounding the vaginal orifice, cutting inside of the vagina itself or introduction of corrosive substances into the vagina for the purpose of tightening.
Horrific and permanent side effects are associated with FGM.
Every year, it is estimated that 3 million girls undergo FGM, with over 200 million women in over 30 countries estimated to have endured the procedure.
The doctor’s claim that mutilating babies, girls and young women is “culturally insensitive” and “discriminatory towards women” is outrageous, when considering that the “minor” alterations proposed are both traumatic and life-changing.
A simple medical search of the purpose of the clitoral hood – which the doctors blithely propose removing – shows that this part of the body not only has tremendous immunological importance to a woman’s body but also greatly contributes to a woman's sexual pleasure, without which, sexual relations may be painful.
As for a “simple” nick, “it’s a lie for anyone who thinks that a nick will reduce the harm,” says Mariama Diallo, a counselor and African community specialist at Sanctuary for Families, a New York–based gender violence nonprofit organizations. “The effect on the survivor is the same. The psychological effect is exactly the same.”
The doctor’s argument that the West’s criminalization of FGM has pushed it underground in Western countries is not a defensible claim. Worldwide efforts to completely eradicate FGM – by educating communities in Africa and the Middle East (where the great prevalence occurs) have made tremendous strides.
Changing attitudes in these Third World countries has a tremendous influence on their natives who have immigrated to the West. The combination of changed attitudes and criminalization can be a powerful deterrent to an immigrant family’s decision not to have their daughter cut.
Voicing the criticism of anti-FGM campaigners who have said that this proposal would undermine the international push to completely eradicate the practice, Diallo asks, “How can we end FGM by a nick?”
Writing on his Facebook page, Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser says more bluntly, “Both as a bioethicist of 20 years and as a lifetime anti-Islamist Muslim dedicated to reform I am beyond horrified by the position of these so called “ethicists” based in the US (Cleveland and NYC). There is NO compromise against the immorality and barbarism of FGM. To give some utilitarian explanation or excuse gives the Islamist supremacists and theocrats a pass and sets the clock back hundreds of years upon the movement for women’s rights in Muslim communities.”
Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org