Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in
Africa, the Middle East & Far East
Why is it done? Terminology. Trends.
Why it is Done?
The justification for the operation appears to be largely grounded in a desire to
terminate or reduce feelings of sexual arousal in women so that they will be much less
likely to engage in pre-marital intercourse or adultery. The clitoris holds a massive
number of nerve endings, and generates feelings of sexual arousal when stimulated.
Parents in those cultures where FGM is common often feel that it is the only
way to guarantee that their girl children will remain "pure" until marriage.
This belief is so strong that it can overcome the dangers to the girls: some do
not survive the blood loss during the operation; others die from infection; most
suffer life-long complications.
Unmutilated women in countries where FGM is normally performed have difficulty
finding a marriage partner. Men typically prefer a mutilated wife because they are
considered more likely to be faithful. Other claims in support of FGM are:
|The clitoris is dangerous and must be removed for health reasons. Some believe that it
is a poisonous organ, that can cause a man to sicken or die if contacted by a man's penis.
Others believe that men can become impotent by contacting a clitoris, or that a baby will
be hydrocephalic (born with excess cranial fluid) if its head contacts the clitoris during
birth. Some believe that the milk of the mother will become poisonous if her clitoris
touches the baby during childbirth.|
|Bad genital odors can only be eliminated by removing the clitoris and labia minora.|
|FGM prevents vaginal cancer.|
|An unmodified clitoris can lead to masturbation or lesbianism.|
|FGM prevents nervousness from developing in girls and women.|
|FGM prevents the face from turning yellow.|
|FGM makes a woman's face more beautiful.|
|If FGM is not done, older men may not be able to match their wives' sex drive and may
have to resort to illegal stimulating drugs.|
|An intact clitoris generates sexual arousal in women which can cause neuroses if
These claims appear to have little or no support outside of countries where FGM is common.
The fear of AIDS has been used by both sides of this issue. Shiek Badri stated in
1997-JUN: "Those who are not circumcised get AIDS easily" But opponents
to the practice note that AIDS is spread by unhygienic practices normally
present during the
When the awareness of FGM became known widely outside of the countries where it is practiced, it was generally referred to as "female circumcision." This creates confusion with male circumcision, a practice currently growing in Africa as a partial preventative against HIV infection and AIDS. The term "female genital mutilation" and its acronym "FGM" started to be used in the 1970s. According to a UNICEF report on FGM:
"In 1990, this term was adopted at
the third conference of the Inter African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (IAC) in Addis Ababa. In 1991, WHO recommended that the United Nations adopt this terminology and subsequently, it has been widely
used in UN documents."
"The use of the word 'mutilation' reinforces the idea that this practice is a violation of girls’ and women’s human rights, and thereby helps promote
national and international advocacy towards its
abandonment. At the community level, however, the
term can be problematic. Local languages generally use the less judgmental 'cutting' to describe the practice; parents understandably resent the suggestion
that they are 'mutilating' their daughters. In this spirit, in 1999, the UN Special Rapporteur on Traditional
Practices called for tact and patience regarding
activities in this area and drew attention to the risk of 'demonizing' certain cultures, religions and communities. As a result, the term 'cutting' has increasingly
come to be used to avoid alienating communities." 1
Support for female genital mutilation is in decline in Africa:
Geoffrey York of the Globe and Mail Newspaper in Toronto ON reported:
"Some experts thought it was so embedded in traditional culture that it would never change. But new evidence shows that African countries have made surprising progress in reducing the rate of female genital cutting, a controversial and often illegal practice that can cause lifelong injury and illness to girls and women."
"In countries such as Ethiopia and Kenya, female genital cutting has become less common in the past decade. And in other countries such as Sudan and Egypt, surveys are finding that the practice has declining support from ordinary people in many communities, thanks to intense educational campaigns."
"A new study ... by the UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, 2 explains how these educational campaigns have succeeded in weakening the popularity of a practice that is considered a violation of human rights and a severe health risk." 3
The study shows prevalence data from 2005 to 2008 in various countries: 91% prevalence of FGM in Egypt, 89% in Sudan, 74% in Ethiopia, 28% in Senegal and 27% in Kenya.
Support among women aged 15 to 49, has dropped:
Egypt: From 82% in 1995 to 63% in 2008.
Sudan: From 79% in 1989/1990 to 51% in 2006.
Ethiopia: 60% in 2000 to 31% in 2005.
Kenya: 20% in 1998 to 9% in 2008/2009. 3
Many of the web sites referenced in the preparation of his essay have already
- "Changing a harmful social convention: Female Genital Mutilation/cutting," UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, Page 2, at: http://www.unicef-irc.org/publications This is a PDF file.
- "Changing a harmful social convention: Female Genital Mutilation/cutting," UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, at: http://www.unicef-irc.org/publications
- Geoffrey York, "Support for female circumcision declining in Africa, study shows
," The Globe and Mail, 2010-NOV-18, at: http://www.theglobeandmail.com
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Copyright © 1998 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 1998-MAR-13
Last update: 2010-DEC-11
Author: B.A. Robinson