Female genital cutting an overview and a challenge
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Female Genital Cutting: An Overview and a Challenge. Monday, October 16, 2000. At the end of class today. Please hand your paper in to your TA: place in the box with his or her name on it Third paper topics will be distributed Wednesday Web-page is up-to-date. Three objectives today.

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Female Genital Cutting: An Overview and a Challenge

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Female genital cutting an overview and a challenge

Female Genital Cutting: An Overview and a Challenge

Monday, October 16, 2000


At the end of class today

At the end of class today...

  • Please hand your paper in to your TA: place in the box with his or her name on it

  • Third paper topics will be distributed Wednesday

  • Web-page is up-to-date


Three objectives today

Three objectives today

  • Introduce you to some basic facts about the practice of female genital cutting (FGC)

  • Get you to realize that it is hard to be a “neutral bystander”

  • Clarify why getting women’s point of view is so crucial


The numbers

The numbers

  • One of the most common bodily operations in the world

  • 132 million women today have undergone FGC

  • 2 million per year


Where the practice occurs

Where the practice occurs

  • Epicenter: Sudan (90%); Somalia (98%); Eritrea (95%), Egypt (97%)

  • Less extreme forms: Chad (60%), Ethiopia (85%); Kenya (50%); Senegal (20%); Nigeria (50%)

  • Indonesia & Malaysia

  • US and Canada: 25,000

  • France and England: 40,000


The continuum of fgc

The Continuum of FGC

  • Mild sunna (5%), in, for ex., Indonesia, Nigeria

  • Sunna (10%)

  • Excision (70%)

  • Infibulation (15%), in Sudan, Egypt, etc.


Who does it who undergoes it

Who does it, who undergoes it

  • Circumcisers (no anesthetic), biomedical doctors (anesthetic)

  • The strongest supporters: mothers

  • Age range:

    • 4-8 (becoming female)

    • 12-15 (becoming a woman)

    • 17-20 (getting married)

    • First pregnancy (becoming a mother)


The anti fgm movement

The anti-FGM movement

  • Starting during the UN Decade for Women (1975-1985),

  • the World Health Organization, UNICEF, etc. began to call

  • FGC a violation of universal human rights


Argument 1 fgc is torture

Argument 1: FGC is torture

  • FGC (without anesthetic) is extremely painful, sometimes associated with continued pain

  • Activists claim FGC violates 1984 UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CATCID):

    • “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person by or with the collusion of an agent of the government”


Argument 2 fgc violates children s rights

Argument 2: FGC violates children’s rights

  • Common for FGC to be applied to women under 18; testimonies of girls and young women

  • Activists have invoked the 1959 UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child: protect against “all forms of neglect, cruelty and exploitation”

  • Hillary Clinton in Beijing, China (1995)


Argument 3 fgc violates right to health

Argument 3: FGC violates right to health

  • Medium-run complications

    • 10% of excisions; 20-25% of infibulations associated with serious medical complications, esp. when performed under non-sterile conditions

    • Septocemia, tetanus, urinary tract and pelvic infections

  • reproductive complications

    • obstructed labor

    • excessive bleeding in childbirth

    • maternal and infant mortality

  • UN Working Group on Traditional Practices, 1986: Claims that FGC imposes unacceptable health risks


Argument 4 women s rights

Argument 4: Women’s Rights

  • FGC as violence against women:

    • Beijing document equates FGC with battering, rape, sexual abuse, forced prostitution

  • FGC as discrimination against women:

    • activist claim FGC intended to keep women subject to men

    • claim FGC violates 1981 UN Convention for the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women -- CEDAW)

  • Key issue: claim that FGC eliminates women’s sexual pleasure (Dareer’s study)


U s policy

U.S. Policy

  • Since 1995, State Department requires for Human Rights Report evidence of anti-FGC bans or legislation

  • Since 1996, Treasury dept. opposes loans to countries without programs to eradicate FGC (e.g., Burkina Faso)

  • Since 1996, INS recognizes flight from FGC as form of political persecution


The reaction by african women

The reaction by African women

  • Resentment of outside efforts to eradicate FGC: question of culture, not human rights

    • Elder in Uganda

    • Businesswoman from Sierra Leone

  • On-the-ground reality

    • Legislation nearly impossible to enforce

    • Education not stopping practice

    • New pro-FGC movements among young women


The need to learn about what fgc means to the women who support it

The need to learn about what FGC means to the women who support it

  • In light of such failures, need to learn: What does FGC mean to the women themselves?

  • From their point of view:

    • How do they interpret the pain?

    • Do they see it as child abuse?

    • Do they regard it as an “unacceptable health risk”?

    • Do they feel their sexual lives have suffered?

  • Need to assess what US gov’t is doing

    • Should US citizens try to reduce/eliminate FGC? If so, how?


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