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

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

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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

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

  • Sunna (10%)

  • Excision (70%)

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


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

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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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