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?