Female Genital Cutting (FGC) is a practice that completely or partially removes the external female genitalia. FGC has been reported in various cultures and countries across the world, but according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), almost ½ of all incidents occur in Egypt or Ethiopia. In communities that practice FGC—some Islamic– many proponents believe that FGC is sanctioned by the Quran (also spelled Koran; Islamic religious text); in fact, no religion, including Islam, is associated with FGC (HHS Office on Women’s Health). Debates continue as many do not understand that formal religious endorsement of FGC has never occurred.
Tradition and superstitions, such as cleanliness and family honor, contribute to the continuation of the practice. For communities that practice the tradition, fears drive families to participate: if a girl is not cut, she will be viewed as an outsider to a community and runs the risk of being unwed. Intervention strategies target men to abandon FGC as a norm, focusing on patriarchal belief systems and the subordination of women.
Although some groups point to the issue of cultural competence, human rights groups and the World Health Organization (WHO) argue that the health risks of FGC outweigh this. Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) (created by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948) states that every person has the right to health, well-being, and security. Although critics have argued that the UDHR is framed in a Western lens, the document guides issues that compromise the safety and health of humans, especially if inflicted by another being. According to the World Health Organization, health problems related to FGC include: bleeding; hemorrhaging; increased risk of Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) and HIV infection; infection of the genitals and urethra; painful scarring and menstruation; trauma and emotional distress; infertility; and problems during labor/pregnancy (http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs241/en/).
Other strategies to decrease the incidence of FGC are seen in the below PBS documentary as well as in a New York Times focus. Grassroots social mobilization agents teach the community about the harms of female genital mutilation by moving this taboo topic out into public discourse. Their efforts are based on the belief that “before abandonment, comes communication and awareness.”
For more information on Female Genital Cutting, please visit the WHO’s website: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs241/en/. The New York Times video report is available at: http://video.nytimes.com/video/2011/10/16/world/africa/100000001115488/the-fight-against-female-genital-cutting.html