Female Genital Mutilation Essay

1364 words - 5 pages

A quite different type of surgery required by some cultures is known variously as female circumcision, female genital surgery, or female genital mutilation (FGM). The custom involves removal of some or all of a woman's external genitalia. The practice has existed for thousands of years and approximately 85 to 114 million women in the world have been circumcised. The practice is prevalent in Africa and the Middle East, but has also been documented in Islamic Indonesia, South America, and Australia. It exists in more than forty countries, and the number is growing because of migration. European nations have had to come to grips with this custom, which was previously unknown within their national boundaries. While some countries have adopted new laws targeting the practice, others apply existing general laws. (Kathleen M. Sands, 2000).Anthropologists have explained the cultural justifications for the practice. Though religion (Islam) does not require the surgery, many cultural reasons are given for it. Among the reasons most often cited are(1) It guarantees the virginity of girls before marriage and chastity afterward;(2) It is a rite of passage, and without it a girl will be unable to marry; if unmarried, she will be ostracized;(3) If the clitoris touches the baby's forehead during the delivery, it will harm or kill the baby;(4) The clitoris would otherwise grow to the size of a penis. The crucial point is that the cultural logic dictates that the surgery be performed. Without it the uncircumcised girl will be a social outcast. (Erich Eichman, 1992)Feminists view women's support of the practice as a consequence of their having been victims of patriarchal systems and hence cite their attitude as an example of "false consciousness." But although many contend that this custom is the ultimate form of female oppression, women in many cultures favor its continuation. Educated women seem to be opposed to it, but some evidence indicates that even they succumb to social pressures to have the surgery performed. (UN Chronicle, 1999).It is important to point out, however, the growing number of critics of the practice within the countries where it is prevalent. Many governments have banned it, for instance, Sudan in 1945 and Kenya in 1982. There have also been consciousness-raising programs coordinated with the help of nongovernmental organizations and the United Nations. Even where the custom persists, it may be performed among the same people in certain areas and not in others. Though it remains widespread, there is growing opposition to it.The international strategy has been to condemn female circumcision as unhealthy. Indeed, it may be a classic example of a "traditional practice prejudicial to the health of [female] children." The manner in which the surgery has traditionally been performed has led to many severe health complications. One difficulty with the health critique, however, is that with the dissemination of Western medical techniques, the...

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