Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (GM/C) in
Africa, the Middle East & Asia.
A cultural, not a religious,
Forms of GM/C. Where it is done.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (GM/C) is a destructive, invasive procedure that is usually
performed on girls before puberty. As a minimum, part or all of each girl's clitoris or the clitoral hood is surgically removed. This
leaves them with reduced or no sexual feeling. Orgasms are sometimes impossible to
experience later in life. Many health problems result from the surgery.
GM/C originated in Africa. It was, and remains, a long-standing cultural practice. However, where it is practiced, it is often reinforced by local religious leaders.
Among individuals and groups opposed to the cutting, FM/C is seen as a method of
reducing the sexual response of women in order to make them less likely to become sexually
active before marriage or to seek extra-marital affairs after marriage.
To some who promote the operation, it is seen as a cultural requirement that has health
benefits and makes women more physically beautiful. These views are not shared by medical experts or in the rest
of the world.
The operation is forced on approximately 6,000 girls per day, worldwide -- about one
every 15 seconds. GM/C is often practiced when the girls are young, when they are incapable of giving
their informed consent.
GM/C is a cultural, not a religious, practice:
This procedure is often mainly associated with the religion of Islam. This is incorrect. GM/C is primarily a social practice, not a
religious one. GMC/C long predated Islam. It originated in Africa and
remains today a mainly African cultural practice. Some indicators of this are:
||It is widely practiced in countries where the predominant religion is Christianity:
Examples are Ethiopia and Kenya.
In multi-faith countries, it is often forced on girls whose families follow all
faiths: Animist (Aboriginal) religions, Christianity, and Islam. For example, it is frequently
practiced among both Muslims, Christians, and Animists in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sierra Leone, and Sudan.
GM/C was once practiced
by Ethiopian Jews (a.k.a. Beta Israel; formerly known by the
derogatory term "Falashas"). 2, 3, 4.5 This
practiced was apparently discontinued some time ago. A pediatrician
who works in the Beta Israel community claims that they no do not
practice GM/C. 6
||GM/C has spread to countries in or near Africa (e.g. Egypt) which are Muslim. But GM/C is
rare or nonexistent in many other Muslim countries. Examples are Iran, Jordan, Lebanon,
Syria, and Turkey. Also, It is also rarely performed in the Maghreb countries of Northwest Africa.
GM/C is only occasionally found in most predominately Muslim countries in
Asia. However it is becoming more common in Indonesia due to lack of government will to discontinue the practice, and due to strong support for the practice among some Muslim groups. More details.
In some countries where GM/C is practiced, there can be:
"... a strong perception that the practice of GM/C is required by Islam. The engagement of religious leaders in public discussion has proven to be an essential element in raising awareness of this practice, disassociating it from religious considerations and creating an enabling environment for change. The sub-regional conference on GM/C, hosted by the Government of Djibouti [in North-East Africa] in February 2005, was notable for the two-day debate among religious leaders from Djibouti and neighboring countries on the theological dimensions of GM/C. Following an important debate, the outcome document, the Djibouti Declaration, asserts that claims that the Koran requires GM/C are baseless and reaffirms that all types of GM/C are contrary to the religious precepts of Islam." 7
One of the motivations for this essay is the misperception by many people that the
practice is a religious one found mainly in countries with a high percentage of Islamic believers. That belief has contributed to unjustified religious intolerance directed
What the GM/C procedure involves:
Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting (GM/C) is practiced in many forms. In order of
increasing severity, they are:
Type 1: Sunna mutilation in which the prepuce (the clitoral
covering or hood) is removed, along with part or all of the clitoris. This is called
Clitoridectomy, Sunna, meaning removal of the clitoris in the
tradition of the Prophet Mohammed. It is called "Sunna Kashfa" (Open
Sunna) in Sudan. This is found most commonly in West African countries like
Burkina Faso, Mali, Nigeria, and Senegal.
Type 2: Excision: The entire clitoris and prepuce are
removed, along with all or part of the
labia minora. This is called "Sunna Magatia" (Closed Sunna) in Sudan. It is most
commonly found in Burkina Faso and Sudan.
Type 3: Infibulation (a.k.a. Pharaonic or Sudanese mutilation.
This involves removal of the clitoris and prepuce, followed by sewing up of the
vulva. A small opening is left to allow urine and menstrual blood to pass. 8 A second operation is done later in life to reverse some of the
damage. In some cultures, the woman is cut open by her husband on their wedding night with
a double edged dagger. In order to prevent infidelity, she may be sewn up again if her husband leaves on a long trip.
It is most
commonly practiced in Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Mali,
Somalia and Sudan. 9
There are also various other practices, including stretching of the clitoris
and/or labia, burning of the clitoris and adjacent tissues by cauterization,
scraping of the vaginal orifice, cutting the vagina, placing corrosive
substances or herbs in the vaginal in order to tighten it, etc.
Because of poverty and lack of medical facilities, the procedure is
frequently done under less than hygienic conditions -- often by non-medically
trained personnel, and usually without anesthesia. Razor blades, knives or
scissors are typically the instruments used.
In the rural Mossi areas of Burkina Faso, group GM/C operations are
scheduled every three years in many villages. Girls aged from 5 to 8 are assembled by
their mothers into groups of up to 20. The cutting:
"...uses a knife-like
instrument, the barga, reserved specifically for this purpose; after each operation she
simply wipes the knife on a piece of cloth, sometimes rinsing it in water first."
In some areas of Africa, GM/C is delayed until two
months before a woman gives birth. This practice is based on the belief that the
baby will die if she/he comes into contact with their mother's clitoris during
birth. We are unaware of any medical evidence to support this belief. If it did happen, then infant mortality would be very common in developed countries. In other
areas, GM/C is performed on infants before their first birthday, or much later during adolescence.
Side effects of the operation can include: intense pain, hemorrhage, shock, painful scars, keloid
formation, labial adherences, clitoral cysts, chronic urinary infection, and chronic
pelvic infections. Later in life, it can cause kidney stones, sterility, sexual
dysfunction, depression, and various gynecological and obstetric problems.
Where is it practiced?
Unfortunately, few statistical studies have been made; only rough estimates are
available of the frequency with which GM/C is performed in some countries. One source 1 estimates that 90% or more of the
girls in Djibouti, Ethiopia and Eritrea, Sierra Leone, Somalia, and Sudan (North) have
been cut. The same source indicates that most girls in Benin, Burkina
Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d'Ivoire, Egypt, The Gambia, Guinea, Guinea
Bissau, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria and Togo have undergone GM/C.
Education and Networking Project maintains a
regularly updated list of
countries, population groups, and the types of operation performed. There are over 30
million genitally cut women currently living in Nigeria, and about 24 million in Ethiopia and
Eritrea. Various groups estimate that from 114 to 130 million women alive today worldwide have been cut. GM/C is outlawed in some countries where it had been once widely practiced, such
as Kenya and Senegal. It is criminalized in some western countries, where it is normally
practiced only by a small number of recent immigrants.
During 2013, UNICEF documented their estimates of GM/C prevalence in 29 countries in Africa in the Middle East:
The procedure has been banned in several African nations, including Burkina Faso,
Djibouti, the Central African Republic, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Senegal, and Togo. 12
It is also practiced in Western India and in some other Asian countries.
Dawoodi Bohra is a sub sect of Shia Islam. The group originated in Yemen during the 11th century and migrated to India in the 1500s. They are estimated to total 1.5 to two million in number, and live mainly in Gujarat and Maharashtra states on the west coast of India, as well as in Pakistan.Their term for GM/C is "khatna." Some members of the community who are opposed of GM/C have formed "Sahiyo," an organization to study the practice and reduce its prevalence. The group's name means "Friends." Their community survey was released in 2017-FEB. It sampled 385 Bohra women around the world and found that 80% of them have undergone GM/C. Of the 18 women in Canada who took part in the survey, two said that they were mutilated while in Canada! (Canada added the practice to the "aggravated assult" category in its Criminal Code two decades ago.) 14
With refugees and immigration becoming common from countries where GM/C is practiced, the procedure is spreading to Europe, North America, and elsewhere.
Many of the web sites referenced in the preparation of his essay have already
Sami A. ALDEEB ABU-SAHLIEH, "To Mutilate in the Name of Jehovah or Allah:
Legitimization of Male and Female Circumcision" Available on line at: http://www.hollyfeld.org/
- Research, Action and Information Network for Bodily Integrity of Women (RAINBO)
specializes in programs to eliminate GM/C. They list many books and reports for sale at low
prices. They also loan videos. See: http://www.rainbo.org/
Sami A. Aldeeb Abu-Sahleih, "To Mutilate in the Name of Jehovah or
Allah," at: http://almashriq.hiof.no/
Wolf Leslau, "Coutumes et croyances des Falachas (Juifs d'Abyssinie),"
Institut d'Ethnographie, Paris, (1957), Page 93.
"FGM: Religion," Amnesty International, at: http://www.amnesty.org/
- Private Email, received 2000-DEC-30.
"Changing a harmful social convention: Female Genital Mutilation/cutting," UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, Page 31, at: http://www.unicef-irc.org/ This is a PDF file.
The Female Genital Mutilation Research Homepage contained a complete review of
GM/C. The web site appears to have been abandoned.
Sophie Poldermans, "Combating Female Genital Mutilation in Europe," Page 50,
at: www.stopfgm.net/ This is a PDF file.
B. Taverne, "Ethics and communication strategy: female circumcision and AIDS in
Burkina Faso", (1996). On line at: http://melusine.mpl.orstom.fr/ Also offline.
Image modified from UNICEF's original by Johnuniq. It was downloaded from Wikipedia. [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons See: https://commons.wikimedia.org/
"28 on trial in France for female genital mutilation,"
Harinder Baweja, "India's Dark Secret," Hindustan Times, undated, at: http://www.hindustantimes.com/static/
"Women in Ismaili Muslim sect say they have had FGM in Canada," The Toronto Star, 2017-AUG-21, at: https://www.thestar.com/
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Copyright © 1998 to 2017 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 1998-MAR-13
Last update: 2017-AUG-21
Author: B.A. Robinson