Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in
Africa, the Middle East & Far East
Why is it done? Terminology. Trends. Current status
Why it is Done?
The justification for the operation appears to be largely grounded in a desire to
terminate or reduce feelings of sexual arousal in women so that they will be much less
likely to engage in pre-marital intercourse or adultery. The clitoris holds a massive
number of nerve endings, and generates feelings of sexual arousal when stimulated.
Many parents in those cultures where FGM is common often feel that it is the only
way to guarantee that their girl children will remain "pure" until marriage.
This belief is so strong that it can overcome the dangers to the girls: some do
not survive the blood loss during the operation; others die from infection; most
suffer life-long complications.
Unmutilated women in countries where FGM is normally performed have difficulty
finding a marriage partner. Men typically prefer a mutilated wife because they are
considered more likely to be faithful. Other claims in support of FGM are:
|The clitoris is dangerous and must be removed for health reasons. Some believe that it
is a poisonous organ, that can cause a man to sicken or die if contacted by a man's penis.
Others believe that men can become impotent by contacting a clitoris, or that a baby will
be hydrocephalic (born with excess cranial fluid) if its head contacts the clitoris during
birth. Some believe that the milk of the mother will become poisonous if her clitoris
touches the baby during childbirth.|
|Bad genital odors can only be eliminated by removing the clitoris and labia minora.|
|FGM prevents vaginal cancer.|
|An unmodified clitoris can lead to masturbation or lesbianism.|
|FGM prevents nervousness from developing in girls and women.|
|FGM prevents the face from turning yellow.|
|FGM makes a woman's face more beautiful.|
|If FGM is not done, older men may not be able to match their wives' sex drive and may
have to resort to illegal stimulating drugs.|
|An intact clitoris generates sexual arousal in women which can cause neuroses if
These claims appear to have no support outside of countries where FGM is common.
The fear of AIDS has been used by both sides of this issue. Shiek Badri stated in
1997-JUN: "Those who are not circumcised get AIDS easily" But opponents
to the practice note that AIDS is spread by unhygienic practices normally
present during the
When the awareness of FGM became known widely outside of the countries where it is practiced, it was generally referred to as "female circumcision." This creates confusion with male circumcision, a practice currently growing in Africa as a partial preventative against HIV infection and AIDS. The term "female genital mutilation" and its acronym "FGM" started to be used in the 1970s. According to a UNICEF report on FGM:
"In 1990, this term was adopted at
the third conference of the Inter African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (IAC) in Addis Ababa. In 1991, WHO recommended that the United Nations adopt this terminology and subsequently, it has been widely
used in UN documents."
"The use of the word 'mutilation' reinforces the idea that this practice is a violation of girls’ and women’s human rights, and thereby helps promote
national and international advocacy towards its
abandonment. At the community level, however, the
term can be problematic. Local languages generally use the less judgmental 'cutting' to describe the practice; parents understandably resent the suggestion
that they are 'mutilating' their daughters. In this spirit, in 1999, the UN Special Rapporteur on Traditional
Practices called for tact and patience regarding
activities in this area and drew attention to the risk of 'demonizing' certain cultures, religions and communities. As a result, the term 'cutting' has increasingly
come to be used to avoid alienating communities." 1
2010: Support for female genital mutilation is in decline in Africa:
Geoffrey York of the Globe and Mail Newspaper in Toronto ON reported in 2010:
"Some experts thought it was so embedded in traditional culture that it would never change. But new evidence shows that African countries have made surprising progress in reducing the rate of female genital cutting, a controversial and often illegal practice that can cause lifelong injury and illness to girls and women."
"In countries such as Ethiopia and Kenya, female genital cutting has become less common in the past decade. And in other countries such as Sudan and Egypt, surveys are finding that the practice has declining support from ordinary people in many communities, thanks to intense educational campaigns."
"A new study ... by the UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, 2 explains how these educational campaigns have succeeded in weakening the popularity of a practice that is considered a violation of human rights and a severe health risk." 3
The study shows prevalence data from 2005 to 2008 in various countries: 91% prevalence of FGM in Egypt, 89% in Sudan, 74% in Ethiopia, 28% in Senegal and 27% in Kenya.
Support among girls and women aged 15 to 49, has dropped:
Egypt: From 82% in 1995 to 63% in 2008.
Sudan: From 79% in 1989/1990 to 51% in 2006.
Ethiopia: 60% in 2000 to 31% in 2005.
Kenya: 20% in 1998 to 9% in 2008/2009. 3
2013-JUL: UNICEF issued report: "Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: A statistical overview and exploration of the dynamics of change":
FGM/C is now the preferred acronym used by UNICEF to refer to "Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting." They report that:
"FGM/C is concentrated in a swath of countries from the Atlantic Coast to the Horn of Africa, with wide variations in the percentage of girls and women cut, both within and across countries.
The report lists 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East where mutilation is practiced. There are ten countries where this is practiced among 75% or more of the female population: Somalia where 98% of females are mutilated, to Guinea 96%, Djibouti 93%, Egypt 91%, Eritrea 89%, Mali 89%, Sierra Leone 88%, Sudan 88%, Gambia 76% and Bukina Faso 76%.
The UNICEF report:
- Estimates that 125 million girls and women alive today have experienced FGM/C in a group of 29 countries across Africa and the Middle East.
- Estimates that "as many as 30 million girls are at risk of being cut over the next decade if current trends continue."
- The practice is nearly universal in Somolia, Guiney, Djibouti and Egypt.
- It affects only about 1% of girls and women in Cameroon and Uganda.
- FGM/C is usually performed by traditional practitioners, sometimes in unhygienic conditions. In countries like Egypt, Kenya and Sudan it is being performed by medical providers.
- FGM/C is becoming less common in most of the 29 countries where it is widely performed. However, there has been little recent decline in Chad, Djibouti, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Senegal, Somolia, Sudan, and Yemen. 4,5
The religious connection:
The belief that FGM/C is only practiced among Muslims is still widespread. One convincing piece of evidence that the practice is independent of religion is found by comparing data from two countries.
Among girls and women:
- In Togo, 21% of Muslims have undergone FGM/C compared with only 1% of Christians.
- In Niger, only 2% of Muslims have undergone FGM/C compared with 55% of Christians.
Among other countries it is common for FGM/C to be practices at similar rates for persons of all religions:
- In Eritrea, about 98% of Muslim girls and women aged 15 to 49 years have undergone FGM/C; so have about 89% of Roman Catholics and 83% of Christians.
- In Egypt, about 93% of Muslim girls and women have undergone FGM/C; as have 74% of Christians.
- In Mali, about 89% of Muslim girls and women have undergone FGM/C; as have 84% of Christians
In Eritrea, Mali, Mauritania and Guinea, most girls and women aged 15 to 49 regard FGM/C as a religious requirement; most boys and men regard it as a religious requirement in Mauritania and Egypt. Wherever it is imposed on girls, it is often viewed as both a religious and cultural practice.
The 2013 UNICEF report states that:
"In Egypt, for example, the most authoritative condemnation of FGM/C in Islam to date is the 2007 fatwa (religious edict) issued by the Al-Azhar Supreme Council of Islamic Research, explaining that FGM/C has no basis in Sharia (Islamic law) or any of its partial provisions, and that it is a sinful action that should be avoided. Several regional and national fatwas have followed in the years since, with the original statement as their basis." 5
Many of the web sites referenced in the preparation of his essay have already
- "Changing a harmful social convention: Female Genital Mutilation/cutting," UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, Page 2, at: http://www.unicef-irc.org/publications This is a PDF file.
- "Changing a harmful social convention: Female Genital Mutilation/cutting," UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, at: http://www.unicef-irc.org/publications
- Geoffrey York, "Support for female circumcision declining in Africa, study shows
," The Globe and Mail, 2010-NOV-18, at: http://www.theglobeandmail.com
- "Female genital mutilation and cutting: the latest numbers," The Toronto Star, 2013-JUL-22, at: http://thestar.blogs.com/
- "Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting...," UNICEF, 2013-JUL, at: http://www.unicef.org
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Copyright © 1998 to 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 1998-MAR-13
Last update: 2013-AUG-17
Author: B.A. Robinson