What? How can there be counter-arguments? Isn’t the genital cutting performed on girls in Africa the very definition of barbaric?
Not according to a provocative set of articles just out from The Hastings Center, the bio-ethics think tank. They argue that Western media have mis-portrayed genital surgery as worse than it is in a variety of ways. From the press release:
Despite widespread condemnation of female genital surgeries as a form of mutilation and a violation of human rights, an international advisory group argues that the practice is poorly understood and unfairly characterized. In a public policy statement in the Hastings Center Report, the Public Policy Advisory Network on Female Genital Surgeries in Africa, a group that includes doctors, anthropologists, legal scholars, and feminists, argues that media coverage of the practice is hyperbolic and one sided, “painting the now familiar portrait of African female genital surgeries as savage, horrifying, harmful, misogynist, abusive, and socially unjust.”
The advisory network’s statement takes no position on whether the practice should continue. It aims to “move the coverage of the topic from an over-heated, ideologically charged, and one-sided story about ‘mutilation,’ morbidity, and patriarchal oppression to a real, evidence-based policy debate governed by the standards of critical reason and fact checking.”
…Female genital surgery – a neutral term used by the advisory network instead of other terms, such as female genital cutting and female circumcision – has been condemned as a violation of the human rights of girls and women by a wide range of experts and organizations, including the World Health Organization and the United Nations. In several African countries, including Egypt, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Somalia, more than 90 percent of women ages 15 to 49 have undergone such surgeries.
In its statement, the advisory network focuses mainly on two types of female genital surgery, which they state comprise 90 percent of procedures in Africa. These practices involve reducing the clitoral hood and tissue and reducing or eliminating the labia and the clitoris. A third type, referred to as infibulation or sealing, involves narrowing the vaginal opening with stitches or some other sealing method.
The authors put forth seven facts that they hope will change the scope of media coverage and lead to a better understanding of the cultural complexities underlying female genital cutting:
♠ Medical research has found that a high percentage of women who have had genital surgery “have rich sexual lives, including desire, arousal, orgasm, and satisfaction, and their frequency of sexual activity is not reduced.”
♠ Reproductive health and medical complications linked to female genital surgery happen infrequently.
♠ Those who value female genital surgery view it as aesthetic enhancement, not mutilation.
♠ In almost all societies where female genital surgery is performed, male genital surgery also takes place. Broadly speaking, then, such societies “are not singling out females as targets of punishment, sexual deprivation, or humiliation.”
♠ The link between patriarchy and female genital surgery is unfounded. Almost no patriarchal societies adhere to the practice and, at the same time, the practice is not customary in the world’s most sexually restrictive societies. Continue reading