Originally Published March 12, 2007
Female Genital Cutting, also sometimes called female circumcision, is a practice carried on in many countries in Africa and Indonesia, with varying prevalence.
FGC is generally decried as a human rights violation by western society and considered abuse. However, in our society, we often carry out circumcision on infant boys. Certainly, the most severe form, infibulation, where everything is cut away and a woman is sewn back up allowing only a pencil sized hole to remain for menstrual blood and urine to pass through is a lot worse and detrimental to a person’s health than the removal of the foreskin. However the first form of FGC, clitoridectomy, or splitting of the clitoral hood, is akin to male circumcision. The clitoridectomy is the removing of the female prepuce and male circumcision is removing the male prepuce. So, how are either different?
Part of the problem with FGC is it has been driven underground and is being performed by older women in the family on very young girls without anesthetic and sometimes with unclean tools. I’ve seen video clips of a FGC procedure and between the girl struggling to get away, being held down, the cries of pain and the blood, it makes me feel sick to watch.
Studies have shown that infant males also feel pain to circumcision and found a correlation between circumcision and the intensity of pain responses in vaccinations months later and recommended pain relief for infants during circumcision.
The question becomes why would parents do this to their children? The United Nations, in 1999, called to make a move from the original term of female genital mutilation to female genital cutting. No parents, from any culture, feel they are mutilating their child. In countries where FGC takes place, the person most often holding the girl down during the procedure is the girl’s mother, not out of spite or malice, but out of love. In that society, that is the norm and in the eyes of the culture, she is doing what’s best for her daughter.
Similarly, parents in the Western world of young boys circumcise their sons because they think its what’s best for them. There are various medical benefits from circumcision, ranging from lowered risk of a urinary tract infection, lowered risk of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases and it is easier for young boys to keep themselves clean.
However, the American Pediatrics Association has said despite these potential benefits, they are not sufficient enough to recommend the practice.
It is more that it has become our social norm to assume that infant males should be circumcised. Many parents may assume that circumcision is the right thing to do for their son.
But if a person believes that FGC is wrong, how is male circumcision any different? Of course, FGC like infibulation, can effect a woman for the rest of her life far more detrimentally than a circumcised man, but ultimately its still cutting a child’s genitals far before they are ever allowed a say in the matter.