Female Genital Mutilation
A general overview of FGM from the World Health Organization. It provides information on the types of procedures, who is at risk, causes (cultural, religious, social), consequences (immediate and long-term), and the response of the international community. The bias in this article is the result of it being written by the WHO. They provide the facts about FGM but make it clear that they do not agree with the practice, in part because they are "responsible for providing leadership on global health matters, shaping the health research agenda, and setting norms and standards."

Female Genital Cutting
This video opens with a reenactment (outsiders are forbidden from observing) of a traditional initiation ceremony in Sierra Leone. This deeply religious practice, which is still associated with magic (girls who bleed excessively or die are thought to be witches or possessed by demons), is a time of great celebration. By circumcising their girls, they believe that they are keeping them from being promiscuous. Unlike male circumcision, female circumcision aims to restrain sexual pleasure and desire, and for this reason, the UN and other organizations consider the practice a human rights violation. The reporter follows a woman native to Sierra Leone who has made it her mission to educate rural communities about the dangers of this unnecessary procedure. She offers free agricultural classes, on the condition that the women pledge to put down their knives. The class also has an aspect of literacy which the women can then use in their daily lives. Unfortunately, many of the women who do make the commitment to never circumcise again have been ostracized by their communities, but as one woman states, she doesn't care because she wants the practice to end. This video contains some bias, mainly because it is a British reporter who is documenting FGM for a Western audience.

Why It's Practiced

Female Genital Circumcision and Conventionalist Ethical Relativism
(Scroll to the section titled "Reasons for Female Genital Cutting.")
This site is an excerpt from chapter 15 of the novel "Globalizing Feminist Bioethics:Crosscultural Perspectives," by Rosemarie Tong, Gwen Anderson and Aida Santos. The subsection titled "Reasons for Female Genital Cutting" gives the five most common arguments for the practice: 1) religious requirement, 2) group identity, 3) cleanliness and health, 4) virginity, family honor, and morality, and 5) marriage goals, including greater sexual pleasure for men. There is a lot of bias in this article because the women who wrote it are feminists.

Female Genital Cutting
This article appeared in the October, 2008 issue of Chatelaine magazine and opens with a woman's recollection of her own circumcision in Sierra Leone. She explains that most girls felt proud to be circumcised, which is part of the reason why eradicating the practice has proven to be so difficult. It may have originated in patriarchal communities, but in many areas it is now the women who are calling the shots and defending the practice. Without it, women are seen as ugly, promiscuous, are shunned and are not likely to receive any offers of marriage. It is a purification ritual, a form of "female empowerment." In an effort to fight the practice, 10 UN agencies, including the Development Fund for Women and the WHO, came together to encourage communities to abandon FGM within one generation. These efforts have been moderately successful: It's now illegal to perform FGM in 15 African nations and in many Western countries, including Canada. The best results are seen when local women spearhead change in their own communities.

Where It's Practiced

SIERRA LEONE: Five Years Old and Learning to Circumcise Other Girls
In Sierra Leone, female circumcision is no longer just a part of initiation ceremonies, it has become one of the only ways in which many women can earn a living. As a result, girls are not only being circumcised at younger and younger ages, but are being trained to perform the procedures at ages as young as five. The group AIM was formed in Guinea at the time of Sierra Leone's civil war, and has since taken an active role in helping to end the practice of FGM. They travel to villages to talk to the people as well as offer the women alternative ways of earning money. They offer schooling to girls, adult literacy classes, soap making courses and access to microcredit and other income generating activities. This site is a service of the UN office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs, which means that it reflects the same biases towards the topic as the UN does.

KENYA: FGM Among the Maasai Community of Kenya
In the Maasai community of Kenya, the women who carry out FGM are firm believers in the virtues of the practice. They view it as a way of curbing a woman's sexual impulses because an uncircumcised woman will have sexual feelings for every man she comes across. It prevents the spread of HIV/AIDS and keeps a woman pure until her marriage. They now claim to use a new razor for each girl and wear gloves during the procedure, but beyond that, little has changed. To stop bleeding and accelerate healing, the wounds are coated with a paste made from cow dung and milk fat. Girls get sick and die, but it is never acknowledged to have been FGM related. Thanks in part to modernization and globalization, villages that would otherwise continue on with their own traditions are gaining access to education and healthcare which is slowly leading not only to more sanitary conditions, but to less severe cutting and the knowledge that it serves no medical purpose. Nomadic communities like the Maasai who move around central Kenya and northern Tanzania have clung steadfastly to their traditions and values and are not likely to change their ways any time soon.

MIDDLE EAST: FGM Still Largely an Unknown Quantity in Arab World
In the Arab world there is next-to-nothing being done to eradicate FGM because there isn't even a formal acknowledgment of the issue from country leaders. FGM is known to be practised throughout the Arabian peninsular, particularly in northern Saudi Arabia, as well as in southern Jordan and Iraq. There is also circumstantial evidence to suggest that FGM is present in Syria. Then, of course, there is Iran. The problem, as one senior UN official well acquainted with the Middle East told IRIN, is the attitude of the region's governments. There is no discussion of violence against women to begin with, let alone one about something like FGM.

ETHIOPIA: IRIN Interview With Sheikh Omer, a Muslim Religious Leader
A "Q and A" with a Muslim leader who claims that FGM is practiced because there is nothing in the Koran which forbids it, unless it is pharaonic (type 3, infibulation). Religious leaders are not in a position to ban it because it is not medically harmful in all of its forms, and even if it were, he would not ban it entirely. He explains that Sunnah circumcision, which involves cutting the clitoris moderately, is acceptable under Qur'anic precepts. Pharaonic circumcision however, is bloodshed, and Islam rejects shedding the blood of a woman or any creature. When asked if he thought FGM would ever be banned entirely, he replied that many, many talks have taken place on the issue, and since there was never a consensus, he did not believe that it would ever be banned.

SIERRA LEONE: Female Circumcision is a Vote Winner
To help her husband gain more votes during a political election, the wife of Sierra Leone's president sponsored the circumcisions of 1,500 girls. Even the woman who is now Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Women's Affairs, threatens to "sew up the mouths" of those who preach against FGM. It is a huge problem. But that hasn't stopped Olayinka Koso-Thomas, a gynaecologist in Sierra Leone, from campaigning against the practice for 30 years, ignoring death threats and angry protestors storming her clinic. She sees the consequences of the practice and goes from village to village to campaign and sensitize people to the hazards. It hasn't been a successful battle. In a country where FGM is so popular and valued, where it becomes a means of gaining votes, where women who almost bled to death refuse to condemn the practice, any action seems pointless. The women at the heart of issue who are a part of secret societies, hold all the power right now.

Stemming the Bloody Tide: Egypt Has Outlawed Female Genital Mutilation, but Actually Putting a Stop to it Will Take More Effort
One June 7, 2008, the Egyptian parliament outlawed FGM - an important step forward that wasn't even mentioned in the BBC news. Approximately 90% of women in Egypt have been circumcised. The Grand Mufti, Egypt's highest Islamic authority had already ruled FGM illegal and the only group protesting against the ban is the Muslim Brotherhood, claiming that "nothing in Islam forbids circumcision". Those caught performing the practice can receive three months to two years in prison or a fine of 1,000-5,000 Egyptian pounds ($200-$1,000 – a lot of money in Egypt). However, criminalizing it is not going to be enough. It needs to be accompanied by a health education campaign that incorporates religious leaders and the community that is organized on the grassroots level. This is a completely biased article because it is an opinion piece written for a Western audience.

Female Genital Mutilation - UK
Summer is the most dangerous time of the year for children because it is the longest break that they get from school. Families with girls as young as five travel back to their homelands where the girls are then circumcised, not in hospitals or medical centers, but in houses on the floor. A girl recalls laying on the floor as her mother argued with the circumciser about money; she had to pay extra for a new razor to be used. "There was blood everywhere," she says. Another woman explains that it is alright to cry and be scared, but it is viewed as a shameful thing to do. After the circumcision takes place, the girls legs are bound together so that she cannot take large steps. "Urinating was hell," the woman explains. She underwent infibulation, but the hole they left was so small that when her period started, nothing came out. She got seriously ill, and nobody knew what was wrong until she went in for an operation and they realized that she had been circumcised. As mad as she is about the whole situation, she doesn't blame her mother because it was a tradition that she believed in. She had never learned that it was not a religious requirement. What isn't a tradition though is the new trend that is starting of genital mutilations taking place in the UK. "Cutters" are flown in to England to circumcise girls in batches because it is cheaper than flying the whole family somewhere else.


Effects of FGM
A short article from the End FGM - European Campaign. It outlines the immediate (severe pain and bleeding, shock, difficulty in passing urine, infections, injury to nearby genital tissue and sometimes death) and long-term effects (chronic pain, chronic pelvic infections, development of cysts, abscesses and genital ulcers, excessive scar tissue formation, infection of the reproductive system, decreased sexual enjoyment and psychological consequences, such as PTSD) of FGM, as well as how the procedure impacts women and their babies during and after birth. The bias in this article is obvious, even without reading it; just look at the name of the site.

The Economic Impact of FGM - How Female Genital Mutilation Hurts Women and Society
Besides giving a general introduction to the subject of FGM in the Sudan, it also gives some short testimonies from women who have either been circumcised or who have chosen not to be, but it also includes a very short part at the end of how FGM affects countries economically. It states that women and girls are the backbone of the economy, especially in agrarian societies, and by forcing them to undergo procedures that have long-term side effects, are preventing women from fully participating and thereby negatively impacting the economy.

International Response

AFRICA: Holistic Approaches Key to Ending FGM/C - Study
There are many ways of approaching a topic like FGM, and as this article states, some are more effective than others. A study conducted by UNICEF has found that targeting a community as a whole is more affective than approaching individuals because there are so many complex social dynamics in play. An example of this is alternative rites of passage that focus on individual girls. Since the girls belong to a community, the practice has limited success because change needs to involve everyone, particularly the families of young, uncircumcised girls. Even rescue centers have proven to be ineffective because they don't treat the root cause of the problem. Practices that have proven to be most effective involve talking, education and patience. They also state the importance of government involvement and using respected members of the communities as intermediaries to discuss the issue in their own language.

The Century of What?
The author of this article is a Christian missions worker who records his experiences in India, Kenya and Tanzania among groups that practiced FGM. He was urged by the Holy Spirit to start fighting the oppression of women, and as time went on, he and other pastors at a conference with him felt moved to take on the issue of Female Genital Mutilation, despite having no idea how to broach such a sensitive issue. Throughout the article he shares his deeply personal experiences with God and his struggles to stand up for the rights of women.

Education and Awareness Make Progress Against Female Genital Cutting in Kenya
In Kenya, a reported 1/3 of women aged 15 to 49 have already undergone FGM, which is down 30% from an earlier study. UNICEF reports that this reduction has been largely due to increased education, female economic empowerment and the introduction of so-called ‘alternative rites of passage.’ FGM is still a huge problem though, with 99% of circumcised girls having undergone infibulation, the most severe practice. This article stresses the importance of education, government support and help from religious leaders.


Razor's Edge: The Controversy of Female Genital Mutilation
A 16 minute documentary worth watching if you have extra time. Warning: Disturbing and some graphic scenes.


The Issue

Female Genital Mutilation is not a widely known world issue, partially because it is often categorized under the larger issue of women's rights. FGM has been recognized as a world issue though by major organizations like the WHO, UNICEF, and the United Nations. It is an issue that meets the criteria we've outlined at the beginning of the World Issues course as well. It is global in extent and importance; It is practiced throughout Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, as well as in small areas in Central and South America. It is current, threatening (there is a long list of immediate and long-term risks which include death), has several different points of view and has proven to be extremely difficult to solve.


Unfortunately, there has been little to no change in the state of FGM worldwide, which is evident in the articles that I have chosen. It has been recognized as a major, and wholly unnecessary risk to women's lives, but because of the secrecy of many of the groups who practice it, and the religious and cultural nature of the issue, successfully eradicating it has proven to be a challenge. Various programs offered by groups like AIM and UNICEF have helped persuade some women to lay down their knives and some individuals to reject the practice, but most groups have rejected the notion that they need to make any changes at all.

The Sides

For: There are two main reasons why people choose to practice Female Genital Mutilation: cultural reasons and religious ones. FGM has taken place for thousands of years and is an important part of many cultures. It's a rite of passage that girls look forward to because it marks the beginning of their lives as women. It makes them "beautiful," keeps them pure until marriage and subdues their sex drive. It is also practiced as a religious requirement, though there is little explanation beyond that.

Against: Female Genital Mutilation, to the modern Western world, is a dangerous, barbaric act that demeans women and violates their rights. It serves no medical purpose and has a lengthy list of risks and complications. The procedure is performed in unsanitary conditions, sometimes with a razor that has been used on multiple girls. It is not a requirement for any religion, is a means of subjugating women and for pregnant women who have undergone infibulation, it not only puts them at risk but their baby as well.

Interconnected Web

Social: I have categorized Female Genital Mutilation as a social issue because it is a violent and wholly unnecessary act used only against women. In many cultures it is believed that if a woman is not circumcised, she will feel sexual inclinations towards all men and therefore be unable to keep herself from remaining faithful. So they cut off all external genitalia, carve out the clitoris and sew her up before (in some cultures) smearing the wounds in a manure paste and then tying her legs together. Then she is cut open again on her wedding night, forced to experience complications in childbirth because of thick and inflexible scar tissue and is sometimes re-sewn. This is nothing more than an attempt to subjugate women. I've also classified this as a social issue because of how community-oriented the practice is. It is a time of celebration and togetherness in communities. Women sing and dance and welcome the girl in as a woman. This is part of the reason why fighting this practice has been so difficult: the community has to be targeted, not just individuals.

Economic: The economic consequences of FGM are not immediate because the procedure takes place during childhood, but as they get older, the girls who have undergone the procedure can experience various health problems that can exist for the rest of their lives, which is where the problem lays. The healing time alone for a "successful" circumcision can take up to six weeks, and a girl may never fully recover if she was improperly cut or experienced infection. Though the circumcisions are not performed in hospitals or clinics, the complications that they experience later on do require formal health care. Chronic infections, cramping, or general pain are common problems and the ones that arise from infibulation are even greater. This not only puts an unnecessary strain on the medical system but also keeps women from working. Females have become an integral part of the modern workforce and play a key role in agrarian societies. By keeping nearly half of your workforce from performing at prime efficiency levels, you are hurting your country. Just look at where FGM is most prevalent: poor countries. This isn't exactly a direct consequence of FGM, but the result of female oppression in general. To a lesser extent, FGM also has economic connections because for many women, it is their only source of income. Women who were interviewed in some of the articles have admitted this. They don't like cutting girls, but they need the money to survive. If women were given more rights and given access to more education, then they would be able to do more to support their families.

Political: FGM has been perpetuated by the actions of governments on both sides of the issue. Some countries have outlawed the practice but it continues on because of inadequate enforcement while others not only support it, they've given people the means of practicing it. Then there are the countries where the issue isn't even acknowledged, so it carries on anyway. FGM has proven to be a tricky topic in politics. Countries that have supported it have come under heavy criticism from the Western world, and those who are against it don't receive the support of the people. In many Middle Eastern countries governments don't even acknowledge the issue. Others, like Egypt, have not only acknowledged the issue but have outlawed it altogether, but have done little to actually enforce it. It's just one huge mess and there is no easy solution. The most promising results have appeared when government groups have supported the groups and individuals who are trying to educate the people and give them alternatives to circumcision related initiations.

Step Five

My questions are posted under "Water Crisis."