Female Genital Mutilation

Essay by drzewietUniversity, Bachelor'sA+, January 2007

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A quite different type of surgery required by some cultures is known variously as female circumcision, female genital surgery, or female genital mutilation (FGM). The custom involves removal of some or all of a woman's external genitalia. The practice has existed for thousands of years and approximately 85 to 114 million women in the world have been circumcised. The practice is prevalent in Africa and the Middle East, but has also been documented in Islamic Indonesia, South America, and Australia. It exists in more than forty countries, and the number is growing because of migration. European nations have had to come to grips with this custom, which was previously unknown within their national boundaries. While some countries have adopted new laws targeting the practice, others apply existing general laws. (Kathleen M. Sands, 2000).

Anthropologists have explained the cultural justifications for the practice. Though religion (Islam) does not require the surgery, many cultural reasons are given for it.

Among the reasons most often cited are

(1) It guarantees the virginity of girls before marriage and chastity afterward;

(2) It is a rite of passage, and without it a girl will be unable to marry; if unmarried, she will be ostracized;

(3) If the clitoris touches the baby's forehead during the delivery, it will harm or kill the baby;

(4) The clitoris would otherwise grow to the size of a penis. The crucial point is that the cultural logic dictates that the surgery be performed. Without it the uncircumcised girl will be a social outcast. (Erich Eichman, 1992)

Feminists view women's support of the practice as a consequence of their having been victims of patriarchal systems and hence cite their attitude as an example of "false consciousness." But although many contend that this custom is the ultimate form of female oppression, women...