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The Injustice of Female Genital Mutilation

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The horror of female genital mutilation is a global issue, and it is also one surprising foreign to Americans although an estimated ten thousand girls in the United States are currently at risk of this operation (Sarkis par. 1). This is a cultural practice that is both unethical and incredibly detrimental to its victims besides obviously being in direct violation of basic human rights. In order to attain a broader view of this issue the following will be examined: basic information about this practice, organizations fighting it, current news pertaining to it, recent academic articles evaluating it, and the question of how it can be stopped.

FGM has recently been receiving growing media attention due to the controversy surrounding it, but the newfound attention is also in hopes that widespread awareness will bring about change. Female genital mutilation, or FGM when abbreviated, is also known as female circumcision, but this practice is far more drastic than male circumcision and is actually more comparable to a surgery in males where the entire penis is removed (Sarkis par. 4). FGM is classified into three different categories based on the extent of the procedure, but it usually entails the removal or the clitoris and/or the adjacent labia. The third degree of FGM is so severe that the female must be cut open to engage in sexual intercourse from that point on (Sarkis par. 5). This surgery is commonly performed in unsanitary conditions with unclean sharp tools like razor blades, kitchen knives, scissors, and pieces of glass (Sarkis par. 6). Female children usually undergo this procedure at three years of age (Sarkis par. 10). Sarkis also states, "Besides the obvious initial pains of the operations, FGM has long-term physiological, sexual, and psychological effects" (par. 7). It is done for a number of reasons ranging from the prevention of marital infidelity to using it as a cultural rite of passage, but more numerous than the reasons behind it are the countries that partake in it. FGM is most common in Middle Eastern countries and throughout Africa (Sarkis par. 2). FGM is by no means a one-dimensional problem or something that can be recovered from. It is, most significantly, a life-altering procedure.

One of the major groups fighting FGM is The Female Genital Mutilation Education and Networking Project. It focuses primarily on the "knowledge is power" aspect, meaning that it concentrates more on educating the population of FGM in an effort to bring reform instead of direct actions. The website offers the basic information on FGM that is listed above, reference material, articles, information on both national and international legislation, links to various educational, medical, and legal resources, and recent news and case studies. It also offers advocacy groups and online discussion boards to create a community aspect in the organization.

In contrast, Equality Now, another major player in the war against FGM, is much more action-focused. It is also a group with a broader span than FGM. The organization is committed to the overall civil, political, economic, and social rights of females. Equality Now encourages both grassroots and mainstream efforts such as letter-writing, fax campaigns, video witnessing, media events, and public information activities. They also publish Awaken, a special newsletter of updates and feature articles about FGM for the purposes of both education and the centralizing of information.

Equality Now also played a major role the recent banning of female circumcision in Senegal, Africa. This banning was in response to a campaign manufactured by Senegalese women who were helped by Rana Badri, of New York-based Equality Now. Oddly, Equality Now did not set out to campaign for the banning of FGM, but rather it was an incredible side effect of literacy classes and grassroots level human-rights discussions. As the women became more aware of their rights, they formed Tofhan, which means breakthrough, a private Senegalese women's organization who the campaign is attributed to. This action is very significant because it not only shows that African women are resolved to end this horrible practice, but more importantly, that they have the power to make political change. In the article from the New York Times on this subject, Crossette states:

More than half a dozen African nations south of the Sahara have now instituted bans, which are enforced with fines and jail terms. The procedure is barred in Burkina Faso, the Central African Republic, Djibouti, Ghana, Guinea and Togo. Other countries, among them Uganda, discourage it. In North Africa, the Egyptian Supreme Court upheld a ban on the practice last year and also ruled that it had no place in Islam. In Senegal, President Abdou Diouf lent his support to the campaign, making legislative action easier (par. 9).

Although this is very encouraging news, many FGM procedures still take place in countries that have banned the operation, which is why it is especially important for local groups against FGM to gain international support.

As with any movement, it is also very important to get good information to the public, and in the Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, Kluge published a paper entitled," Female Genital Mutilation, Cultural Values and Ethics" that does that very thing by using basic ethics to prove FGM "ethically indefensible" (Kluge par. 1). To prove it medically unethical, Kluge states:

The situation is especially difficult for physicians [. . .] who are approached [. . .] to perform the procedures. Physicians who accede such requests reduce the danger of the medical complications [. . .] However, in doing so, they not only become party to the perpetuation of a practice that is inherently unethical, but also become direct agents of harm that has no medical justification (par. 9).

It is medically unethical to perform any procedure



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