In-Depth: Rep. Lois Frankel (D-FL) introduced this resolution on the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation in order to call for international efforts to end female genital mutilation (FGM) worldwide, recognize FGM as a human rights violation against women, and enhance global awareness of this practice:
“Every girl, no matter where she’s born, has a right to live free of violence. Today’s bipartisan resolution sends a clear message that these gross human rights violations are unacceptable and horrific practices like FGM/C must stop.”
Original cosponsor Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) adds:
“Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a horrendous practice and has absolutely no place in America - or any other place in this world. FGM is an unconscionable, systematic form of abuse and subjugation perpetuated against the youngest and most vulnerable among us. Now’s the time to stand up for the voiceless. I appreciate the work of my colleague Congresswoman Frankel on this joint resolution to condemn FGM and call for international action to prevent this atrocity now and in the future.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) opposes FGM/C as a practice:
“FGM is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. It is nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children. The practice also violates a person's rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death.”
Leyla Hussein, a London-based anti-FGM campaigner who was cut at seven years old, argues that FGM/C is a form of child abuse:
“We need to call FGM what it is – the worst form of violence against girls and women – rather than let it hide under a cultural banner. It is child abuse, and we need it named as such because language is the most powerful way to fight it.”
Critics of anti-FGM policies argue that the practices has parallels with ritual circumcision of baby boys in children. Thus, they believe it’s inconsistent, if not hypocritical, that one practice is banned while the other is allowed. In adults, they argue that FGM has parallels with cosmetic surgery, and should be allowed in the same way as cosmetic surgery is.
Dr. Ali Selim, a member of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland, argues that female circumcision is “an inherited practice” that parents should be allowed to have carried out on their daughters if a doctor says it’s necessary. He also contends that female circumcision has been covered unfairly in the media, who have “described in a horrible way, it's always described as 'barbaric' and we always hear the term mutilation, it is portrayed as a dark skin practice, or something that belongs in the Dark Ages.”
Bettina Shell-Duncan, an anthropology professor at the University of Washington who has been studying FGM/C in many countries for years, challenges some common misconceptions around FGM/C. In Shell-Duncan’s experience, elderly women — not men — do the most to perpetuate FGM/C as a practice. Additionally, contrary to many advocates’ beliefs, most people who practice FGM/C recognize its costs; they merely believe that the benefits outweigh them. In an interview with The Atlantic in 2015, Shell-Duncan described a bride’s joy after being circumcised the evening before her wedding: “The bride came out and joined the dancing. I almost died. I thought she must be on codeine, but she wasn’t. She was joyful.” She also pointed out that the traditional feminist argument against FGM/C is potentially undermined by the fact that women are stronger supporters of FGM/C than men:
“The sort of feminist argument about this is that it’s about the control of women but also of their sexuality and sexual pleasure. But when you talk to people on the ground, you also hear people talking about the idea that it’s women’s business. As in, it’s for women to decide this. If we look at the data across Africa, the support for the practice is stronger among women than among men. So, the patriarchy argument is just not a simple one. Female circumcision is part of demarcating insider and outsider status. Are you part of this group of elder women who have power in their society?"
This resolution passed the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations by voice vote with the support of 28 bipartisan cosponsors, including 21 Democrats and seven Republicans.
Of Note: Female genital mutiliation or cutting (FGM/C) — the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia for non-medical reasons — is a deeply rooted cultural practice, impacting over 200 million women worldwide. It’s routinely performed on girls from infancy to age 15 in over 25 countries. It’s been documented in certain parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East, with cases now being reported in the U.S. and Europe. FGM/C is classified into four major types, ranging from pricking and scraping to total removal of the clitoris and the narrowing of the vaginal opening. The World Health Organization (WHO) says FGM/C has no health benefit and numerous physical consequences, including: difficulty urinating and menstruating, severe bleeding, scarring, myriad sexual problems, increased risk of childbirth complications, shock, and even death.
According to UNICEF data, 67% of girls and women and 63% of boys and men say they want the practice of genital mutilation to end. Francesca Moneti, UNICEF Senior Child Protection Specialist, says:
“Although female genital mutilation is associated with gender discrimination, our findings show that the majority of boys and men are actually against it. Unfortunately, individuals’ desire to end FGM is often hidden, and many women and men still believe the practice is needed in order for them to be accepted in their communities.”
In 2015, as part of the Sustainable Development Goals, 193 countries called for an end to FGM by 2030. Since 2008, five countries — Guinea Bissau, Kenya, Uganda and the Gambia — have passed laws criminalizing FGM/C. In total, over 15,000 communities in 20 countries have publicly declared that they’re abandoning FGM/C as a practice.
From 1996 to 2018, the U.S. had a federal law banning FGM. However, in late 2018, a federal judge in Michigan concluded that FGM/C is local criminal activity to be regulated by the states. Thus, he ruled that Congress “overstepped its bounds” when it passed that law and therefore declared the federal law unconstitutional. As of late 2018, 27 U.S. states had laws outlawing FGM/C.
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / fermate)