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AFRO-NETS> International Day Against Female Genital Mutilation (21)

  • Subject: AFRO-NETS> International Day Against Female Genital Mutilation (21)
  • From: Sabrina Lee <forward@dircon.co.uk>
  • Date: Mon, 11 Dec 2000 09:31:41 -0500 (EST)

International Day Against Female Genital Mutilation (21)

This is a response from the Foundation for Women's Health Research
and Development, (FORWARD). FORWARD is one of the leading NGOs in the
UK that works to eliminate FGM and other gender based practices that
are harmful to the health and well being of African women and girls.

Firstly I should like to say that it is wonderful that FORWARD's re-
cent press release to mark the International Day Against FGM has
sparked such lively debate and has allowed a global discussion forum
on many issues surrounding FGM to emerge. There have been diverse and
controversial opinions, which have made many people, sit up and
think. It is indeed good to talk about these sensitive issues.

There are a number of comments I should like to respond to give FOR-
WARD's perspective. Firstly we do not agree that Female Genital Muti-
lation should be equated with male circumcision. Of course complica-
tions can arise from male circumcision. But the cutting of the labia
minora and the clitoris can be more readily linked to the cutting off
of the penis than just the foreskin. There are proven hygienic bene-
fits for male circumcision, but FGM has more adverse effects for
women both in terms of their reproductive health and their sexual

I would like to stress that our focus here is on FGM and we think
there are still a lot of critical issues, which have not been ad-
dressed, and we need to focus in this forum on women and not diffuse
the issue with the needs of men. Far too often women's issues have
been taken over by concerns of men and I think that on this occasion
the link is clearly an issue that is more detrimental to the health
and well-being of women.

One of the controversies, which have arisen from this ongoing debate,
is the medicalisation of the procedure. This is something, which
FORWARD strongly disagrees with. Although we understand that FGM per-
formed in a sterile environment with anaesthetic is preferable to us-
ing dirty knives and razor blades, this will only serve to perpetuate
the practice. The effects of FGM are not only physical but more im-
portantly the psychological implications are rarely studied. Recent
studies reveal that the latter may cause more harm for women and
girls and this does not exclude women who have had FGM done under
hospital conditions. We should realize that the practice of FGM often
is compounded by a lot of other issues like early marriage, taboos on
discussions on sexuality issues and a culture that encourages polyg-
amy. Young girls and women may be under more pressure to keep their

The World Health Organization has categorically stated that FGM "in
any form should not be practised by health professionals in any set-
ting - including hospitals or other health establishments".

FORWARD sensitises medical professionals to understand the complexi-
ties of FGM and the harmful health implications. We would rather
medical professionals used there influential status in the campaign
against FGM and not to condone the practice. In any case we should
note that in Africa our real health needs of women have not been ade-
quately addressed. Africa continues to have the highest maternal mor-
tality rate in the world. On average 1 in 16 pregnant women dies from
complications of giving birth. Do we want to divert resources to some
unnecessary procedure that does not benefit women in any way, except
to make them acceptable to men?

Lastly I would like to keep this lively debate going and to inform
the group about some of the political outcomes of the International
Day against Female Genital Mutilation. Firstly a motion has been put
before the European parliament on FGM calling for FGM to be treated
as a crime against personal integrity and to recognise that FGM could
be used as grounds for seeking asylum.

In addition I would like to hear your opinion on the proposal by Anna
Diamantopoulou the EU Greek Commissioner that the EU should "consider
making aid to recipient countries contingent on their commitment to
fight the practice of FGM via legislation and education". I ask you
how can the enforcement of such a policy be anything but harmful to
women and girls?

Naana Otoo-Oyortey
Chair of FORWARD

Help us Stop Female Genital Mutilation. Visit

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