Moves to medicalize female mutilation could destroy ‘Stop FGM’ advocacy

Faiza Jama Mohamed – WNN SOAPBOX

A stop FGM – Female Genital Mutilation workshop organized for Maasai women by TNI – Tasaru Ntomonok Initiative. Awareness and education on FGM has been gaining in the region but a push by medical professionals to ‘sanitize’ the procedure may be a step in the wrong direction. Image: Equality Now Kenya

(WNN) Nairobi, KENYA: Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a severe form of discrimination against girls.  It is an extremely violent act of control and an utterly invasive and destructive assault of the female sexual organs.  It promotes the idea that there is something fundamentally wrong with girls, which needs to be changed.  It is often carried out for cultural or supposedly religious reasons, even though it is not referred to in any major religious text.  FGM is most prevalent in parts of Africa and the Middle East.  However, it is a global problem, which has already affected 100 – 140 million women and girls around the world.

One of the most worrying recent developments relating to FGM is the shift towards permitting it to be performed by medical professionals in a supposedly ‘safe’ environment.  We have recently been calling for urgent action in Indonesia, one of the first countries in the world to attempt to ‘legitimize’ FGM in this way.  As Indonesian girls are usually less than six weeks old when this is carried out, they have absolutely no say in this decision, which transforms their entire future.  We are also concerned about recent development in Malaysia, which could see something similar happening there.  The Malay Minister for Health is keen to formalize and legitimize the ‘medicalization’ of FGM, despite the fact that there is absolutely no benefit or necessity to do so.  This ignores both UN and WHO guidelines, which recognize it as a severe form of violence and child abuse against girls.

Meanwhile, in post-Mubarack Egypt, the new constitution may open the door to the ‘medicalization’ of FGM on the African continent.  In a recent publication, Dr. Mohamed Kandil from Egypt supports this development by suggesting that “the procedure [clitoridectomy] should be offered to parents who insist on it; otherwise, they will do it illegally”.  This completely disregards the Hippocratic Oath, which Dr. Kandil would have needed to take.  It also ignores the fact that one of the main reasons why the Egyptian ban on ‘medicalized’ FGM came into place in 2007 was the death of a twelve-year-old girl.  Any medical professionals who support FGM in any sense – and in any part of the world – should be removed from the official register.  We are also concerned to hear reports which imply that Egypt may not only be considering ‘medicalizing’ FGM, but also a full reversal of its national ban.

Equality Now has been working for over twenty years on eliminating all forms of violence and discrimination against women and girls.  One of our key areas of interest is bringing about lasting change, which prevents the next generation of girls from undergoing FGM.  The recent UN Worldwide Ban lends support to both legislative and educational efforts to eliminate it from all corners of the globe.  This also adds impact to our efforts at a grassroots level, where we work with local partners to fight for change on a daily basis.

We ask everyone to support our current campaign, which demands that Indonesia should end the government legitimization of FGM and restore its national ban immediately.  This – as well as any future moves to legitimize FGM in Malaysia or Egypt – ignores international guidelines and puts countless girls in harm’s way.  All attempts to ‘medicalize’ FGM are steps in the wrong direction, at a time when substantial progress is finally being made to eliminate this utterly unnecessary and destructive practice.


Faiza Jama Mohamed is the Nairobi Director of Equality Now. In 1998, she received the Hundred Heroines award for recognition of her activism in support of the human rights of women in Somalia. In 2008, she was awarded the Africa prize of the Hunger Project. She currently serves as a member of the African Union Women’s Committee, which advises the Chairperson of the Commission on women’s rights issues and is a member of the African Women’s Rights Observatory (ARWO) panel, which was launched in April 2007 by the Africa Center for Gender and Social Development of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). She also serves in the Oxfam International Pan Africa Advisory Group since January 2010 and is a Board member of the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network which she joined in 2010.


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