Health professionals advocate complicity with FGM  

The Times reported today that according to a group of gynaecologists writing in the BMJ’s Journal of Medical Ethics, ‘milder forms of female genital mutilation should be tolerated to stop “demonisation” of important cultural practices.’ One of the gynaecologists, Dr Allan Jacobs, of Stony Brook University, New York, says “it’s time for “a compromise solution” given that 30 years of education has not substantially changed rates of FGM in regions where it is traditional.”

*Sigh*, where to start. It’s wearying that despite significantly vocal, consistent calls from women’s rights campaigners affected by this issue to recognise and address this form of abuse for what it is, health professionals still aren’t getting the message. I’m going to go ahead and give you my list of reasons as to why their approach is bullshit:


    FGM is not cultural practice – it’s abuse. FGM means literally cutting out parts of a child’s genitals. If this doesn’t fit in with a doctor’s understanding of abuse, to say that they are failing dramatically in their duty of care towards their patients is an understatement. And don’t let anyone fool you into thinking it’s mostly a minor ‘procedure’ (this normalising language is a further attempt to dismiss the severity of abuse. The authors of the journal article are also guilty of avoiding the word ‘mutilation’ at all cost, instead talking only of ‘alteration’). The most common types of FGM are defined by the UNFPA as follows:
    • Type I, also called clitoridectomy: Partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or the prepuce.
    • Type II, also called excision: Partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora.
  2. FGM is designed to control female sexuality in order to increase a woman’s value in the marriage market. These doctors clearly have no idea that this is the case, because if they did, they would understand that ‘milder’ forms of FGM (mild to whom??) wouldn’t suffice in the eyes of perpetrators.  Besides which, who gets to decide the defining difference between a ‘tolerable’ ‘nick in the vulvar skin’ and criminal violence? Can you imagine actually having this discussion in relation to domestic violence?
  3. FGM is not the same as male circumcision. To make the two even remotely comparable in the vast majority of cases, you would be talking about the tip of the penis itself being cut off with a rusty, sharp knife. Nope, definitely not the same. And quite frankly I’m sick of people who pretend to care about issues that affect men only when the discussion is focused on the abuse of women. It’s a tired tactic designed to shut women down and derail conversation.

But the crowning insult to those affected by FGM is Dr Jacobs’ assertion that some tolerance is needed because “30 years of education” hasn’t made a difference. Aside from the fact that real awareness of the issue has only recently come about in the last 7 years or so, the idea that medicalisation of mutilation is a viable solution is pretty disgusting. Coupled with the labelling of ‘cultural practice’, he might as well as say, “these brown folk do this kind of thing and we can’t stop them so we might as well just try and make it palatable where we can.”

Shaheen Hashmat

Shaheen Hashmat

Shaheen Hashmat is a Scottish Pakistani writer and campaigner, and the founder of Double Bind. Having escaped the threat of forced marriage 20 years ago when she was 12 years old, Shaheen now spends much of her time highlighting the long-term recovery needs of those affected by forced marriage and ‘honour’-related abuse, focusing specifically on the need for urgent improvement of mental health services. She occasionally writes for Telegraph Wonder Women and the New Statesman, and has also appeared on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, BBC Asian Network, Reuters, Stella Magazine and the Scottish Sunday Mail. She is also winner of the Iranian and Kurdish Women's Rights Organisation's 'True Honour' Award 2016. By promoting the voices of other women from a Muslim background, Shaheen hopes to play her part in addressing some of the most urgent issues concerning our generation today. You can follow her on Twitter @tartantantrum, and on her personal blog -

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2 Responses

  1. Avatar Garabet Tahmajian says:

    since it called “Private Parts” of a woman’s body,respect that part before discussing any other issue…
    this is PRIVATE
    no body has the right to talk, touch, or even take this matter out the way it is
    awareness has no time limit and expire date, or recycle
    FGM-P must stop, period
    I may go to the extreme and ask for the “Cutting” of the hands who practice this inhuman practice so that it would be a lesson to the others

  1. 21/03/2016

    […] Double Bind Magazine:  […]

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