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Doctors argue that a version of female genital mutilation should be legal

Campaigners have been fighting hard to eradicate the ritual of female genital mutilation (the process where the external genitalia of a girl is either removed partially or in total for non-medical reasons) but now two renowned gynaecologists have made an argument for the practice to be legalised. 

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According to The Metro, American gynaecologists Dr. Kavita Arora, of Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, and Dr. Allan Jacobs, of Stony Brook University in New York, made an argument in the Journal of Medical Ethics for minor genital mutilation procedures to be legalised, saying that doctors should be allowed to perform a limited version of the practice.

Dr. Arora and Dr. Jacobs suggest that “nicking” the female genitalia would offer a “compromise solution” and allow families to keep their customs, while at the same time offering a degree of protection to the girls via less invasive forms of cutting.

The procedure would entail the “removal of the clitoral hood or a ritual nick on the external female genitalia” which the authors of the study feel will not “reach the threshold of a human rights violation.”

They also believe that if “a small vulvar nick in infancy, forestalls subsequent vulvar infibulation done under dangerous conditions, we would consider this a worthwhile trade-off.” Adding that all procedures should be performed with “adequate analgesia,” the doctors argue that to ban the custom outright is “culturally insensitive and supremacist and discriminatory towards women.”

According to the UN, “Globally, it is estimated that at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone some form of FGM.” If current trends continue “15 million additional girls between ages 15 and 19 will be subjected to it by 2030.”

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Female genital mutilation is a custom practised in many African, Middle Eastern and Asian countries and these communities often consider the operation a prerequisite to marriage, CBC News reports. According to the doctors banning the ancient custom could be driving the practice underground.

“We are not arguing that any procedure on the female genitalia is desirable,” they said. “Rather, we only argue that certain procedures ought to be tolerated by liberal societies.”

The doctors also suggest that the name “female genital mutilation” should be replaced by “female genital alteration” to avoid “demonising important cultural practices.”

Arianne Shahvisi, from Brighton and Sussex Medical School’s Department of Ethics, is of the view that legalising minor mutilations would not have the effect Arora and Jacobs believe it will. According to Medical News Today, Shahvisi says that minor mutilations would not suffice to make a girl marriageable in cultures that practise FGM and most fathers would still perform the most extreme versions of the practice in order to make their daughters marriageable.

Shahvisi says in her commentary that “in Somalia, FGA ensures religious adherence; in Nigeria, the clitoris is believed to pose a threat in childbirth. Satisfying these reasons often requires complete clitoral excision or infibulation. Since obtaining these changes is the very reason for performing the practice, Dr. Arora and Jacobs’ suggested replacement procedure would miss the mark. [sic]”

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While as an outsider I do not have a full understanding of the cultural significance of female genital mutilation I can speak only as a woman with the facts in front of me, which suggest that, by all accounts, it is a violation of human rights. It is a brutal form of discrimination which exposes unconsenting girls and women to unnecessary pain (immediate and prolonged) and, in some instances, death with no medical reason for doing so.

Adwoa Kwateng-Kluvitse, head of global advocacy at the charity FORWARD (which campaigns against FGM in Africa and Europe) has claimed that “any form of FGM is a violation of a child’s rights,” CBC News reports.

“Why would you put a little girl through that? There should be no medicalization of FGM. They [the gynecologists] are completely behind the times,” Kwateng-Kluvitse said.

“This is very different to male circumcision. With male circumcision there is no intention to attenuate sexual desire, control sexuality or enforce chastity.”

To find out more about female genital mutilation, or obtain advice if you feel you or someone who you know may be at risk, you can visit the website or The Crown Prosecution Service.

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