Article: Female genital cutting

Female genital cutting (FGC) refers to amputation of any part of the female genitalia for cultural rather than medical reasons, not including genital modification of intersexuals or gender reassignment surgery.

Most Human rights organizations in the West, Africa, and Asia consider female genital cutting rituals a violation of women's human rights. Among these groups and governments, they are regarded as unacceptable and illegal forms of body modification and mutilation of those believed to be too young or otherwise unable to give informed consent.

Although occasionally practiced by some doctors in the United States until 1958, in recent years it has been common only in parts of Africa and by minority groups in some countries of the Middle East. Less frequently, it occurs among some immigrant communities in parts of Asia and the Pacific, North and Latin America, and Europe.

Opponents of these practices use the term female genital mutilation (FGM). The term female circumcision is also in common usage, though advocates of male circumcision argue that this results in unwanted associations between the two practices, while genital integrity advocates might refer to all child genital cutting as mutilation. It also should be noted that the term encompasses a wide variety of practices some of which are frequently equated directly with male circumcision, others which involve a far greater level of cutting or mutilation and others yet which involve no real cutting or mutilation.

Different forms

There are several distinct practices that are all generally referred to by this name. In particular, while female genital cutting is generally thought of in the West as involving the complete destruction of the female sexual organs in an effort to eliminate the female's sexual pleasure, in some forms female circumcision is claimed to be analogous to male circumcision, in that both procedures can involve the forced removal of the prepuce and the frenulum.

In other cases, the procedure has no tissue removal at all, but is simulated with a knife as part of a ceremony, or with a symbolic drop of blood released with a needle. Those that involve tissue removal are usually divided into three major types.


"Clitoridotomy" (which is also called "hoodectomy" as a slang term) involves the removal or splitting of the clitoral hood. The United Nations Population Fund states that this is comparable to male circumcision.[1] In the United States and other Western countries, clitoridotomy is usually performed on adult women rather than on children. It is also known as Sunna circumcision (named after the Arabic word for anything approved by Islamic law and centred in Islamic tradition). However some Muslim clergy oppose all forms of FGC. [2]

Sami A. Aldeeb Abu-Sahlieh, author of 'To Mutilate in the Name of Jehovah or Allah: Legitimization of Male and Female Circumcision' states that: "The most often mentioned narration reports a debate between Prophet Mohammed and Um Habibah (or Um 'Atiyyah). This woman, known as an exciser of female slaves, was one of a group of women who had immigrated with Mohammed. Having seen her, Prophet Mohammed asked her if she kept practicing her profession. She answered affirmatively adding: 'unless it is forbidden and you order me to stop doing it'. Prophet Mohammed replied: 'Yes, it is allowed. Come closer so I can teach you: if you cut, do not overdo it (la tanhaki), because it brings more radiance to the face (ashraq) and it is more pleasant (ahza) for the husband'. According to others, he said: 'Cut slightly and do not overdo it (ashimmi wa-la tanhaki), because it is more pleasant (ahza) for the woman and better (ahab, from other sources abha) for the husband'."

Type I circumcision is defined by the World Health Organisation as clitoridotomy and perhaps excision of part or all of the clitoris (clitoridectomy; see following section). However, some authors (e.g.., Cohen) define type I as at least partial removal of the clitoris.

From the late 19th century until the 1950s, it and other more invasive procedures, including excision of the clitoris and infibulation were practiced in Western countries to control female sexuality, and were advocated in the United States by groups like the Orificial Surgery Society until 1925. Doctors advocating or performing these procedures claimed that girls of all ages would otherwise engage in more masturbation and be "polluted" by the activity, which was referred to as "self-abuse" [3].

Through the 1950s, some doctors continued to advocate clitoridotomy for hygienic reasons or to reduce masturbation. For example, C.F. McDonald wrote in a 1958 paper titled Circumcision of the Female [4],[5], "If the male needs circumcision for cleanliness and hygiene, why not the female? I have operated on perhaps 40 patients who needed this attention." The author describes symptoms as "irritation, scratching, irritability, masturbation, frequency and urgency," and in adults, smegmaliths causing "dyspareunia and frigidity." The author then reported that a two-year old was no longer masturbating so frequently after the procedure. Of adult women, the author stated that "for the first time in their lives, sex ambition became normally satisfied." In the U.S., the last documented clitoridotomy to reduce sexual activity occurred in 1958. The procedure was performed on a 5-year-old girl, reportedly to stop her from masturbating. Justification of the procedure on hygienic grounds, or to reduce masturbation, has since declined. The view that masturbation is a cause of mental and physical illness has dissipated since the mid-20th century [6].

A few doctors and others advocate clitoridotomy of adults, promoting it as a way of increasing sexual sensitivity and sexual pleasure. One claim is that a large clitoral hood may make stimulation of the clitoris difficult. Websites promoting the practice Circlist, bmezine and The Clitoral Hood Removal Information Page contain testimonials and two of them provide summaries of medical studies, including several finding that the majority of women reported improved sensation following the procedure (for example, 87.5% in Rathmann's 1959 study, and 75% in Knowles', as quoted in the summary of studies mentioned previously). However, this improved sensation does not last as the clitoris grows hard and less sensitive, much like when a male is circumcised.


Clitoridectomy means the partial or total removal of the external part of the clitoris. It was sometimes practiced in English-speaking nations well after the first half of the Twentieth Century, ostensibly to stop masturbation. [7]. Blue Cross Blue Shield paid for clitoridectomies in the U.S.A. until 1977 [8]. Clitoridectomy is still being practiced in isolated instances. It is, however, quite common in many countries of sub-Saharan Africa, east-Africa, Egypt, Sudan, and the Arabian Peninsula.

Type II circumcision is more extensive than type I, meaning clitoridectomy and sometimes also removal of the labia minora.

(There are reports that some women in certain "alternative lifestyles" communities in the United States have sought clitoridectomy because they are intrigued by the drama of the sacrifice involved with having their sensitive clitoris removed, while others seek the procedure in the hope that the pleasure in their buttocks and anal region will be greatly enhanced if the distraction of genital sensation is eliminated.)[citation needed]

Neurectomy, or severing of the pubic nerve to permanently numb the genitals and approximate the effect of a clitoridectomy was performed on institutionalized girls and women around the turn of the 20th Century in America and Australia, and electrical cauterization of the clitoris was reported to have been occasionally performed on mental patients in the USA to stop them from masturbating as recently as 1950.

The kind of things that sometimes happened to girls and women were documented in Alex Comfort's book, "The Anxiety Makers", Panther Edition, London, 1968:

About 1858, Dr Isaac Baker Brown, later president of the Medical Society of London, introduced the operation of clitoridectomy for the consequences of what he coyly calls 'peripheral excitement'. These, in his view, included epilepsy, hysteria and the convulsive disorders generally (page 109). In 1866 Brown published a series of 48 of such cases. This caused what Comfort called an 'almighty row'. Dr Baker Brown was ejected from the Obstetrical Society. Comfort says (page 111) that 'clitoridectomy fortunately disappeared from England'. However, it was taken up in the United States:
In 1894, we find Dr. Eyer of the St. John's Hospital, Ohio, dealing with nervousness and masturbation in a little girl by cauterizing the clitoris; this failing, a surgeon was called in to bury it with silver wire sutures - which the child tore and resumed the habit. The entire organ was then excised, with the crura. Six weeks after the operation the patient is reported as saying, 'You know there is nothing there now, so I could do nothing.' (Comfort, ibid, page 111)

Comfort says that this concern about masturbation 'did not really die out completely until the 1940s with the statistical studies of Kinsey' (Comfort, ibid, page 119)


The form of female circumcision regarded as the most severe is Type III, which is also referred to as infibulation or pharaonic circumcision. This is often carried out by a "gedda," or matron of the village, without anaesthetic, on girls between the ages of two and six.

Infibulation replaces the vulva with a wall of flesh from the pubis to the anus, except for a pencil-size opening at the inferior portion of the vulva to allow urine and menstrual blood to pass through. A reverse infibulation is where the opening is left in the anterior part of the vulva in front of the uretha. After excision, the labia are sewn together, and since the skin is abraded and raw after being cut, the two surfaces will join via the natural healing and scar-formation process to form a smooth surface. The girl's legs are tied together for around two weeks to prevent her from moving the wound. [9]

Infibulated vagina just after operation. When healed, this will be a smooth hood of skin with a small opening for waste. Legend: A) Labia majora. B) Labia minora. C) Clitoris.

The sewn-together labia majora are slightly opened before sexual intercourse by the girl's husband — girls will often be married at 12–16 years old — or by his female relatives, whose responsibility it is to inspect the wound every few weeks and open it some more if necessary.

During childbirth, the enlargement is too small to allow vaginal delivery, and so the infibulation must be opened completely and restored after delivery. Once again, the legs are tied together to allow the wound to heal, and the procedure is repeated for each subsequent act of intercourse or childbirth. When childbirth takes place in a hospital, the surgeons may preserve the infibulation by enlarging the vagina with deep episiotomies. Afterwards, the patient may insist that her vagina be closed again so that her husband does not reject her. [10]

This practice is reported to cause the disappearance of sexual pleasure for the women affected, as well as major medical complications, although advocates of the practice deny this, and continue to carry it out.

Other types of female circumcision

Other forms are collectively referred to as Type IV. This includes a diverse range of practices, including pricking the clitoris with needles, burning or scarring the genitals as well as ripping or tearing of the vagina. Type IV is found primarily among isolated ethnic groups as well as in combination with other types.

Areas of practice

Prevalence of female genital cutting in Africa

Female genital cutting is today mainly practiced in African countries. It is common in a band that stretches from Senegal in West Africa to Somalia on the East coast, as well as from Egypt in the north to Tanzania in the south. In these regions, it is estimated that more than 95% of all women have undergone this procedure. It is also practiced by some groups in the Arabian peninsula [11], especially among a minority (20%) in Yemen. The majority of Muslim countries (except in parts of sub-Saharan Africa) do not practice it [12].

Although it is practiced by African Muslims, it is also known to exist throughout the Middle East, though it is veiled in secrecy, unlike in parts of Africa, where it is practiced relatively openly. The practice occurs particularly in northern Saudi Arabia, southern Jordan, and Iraq, and there is also circumstantial evidence to suggest it is present in Syria, western Iran, and among the Bedouin population of Israel.[13] In Oman a few communities still practice FGC; however, experts believed that the number of such cases was small and declining annually. In the United Arab Emirates and also Saudi Arabia, it's practiced among some foreign workers from East Africa and the Nile Valley.

The practice can also be found among a few ethnic groups in South America and India. In Indonesia [14] and Malaysia the practice is fairly common among the country's Muslim women; however, in contrast to Africa, almost all are Type I or Type IV (involving a symbolic prick to release blood) procedures.

The practice is particularly common in Somalia, followed by Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia and Mali. Among ethnic Somali women, infibulation is traditionally almost universal. In the Arab peninsula, sunna circumcision is usually performed, especially among Arabs (ethnic groups of African descent are more likely to prefer infibulation).

Amnesty International estimates that over 130 million women worldwide have been affected by these procedures, with over 2 million being performed every year.

In modern times, the practice has spread to Europe and the U.S. due to immigration. Some tradition-minded families have the procedure performed while on vacation in their home countries.

Cultural background

Female genital cutting is primarily a social practice, not a religious one. It is today a mainly African cultural practice. It crosses the lines of various religious groups. It is found among Muslims and Animists. [15]

A number of reasons are put forward for the practice of FGC. These include the belief that it annuls or moderates sexual desires in women. It is also believed that it is more hygienic. Frequently the practice is associated with traditional initiation rites. Some believe religion justifies the practice.

In some cultures there exists the belief that a newborn child has elements of both sexes. In the male body the foreskin of the penis is considered to be the female element. In the female body the clitoris is considered to be the male element. Hence when the adolescent is reaching puberty, these elements are removed to make the indication of sex clear.

The operation is most often carried out by female practitioners. Thus it has been attributed by some authors to a deep-rooted fear of elder women that the more attractive younger women might seduce away their husbands and thus leave them without support. [citation needed]

No form of genital modification and mutilation is mentioned in the Qur'an, but only in a disputed hadith. [16] Even then, the hadith only permits and does not require the process. Only one of the four Islamic schools of juriprudence or law, the Shafi'i school, ordered for a "slight trimming" of the hood of the clitoris, supposedly in order to enhance sexual pleasure for the woman. Most contemporary scholars reject it completely.

In Saudi Arabia (Hijaz), where Islam originated, FGC was practised during the life-time of Muhammad. To call a man a "circumciser of women" was an insult among the pagan Arabs at the time.

In Shia Islam, the practice of female circumcision has never been to remove the clitoris, and this form is outlawed by all leading Marjas that intepret Sharia traditions. The main form of surgery is to remove a small piece of the hood over the clitoris in order to increase sexual pleasure. This act is considered Mustahab and not Wajib or compulsary. In countries such as Iran, where the majority is of this school of thought, this practice in reducing the hood is common.

Some Muslim scholars believe FGC is practiced as a result of ignorance and misconceived religious fervor rather than for reasons of true religious doctrine--and any religious basis for the practice is denied. Many Arab Muslims interpret different passages as being in opposition to FGC, and believe the practice to be un-Islamic.

Shaykh Faraz Rabbani of SunniPath states "As for excision, FGC, or other harmful practices [including that which take sexual pleasure away from women], which have become culturally widespread, none of these are in any way permitted."[17] Amnesty International asserts that "FGC predates Islam and is not practised by the majority of Muslims, but has acquired a religious dimension." [18]

A few others, like the Egyptian Mufti Sheikh Jad Al-Hâqq 'Ali Jad Al-Hâqq issued, in 1994, a fatwa stating: "Circumcision is mandatory for men and for women. If the people of any village decide to abandon it, the [village] imam must fight against them as if they had abandoned the call to prayer." [19] Al-Azhar University has issued fatwas in 1949, 1951 and 1981 which endorsed the practice. [Gad-al-hak: Khitan al banat, pp. 3119-3125, in Sami A. Aldeeb, Mutiler, Institut Suisse de Droit Comparé, 1993, p. 191.] However, in March 2005, Dr Ahmend Talib, Dean of the Faculty of Sharia, Al Azhar University, Cairo, said: "All practices of female circumcision and mutilation are crimes and have no relationship with Islam. Whether it involves the removal of the skin or the cutting of the flesh of the female genital is not an obligation in Islam." [20]

In September 1998, both Christian and Muslim leaders publicly denounced the practice. [21]

Medical consequences

Among practicing cultures, FGC is most commonly performed between the ages of four and eight. As with most plastic surgery, advocates of it believe it should be performed under hygienic conditions and with the application of an appropriate anaesthetic. However, this technology has only been available for a relatively short time, and even today the procedure is usually carried out without anesthesia and under unsanitary conditions. As with any procedure, FGC can be extremely painful and dangerous to health when not performed hygienically.

In the case of Clitoridectomy, the principal and most obvious social/medical consequence, irrespective of the sanitary conditions, is the elimination of what is assumed to be the individual's main organ of sexual pleasure, which is the basis upon which the United Nations and most societies classify it as a human-rights violation.

Some argue that making the process illegal drives it underground and thus puts the recipients at greater risk. Some opponents of the practice argue that the deterrent effect of prohibition outweighs such risks.

Practices such as infibulation, when carried out with shards of glass and other unsanitary tools, can commonly cause infections, sometimes resulting in death or serious long term health effects. These include urinary and reproductive tract infections (caused by obstructed flow of urine and menstrual blood), various forms of scarring and infertility. First sexual intercourse will always be extremely painful, and infibulated women also need to open the labia majora carefully. Sexual pleasure through stimulation of the external part of the clitoris, almost universally regarded outside of practicing cultures as an important part of typical female sexuality, is assumed to be eliminated. However, many circumcised women dispute this claim (see below).

Prohibition has led to FGC being undertaken without any anaesthetic or sterilization, and by persons with no medical training. The procedure, when performed without any anaesthetic, can lead to death through shock or excessive bleeding. The failure to use sterile medical instruments can lead to infections and the spread of disease, such as AIDS, especially when the same instruments are used to perform procedures on multiple women.

The health consequences of FGC vary from region to region and from researcher to researcher. An in-depth analysis by Carla Obermeyer (2003) shows that past studies, plagued by “incomplete analysis” and “inconsistent numbers”, have greatly overestimated the likelihood of serious medical complications resulting from FGC procedures (401). She notes that there is no significant statistically represented relationship between FGC and sexually transmitted diseases/infections, infertility or birth complications (402). Her study is not intended to portray FGC as harmless, simply to illustrate the inadequacy of the health data that anti-FGC advocates and organizations rely upon to justify their opposition.

As anthropologist Fuambai Ahmadu (2000) pointed out, her experience with ritual excision, though painful, empowered her as a woman in the Kono culture of Sierra Leone, increased her sexual sensitivity, and (due to its partial medicalization) led to no health problems beyond the initial heavy bleeding. She claims it did not interfere with her transnational life at all (305), thus was not “anti-progress”, and argues for its complete medicalization, not elimination (304).

A recent study by the WHO, published in the Lancet on the 1st of June 2006, has cast doubt on the safety of genital cutting of any kind. This study was conducted on a cohort of 28,393 women attending for singleton delivery at 28 obstetric centres in areas of Burkina Faso, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Senegal and Sudan with a fairly high proportion of mothers having FGC. According to the WHO criteria, all types of FGC were found to pose an increased risk of death to the baby (15% for type I, 32% for type 2, and 55% for type 3). Mothers with FGC type III were also found to have 30% more caesarean sections and a 70% increase in postpartum haemorrhage compared to women without FGC. It was estimated from these results and a rough estimate of the proportion of mothers in Africa with different kinds of FGC that in the African context an additional 10 to 20 per thousand babies die during delivery as a result of this process.


See Pierre Foldes, french surgeon.

Female genital cutting and human rights

FGC enters human rights discourse primarily on the basis of three issues: informed consent, patriarchal oppression, and violence against women. The issue of informed consent mirrors the debate about male circumcision though with far more intensity. African feminists generally reject the imported women's rights discourse that universally adopts an assumption of male dominance, and prefer instead to realize their gender roles on their own terms. The violence against women claim is complicated by the fact that the ritual is primarily continued by women and often against the wishes of a growing majority of men. African feminists are aware that this issue is a convenient tool for powerful political units to manipulate in pursuing hidden agendas.

For example, Hillary Clinton, then first lady, stated in 1995 at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China that “it is a violation of human rights when young girls are brutalized by the painful and degrading practice of genital mutilation”. The Report of the Fourth World Conference on Women (1995) makes ten mentions of female genital “mutilation” in a call to “prohibit” FGC, “enact and enforce legislation” and “give priority to…educational programmes…that emphasize the elimination of harmful attitudes and practices, including female genital mutilation…and recognizing that some of these practices can be violations of human rights and ethical medical principles”. By legitimizing FGC as a human rights violation, the United States passed 22 U.S.C. 262k-2 [22] [23] in 1997, a broadly worded law that effectively outlaws "female genital mutilation" all over the world by threatening the denial of loans and aid from the eight largest international banks.

Legal status

FGC is prohibited in several Western countries. Not all countries ban all types of procedure. For instance Type I procedures (for medical reasons only), and any form on adult women, are openly available in the USA, whereas, in the UK there is an outright ban even on this elective surgery taken by mature adults. In Canada, just running the risk of female genital mutilation is already sufficient reason to obtain the political asylum status. In France, in recent years several women excising minor girls have been handed prison sentences up to five years; [24] courts have also handed sentences between 6 and 15 months for parents[25]. In Sweden, it is possible to be convicted for FGC committed in another country [26].

Some countries in the area of practice have also prohibited FGC but the practice goes on in secret. In many cases, the enforcement of this prohibition is a low priority for governments. Some countries have tried to medicalize the procedure while in other countries there is no prohibition.

There is a growing movement in the West to see the practice on minors prohibited throughout the world. Advocates of the procedures argue that this is an example of Western cultural imperialism, while opponents of the procedures argue that human rights are universal and not subject to cultural exceptions, and that such involuntary practices are a severe violation of human rights.

Laws/Enforcement in Countries where FGC is Commonly Practiced, according the US State Department:

  • Burkina Faso: A law prohibiting FGC was enacted in 1996 and went into effect in February 1997. Even before this law, however, a presidential decree had set up the National Committee against excision and imposed fines on people guilty of excising girls and women. The new law includes stricter punishment. Several women excising girls have been handed prison sentences. [27]
  • Central African Republic: In 1996, the President issued an Ordinance prohibiting FGC throughout the country. It has the force of national law. Any violation of the Ordinance is punishable by imprisonment of from one month and one day to two years and a fine of 5,100 to 100,000 francs (approximately US$8-160). No arrests are known to have been made under the law.
  • Côte d'Ivoire: A December 18, 1998 law provides that harm to the integrity of the genital organ of a woman by complete or partial removal, excision, desensitization or by any other procedure will, if harmful to a women's health, be punishable by imprisonment of one to five years and a fine of 360,000 to two million CFA Francs (approximately US$576-3,200). The penalty is five to twenty years incarceration if the victim dies and up to five years' prohibition of medical practice, if this procedure is carried out by a doctor.
  • Djibouti: FGC was outlawed in the country's revised Penal Code that went into effect in April 1995. Article 333 of the Penal Code provides that persons found guilty of this practice will face a five year prison term and a fine of one million Djibouti francs (approximately US$5,600).
  • Egypt: There is no law in Egypt specifically against FGC. There are provisions under the Penal Code involving "wounding" and "intentional infliction of harm leading to death", however, that might be applicable. There have been some press reports on the prosecution of at least 13 individuals under the Penal Code, including doctors, midwives and barbers, accused of performing FGC that resulted in hemorrhage, shock and death. There also is a ministerial decree prohibiting FGC. In December 1997, the Court of Cassation (Egypt's highest appeals court) upheld a government banning of the practice providing that those who do not comply will be subjected to criminal and administrative punishments. Although the government banned the practice, FGC is continues in many villages throughout Egypt, although some have decided on their own to stop, such as the Egyptian village of Abou Shawareb, which made a vow in July of 2005 stating to end the practice.
  • Ghana: In 1989, the head of the government of Ghana, President Rawlings, issued a formal declaration against FGC and other harmful traditional practices. Article 39 of Ghana's Constitution also provides in part that traditional practices that are injurious to a person's health and well being are abolished. There is the opinion by some that the law has driven the practice underground.
  • Guinea: FGC is illegal in Guinea under Article 265 of the Penal Code. The punishment is hard labor for life and if death results within 40 days after the crime, the perpetrator will be sentenced to death. No cases regarding the practice under the law have ever been brought to trial. Article 6 of the Guinean Constitution, which outlaws cruel and inhumane treatment, could be interpreted to include these practices, should a case be brought to the Supreme Court. A member of the Guinean Supreme Court is working with a local NGO on inserting a clause into the Guinean Constitution specifically prohibiting these practices.
  • Indonesia: Officials are preparing to release a decree banning doctors and paramedics from performing FGC. FGC is still carried out extensively in Indonesia, the worlds largest Muslim nation. Azrul Azwar, The director general of community health, stated that, "All government health facilities will also be instructed to spread information about the decision as well as the redundancy of female circumcision" [28]
  • Nigeria: There is no federal law banning the practice of FGC in Nigeria. Opponents of these practices rely on Section 34(1)(a) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria that states "no person shall be subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment" as the basis for banning the practice nationwide. A member of the House of Representatives has drafted a bill, not yet in committee, to outlaw this practice.
  • Senegal: A law that was passed in January 1999 makes FGC illegal in Senegal. President Diouf had appealed for an end to this practice and for legislation outlawing it. The law modifies the Penal Code to make this practice a criminal act, punishable by a sentence of one to five years in prison. A spokesperson for the human rights group RADDHO (The African Assembly for the Defense of Human Rights) noted in the local press that "Adopting the law is not the end, as it will still need to be effectively enforced for women to benefit from it."
  • Somalia: There is no national law specifically prohibiting FGC in Somalia. There are provisions of the Penal Code of the former government covering "hurt", "grievous hurt" and "very grievous hurt" that might apply. In November 1999, the Parliament of the Puntland administration unanimously approved legislation making the practice illegal. There is no evidence, however, that this law is being enforced.
  • Tanzania: Section 169A of the Sexual Offences Special Provisions Act of 1998 prohibits FGC. Punishment is imprisonment of from five to fifteen years or a fine not exceeding 300,000 shillings (approximately US$380) or both. There have been some arrests under this legislation, but no reports of prosecutions yet.
  • Togo: On October 30, 1998, the National Assembly unanimously voted to outlaw the practice of FGC. Penalties under the law can include a prison term of two months to ten years and a fine of 100,000 francs to one million francs (approximately US$160 to 1,600). A person who had knowledge that the procedure was going to take place and failed to inform public authorities can be punished with one month to one year imprisonment or a fine of from 20,000 to 500,000 francs (approximately US$32 to 800).
  • Uganda: There is no law against the practice of FGC in Uganda. In 1996, however, a court intervened to prevent the performance of this procedure under Section 8 of the Children Statute, enacted that year, that makes it unlawful to subject a child to social or customary practices that are harmful to the child's health.

Ending forms of female genital cutting

Despite laws forbidding the practice, FGC has proven to be an enduring tradition difficult to overcome on the local level with deeply held cultural and sometimes political significance. For instance, prohibition of the procedure among tribes in Kenya significantly strengthened resistance to British colonial rule in the 1950s and increased support for the Mau Mau guerilla movement. During that period, the practice became even more common, as it was seen as a form of resistance towards colonial rule.

The difficulty lies significantly in the fact that the practice, as an identifying feature of indigenous culture, is intimately associated with the endogamous potential of young women. Thus for only one or a few families within a given locale to "deprive" their daughters of the operation is to significantly disadvantage them in finding husbands. This damages the survivability of their culture in a hostile "globalizing" social environment.

Because the practice holds such cultural and marital significance, anti-"circumcision" activists increasingly recognize that to end the practice it is necessary to work closely with local communities. What must happen, some have noted, is that marriage networks must give up the practice simultaneously so no individuals are handicapped, as happened, for example, under similar circumstances with the rapid abandonment of foot binding among the Chinese early in the 20th century.

Often activists working for the practice's elimination offer a universalizing psychological rational. Working from an axiom of a "normal" psyche, they commonly assume that female genital cutting rituals represent deviance from a transcultural behavioral norm. Of course, these rituals are seen in these cases as violent disfigurment, likened to child abuse and rape. They seek to bring practitioners and "victims" of such "barbarism" to reason by convincing them that the practice was indeed a wrong-doing. This attitude is an echo of the colonial and missionary campaigns against the practice in the first half of the 20th century.

An example of successful efforts to end the practice is occurring in Senegal, initiated by native women working at the local level in connection with the Tostan Project. Since 1997, 1,271 villages (600,000 people), some 12% of the practicing population in Senegal, have voluntarily given up FGC (female genital cutting) and are also working to end early and forced marriage. This has come about through the voluntary efforts of locals carrying the message out to other villages within their marriage networks in a self-replicating process. By 2003, 563 villages had participated in public declarations, and the number continues to rise. By then, at least 23 villages in Burkina Faso had also held such community wide ceremonies, marking "the first public declaration to end FGC outside of Senegal and showing the replicability of the Tostan program for large-scale abandonment of this practice". Molly Melching of TOSTAN believes that in Senegal the practice of female genital mutilation could be ended within 2-5 years. She credits the approach of education versus cultural imperialism for the rapid and significant changes which have occurred in Senegal. The approach going into Senegal was one of non judgment which allowed the men and women of Senegal to question their own traditions and make change as opposed to being put in a position where they would have felt the need to defend their traditions against the criticisms of others.

This indigenous movement began with a few women who had participated in a literacy program that taught women skills in research, project management and social advocacy. The program also included neutrally presented facts about female reproduction and the health effects of female circumcision (see Obermeyer above for counter-point to presumed "neutrality"). Students did group projects as the culmination of their 18-month training and one such group chose the topic of FGC for their project. Having received assurance from their local imam during their research that the practice was a custom and not a religious requirement, they went on to create dramatic reenactments of the suffering and deaths the practice had brought to their own lives and to share them throughout their village. At the end of a year, their entire village of some 15,000 people joined in a public ceremony to collectively reject the practice for their daughters and prospective daughters-in-law. From there, the imam and other leaders in their village began visiting other villages within the local marriage network and sharing their story. As a result, the new practice began to spread.

Female genital cutting in popular culture

The subject of FGC has been addressed by many prominent authors, singers and performers across the world. Some examples:

  • "Bravebird", a song by Amel Larrieux
  • Possessing the Secret of Joy, a novel by Alice Walker
  • Desert Flower, a novel by Waris Dirie
  • The River Between, a novel by Ngugi wa Thiong'o
  • The Years of Rice and Salt, a novel by Kim Stanley Robinson (Book Nine features extracts from fictional articles protesting female circumcision)
  • "Cornflake Girl", a song by Tori Amos
  • Rüdiger Nehberg
  • Moolaadé, a film by Ousmane Sembène
  • The Whole Woman, a book by Germaine Greer
  • "No Laughter Here," a novel by Rita Williams-Garcia
  • "The Excised," a book by Evelyn Accad
  • "Cut"[29], a Short Story by Megan Lindholm
  • In an episode of the television crime drama Law & Order, motivated by a desire to protect his daughter from female circumcision, the father kills the uncle who hired a doctor to perform the procedure

Also, a documentary entitled "Warrior Marks" has been done on the practice by Alice Walker, the author of The Color Purple. Walker subsequently wrote a book of the same name, which is about her travels and experiences while making the documentary.