Is FGM/C a religious practice?

FGM/C is carried out in many societies by Muslim, Coptic-Christian and Jewish Falasha communities (e.g. Egypt and Ethiopia). The misconceptions like the uncertainty regarding the origins of the practice lead some communities to link the practice with religion.

It is noteworthy that although neither the Bible nor the Qur’an subscribe to the practice, it is often justified as a religious mandate. In the Muslim societies, it is considered as Sunna, a religious tradition, (“all that is good for God”).
However, many Islamic academies and authorities demonstrate a positive position on the issue and condemn the practice when they are given the opportunity to articulate their views. (see Multisectorial Training Guide, Chapter III).

Is FGM/C only practiced in African countries?

FGM/C is mainly practiced in 29 countries of Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East (Iraqi Kurdistan, Yemen) and Asia (Indonesia, Malaysia). Due to the transnational migratory movements, the local becomes global, and the practice is also found in Europe, Australia, Canada, and the United States of America, amongst others.

There are also other countries where the practice has been reported. In Colombia and Peru, the ethnic group Embera Chamí practice FGM/C, and so do the Bohra people in India. In Indonesia, FGM/C has been medicalised, and women attend hospitals to undergo the procedure.

Reports on FGM/C in Dagestan (Russia) have been recently released (2016) sparking controversy on the country, as a Muslim cleric said all women should undergo the practice (See multisectorial Training Guide, Chapter III)

Is FGM/C a violation of rights?

As it commonly leads to severe consequences for women’s physical, mental and sexual health, FGM/C is commonly defined as a violation of the right to health and the right to the highest standard attainable of physical and mental health, including the right to sexual and reproductive health.

It also impairs or nullifies core human rights like the right to physical integrity and the right to life (when death results from the procedure); the right to security of the person and to be free from violence; the right to non-discrimination, to equality between men and women and to equal protection under the law (when FGM/C is legal, tolerated or constitutes a mitigating circumstance).

Although some experts consider that excisors and parents’ lack of intentionality to inflict pain or suffering make unclear that FGM/C impairs the right to be free from torture, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has acknowledged that FGM/C can amount to torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.

Since FGM/C is in the vast majority of cases, inflicted on young girls, it also violates the rights of children to development, protection and participation, and triggers various articles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Multisectorial Training Guide, Chapter II)

Are international agencies discourses on FGM/C free of etnocentric perspectives?

In the anthropological perspective, it is absolutely necessary to maintain a strong critical attention to the language and to the categories which are used to describe the FGM/C in order to avoid unjustified attributions and easy generalizations.

In a more general sense in discussing this topic we must counter any attitude producing stereotypes, as consequence of simplistic Eurocentric judgments, specially about a supposed moral superiority.

Some public rhetoric about FGM/C, focused only on complaints and moral indignation, risks to reproduce the colonial pattern of civilizing the barbarians and the old idea of eradicating “the primitive” by fighting against obscurantist traditions and dangerous superstitions.

Many ethnographic studies have shown that the use of the term mutilation with women with FGM/C creates many problems because it is perceived as humiliating and derogatory. The irreversible change is very often not perceived by the social actors as a mutilation. (Multisectorial Training Guide, Chapter II

What to do if I am a future professional who might enter in contact with possible victims of FGM/C?

The training of future professionals is a key element to ensure an effective human rights based and gender and culture-sensitive response to FGM/C.
A good start is to read the introductory chapters of the guide to develop an integral and plural theoretical background on FGM/C.

This shall be followed with the reading of the sectorial chapter related to your field of studies, where you will find theoretical thinkings, practical examples, key recommendations, bibliographic references and exercises to assess your capacities, values and behaviors.

Sectorial chapters of the guide are: Chaper IV. Medicine, Nursing and Midwifery; Chapter V. Social work, Education and Psychology; Chapter VI. Human Rights, Penal and Asylum Law; Chapter VII. Antropology; Chapter VIII. Gender, Women’s and Feminist Studies; Chapter IX. Communication and media.

To ensure a borader intersectorial approach of FGM/C, it is also recommended to read other sectorial chapters of the guide.

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