Female Genital Mutilation Essays

Yet this is not the predominant opinion expressed in Western popular discourse, nor in much of the scholarly literature.In these domains, as well as in many others, the two types of intervention are rarely discussed in the same context.Specifically, I show that at least certain forms of FGM (or female genital alteration [FGA]), including forms that are legally prohibited in Western societies, are demonstrably less harmful than the most prevalent forms of male circumcision.

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As an alternative, I propose an ethical framework for evaluating such alterations that is based upon considerations of bodily autonomy and informed consent, rather than sex or gender.

Keywords: FGM, circumcision, gender, sexuality, autonomy, consent of the child whose genitals are altered.

The consequence of this conclusion can be stated as a conditional: if the degree of harm vs benefit commonly attributed to male circumcision is seen as being compatible with its permissibility in Western societies, then forms of female genital cutting that result in a similar degree of harm vs benefit must also be considered permissible on these grounds. Indeed, the official position of such influential bodies as the World Health Organization and the United Nations is that any kind of medically unnecessary, non-consensual alteration of the female genitalia – no matter how minor the incision, no matter what type of tissue is or is not removed, no matter how slim the degree of risk, and no matter how sterile the equipment used – is by definition an impermissible “mutilation.” There is an important moral difference [between male and female forms of genital alteration] that does not have to do with the physical effects of the operation[s]. of the cultures in which female genital cutting is practiced, the practice reflects deeply-rooted attitudes about the lower status of women.

Thus, even if male and female genital cutting were perfectly identical in terms of net health benefits and effects on sexual pleasure, the relationship in some cultures between female genital cutting and a failure to respect women as moral equals would give an additional reason to object to female circumcision.

Indeed, contrary to common wisdom, non-therapeutic FGA is not always associated with, nor a reflection of, sexist and patriarchal norms; nor are the norms associated with male genital cutting always as morally innocent as is typically assumed.

Accordingly, even if one were to grant that the moral permissibility of each type of genital cutting – stipulated to be equally (physically) harmful for the sake of this analysis – hinged on the attitudes or norms that they “reflected,” it would still be necessary to distinguish between such attitudes and norms on a context-specific basis, and possibly even case-by-case.

I will also question the claims that have been made on the point of health benefits, with respect to both types of genital alteration.

The harm-based argument, then, does not turn out to be sufficient to draw a strict moral distinction between male and female forms of genital cutting practices.

Male and female forms of genital alteration: the question of harm That FGA is harmful to women and girls – and certainly much more harmful than MGA – is a truism in Western societies.

This is the harm-based argument to which I alluded earlier, and I have already suggested that it cannot succeed.


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