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Female Genital Cutting

By:
Etin Anwar
Source:
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

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Female Genital Cutting

Female genital cutting (FGC) refers to cutting part or all of the female genitalia and/or its alteration. There are four types of female genital cutting: circumcision, excision, infibulation, and introcision. Circumcision refers to the cutting of the tip of the clitoris with or without the partial or complete removal of the clitoris. Excision includes the removal of the clitoris and part or all of the labia minora. Infibulation refers to the total removal of the clitoris and labia minora and the sewing of the labia majora, with a small opening for the urine and menstrual blood to flow. Introcision is the process of pricking, incising, and even burning all or part of the vagina.

Genital cutting affects approximately 130 million girls and women worldwide. An estimated two to three million experience genital cutting every year (Seager, 2006, p. 54), mostly in Africa. In the 1990s, more than 50 percent of girls and women in Egypt, Eritrea, Mali, Chad, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, and Burkina-Faso went through the ritual of genital cutting. FGC is a cross-cultural practice observed by diverse religious communities and cultures. In Egypt, Eritrea, Mali, and Sudan, FGC is performed on a large percentage of Muslims and Christians. In Kenya, Christians have a higher percentage of genital cutting than Muslims (38 percent compared to 28 percent) (Seager, 2006, p. 54). FGC continues to be practiced in these regions and among immigrants to the West coming from the places where genital circumcision is prevalent.

Despite the fact that the original practice of FGC predates Islam, it is perceived as an emblem of Islam in regions where it is practiced. Circumcision, whether for males or females, is not mentioned in the Qurʿān, but in traditional literature (ḥadīth), Muhammad mentions circumcision (khitān) as obligatory for men for hygienic reasons, and optional for the Medinan women who had undergone it (ḥifẓ, protection) (al-Jawzī, 1996, pp. 28–29). He warns, however, that female circumcision should not harm women. Although circumcision is not religiously based, in the world where women's bodies and sexuality represent men's honor and ownership, FGC is used to boost the marketability of women for marriages, to increase the sexual gratification and pleasure of men, and to discourage premarital or extramarital sex (Anwar, 2006, p.113). As well, women's conformity to patriarchal values confers the virtue of obedience and respect at the individual, familial, and societal levels. As a violation of women's reproductive rights, FGC has a damaging impact on women's physical and mental health. The genital cutting is often performed rigorously and violently—to the extent that the female sexual organ may fail to function for sexual purposes. Mentally, the circumcised girls and women endure the memory of the pain and violence carried out on their sexual organs as a reminder of being female in a patriarchal world. Nevertheless, efforts to eradicate FGC have met with resistance. Most governments are reluctant to intervene because FGC has structural bases in the society, such as the concept of tribal honor. Still, feminists, human rights activists, and nongovernmental agencies continue their mission to eradicate FGC through parental and community education.

See also CLITORIDECTOMY.

Bibliography

  • Anees, M. Ahmad. Islam and Biological Futures: Ethics, Gender, and Technology. London and New York: Mansell, 1989. Find it in your Library
  • Anwar, Etin. Gender and Self in Islam. London: Routledge, 2006. Find it in your Library
  • Dorkenoo, Efua. Cutting the Rose, Female Genital Mutilation: The Practice and Its Prevention. London: Minority Rights Publication, 1995. Find it in your Library
  • Ibn al-Jawzī, Jamāl al-Dīn. Kitāb Aḥkām al-Nisāʿ. Beirut: Dār al-Fikr, 1996. Find it in your Library
  • Jawad, Haifaa A.The Rights of Women in Islam. New York: St. Martin's Press, Inc., 1998. Find it in your Library
  • Saeger, Joni. The Penguin Atlas of Women in the World: Fourth Edition. Penguin Books: 2008. Find it in your Library
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