Academic journal article Journal of Cultural Diversity

Female Genital Circumcision: Medical and Cultural Considerations

Academic journal article Journal of Cultural Diversity

Female Genital Circumcision: Medical and Cultural Considerations

Article excerpt

Abstract: Female circumcision (FC), also known as female genital mutilation (FGM), is a procedure that involves partial or complete removal of external female genitalia. The definition given by the World Health Organization (WHO) states that female circumcision "comprise all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs whether for cultural, religious or other non-therapeutic reasons" (WHO, 1998, p.5). The United Nations Children's Fund, the United Nations Population Fund, and the WHO have jointly issued a statement that FC and FGM causes unacceptable harm and issued a call for the elimination of this practice worldwide. The WHO also contends that female circumcision is a "violation of internationally accepted rights" (WHO, p.l). Female circumcision is a widespread cultural practice and affects millions of young women. Issues related to female circumcision that are of special concern are health consequences, civil rights, cultural considerations, and legal and ethical aspects. The purpose of this paper is to address the incidence of FC and FGM, the historical background, the procedure, the medical complications and cultural considerations. Legal and ethical issues of FGM will also be discussed.

Key Words: Female Genital Circumcision


The incidence of FGM in women worldwide is unknown; however, rough estimates range from 114 to 130 million women. FGM is most commonly practiced in African countries where up to 90% of women in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sierra Leone, Somalia, ana Sudan (North) have been circumcised. Other African countries such as Benin, Burkina, Paso, Central African Republic, Chad, Cote d'Ivoire, Egypt, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, and Togo have reported a - 50% incidence (WHO, 1998). This practice can also be found in the Middle East countries including the Oman, Yemen, the United Arab Emirates and Asian countries including Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and India. Some cultures are strictly forbidden to disclose information about their practices so data collection is inadequate. Female circumcision has been a controversial issue for thousands of years in many of the named countries, with many newer colonies prohibiting the practice.


The origins of female circumcision and female genital mutilation are unknown. It is believed that female genital mutilation originated in Africa as far back as the fifth century B.C. and has taken place in ancient Egypt, ancient Rome, Arabia, and Tsarist Russia. Ancient female Egyptian mummies were found to be circumcised, "suggesting that it was practiced as a sign of distinction" (Nour, 2000, para. 5). It was used in England during the Victorian period to treat psychological disorders and to prevent masturbation in women (Hopkins, 1999). In Europe and in the United States as late as the 1930's, "removal of the clitoris or prepuce was performed to treat clitoral enlargement, redundancy, hysteria, lesbianism, and erotomania" (Nour, para. 5).

J. Marion Sims, the "Father of Gynecology" (in the U.S.) endorsed the practice of clitorectomies well into the twentieth century. The practice of clitorectomy for psychiatric disorders became popular with Freudian psychoanalysis. Oophorectomy, or removal of the ovaries, also known as female castration, and hysterectomies were widespread as a cure for psychological disorders and continued in the U.S. until the mid-1940's.


Female circumcision is often performed by a midwife, usually an elderly woman specially trained for this task, a traditional healer, or birth attendant. Occasionally, a barber or physician may perform the surgery (Abusharaf, 2001). In countries where circumcision is common, where up to 9O0X) of women are circumcised, secret women's societies such as the Sande or Bondo (Gibeau, 1998) promote and perform the ceremonial excision. …

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