Female circumcision: desperately seeking a space for women.

IPPF Med Bull. 1990 Apr;24(2):1-2.

Female circumcision: desperately seeking a space for women.

Lasjali M, Toubia N.


PIP: Female Circumcision (FC) is “the total or partial cutting away of the female external genital organs.” There are 3 types of FC: 1) Sunna where the foreskin of the clitoris is removed; 2) excision which involved removal of a part or all of the clitoris with a part or all of the labia minora; and 3) infibulation or pharaonic circumcision (the most severe type) which includes excision and removal of the labia majora only leaving a small hole to allow the exit of urine and menstrual fluid. FC carries the high risk of HIV infection because it is often practiced without anesthesia and with either a razor blade or a knife. The damages go beyond the physical–they include long-term side effects on women’s physical and psychological health. The international battle against FC includes a series of legislative and political acts: 1) In 1946 the British Colonial government made one of the earliest efforts of its kind by making pharaonic circumcision in Sudan a felony and punishable by imprisonment; 2) In 1959 Egypt passed a law making circumcision illegal; 3) In 1977 the Special Committee of Non- Governmental Organizations on Human Rights of the United Nations in collaboration with WHO and UNICEF organized a sub-committee to investigate the status of women in 20 African countries and published a report; 4) In 1979 WHO held a conference in Sudan entitled “The Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children” whose outcomes were published in a report; 5) In 1980 WHO forbade the practice of FC; 6) In 1984 a Pan-African seminar was held in Dakar, Senegal that established the Inter-African Committee Against Harmful Practices Affecting Women and Children (IAC); 7) In 1985 the UN Nairobi Conference on The Women’s Decade passed resolutions against FC; 8) In 1988 the 39th Assembly of the WHO/Africa Region passed a resolution calling for the abolition of female sexual mutilation. Presidents of several African countries have condemned FC including Benin, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Senegal, Djibouti, Guinea Bissau and Mali.

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