Problems with Criminalizing Female Genital Cutting

Peace Review: A Journal of Social Justice. 2003 15(4): 471-477

Problems with Criminalizing Female Genital Cutting

Antonazzo M.


Female genital cutting (FGC) has become the most well-publicized and frequently debated issue affecting the lives of African women. Western feminists brought the issue to the forefront during the United Nations Women’s Decade of 1975–1985. Since then, several conferences and international plans of action have sought to eliminate this practice. At the 1995 United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, Hillary Rodham Clinton said, “It is a violation of human rights when young girls are brutalized by the painful and degrading practice of female genital mutilation.” In their joint statement, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations (UN) Children’s and Population Funds refer to these practices as “female genital mutilation.” They define this term to mean “all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs whether for cultural or other non-therapeutic reason.” The WHO/UN statement says the cutting predominantly occurs in 28 African countries, but is also performed in Asia and among immigrant groups in Europe, Australia, Canada and the United States. They classify genital cutting into four types. Type I is defined as the excision of the prepuce, with or without excision of part of the clitoris. Type II is the excision of the clitoris with partial or total excision of the labia minora. Type III includes the excision of part or all of the external genitalia and stitching/narrowing of the vaginal opening (infibulation). And Type IV is unclassified and includes pricking, piercing, stretching, burning, scraping and any other procedure that falls under the de.nition of female genital mutilation given above.

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