Male circumcision involves removal of the foreskin of the penis. It is most common in countries with the Judaeo-Christian heritage, particularly the USA. The National Centre for Health Statistics (USA), reports the continued decline in the circumcision rate, which for 1993 is 60% nationwide; in western USA the rate has almost halved since 1980, falling from 62% to 36%.
Female genital mutilation is a deep-rooted cultural and traditional practice, but there is no medical, hygienic or religious reason to support it. It can take various forms, but it generally involves removing the clitoris (circumcision) and the inner labia (excision). The practice of infibulation removes virtually all of the external genitalia, sometimes accompanied by reduction of the size of the external opening of the vagina.
Female genital mutilation is not required by any religion; it is inflicted by traditions designed to preserve virginity, ensure marriageability, and suppress female sexuality. Approximately three quarters of all women mutilated in this way can be found in five countries: Nigeria; Ethiopia; Egypt; the Sudan and Kenya. In some countries – Djibouti, Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, and the Sudan – more than 80% of all girls are estimated to suffer genital mutilation. Apart from fear and trauma, immediate consequences of female genital mutilation can include death, haemorrhage, tetanus, sepsis, fistula, and HIV. In the longer term, it affects normal sexual functions and reproductive health, it can lead to bladder and urinary tract infections, difficulty in menstruation, and an increased risk of haemorrhage, infection, and obstructed labour during childbirth.
Every year, 3 million girls in 28 countries on the African continent are subjected to the practice, as are thousands of girls in immigrant communities in Europe, North America and Australia. Most girls are cut between infancy and their 14th birthday. Many communities still hold firmly to the age-old tradition, which though not always stated outright is considered a prerequisite for marriage.
Female genital mutilation has long been officially deplored in Africa, but colonial and native governments have taken virtually no action against the practice with the excuse of not wishing to interfere with local customs. It was however made illegal in the UK in 1985, and at an international conference in Cairo in 1994 a motion was passed calling on governments to outlaw and eliminate female genital mutilation. In Egypt in 1997, the government forbade female genital mutilation in hospital despite a lower court order that lifted the ban on it. The government said it would challenge the court order in a higher court.
In Benin, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Sudan, such groups as the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children in Africa and Eket Women's Centre have launched widespread campaigns to educate people about the dangers of female circumcision and to bring about an end to the practice affecting young women and girls in 25 countries.
The declaration adopted at the UN International Conference on Population and Development (Cairo, 1994) includes the following advice: "Governments are urged to prohibit female genital mutilation wherever it exists and to give vigorous support to efforts among non-government and community organizations and religious institutions to eliminate such practices. Following the conference, Egypt's president Mubarak promised to introduce legislation to prohibit female genital mutilation (80% of Egyptian women have undergone infibulation and several thousand girls are circumcised daily). However it was later reported in the British Medical Journal, that the Egyptian health minister declared there were no plans to ban the operation but rather to ensure that it was carried out by qualified doctors and under proper medical supervision Several African leaders have issued strong statements against it, including Kenya's President Daniel Arop Moi who commented on this practice: "I will not allow children to die when I am the leader of this country".
In 1994, the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board granted refugee status to a Somali women protecting her 10-year-old daughter from ritual genital mutilation. In the same year, a USA Immigration Court judge, "recognizing genital mutilation as a cruel, painful and dangerous" ritual with "no known medical purpose", dropped deportation proceedings against a Nigerian woman who had pleaded that returning to Nigeria would force her two young daughters to undergo ritual genital mutilation. The UK Criminal Injuries Compensation Board in 1994 agreed that a crime of violence had taken place and awarded compensation to a London woman whose infant son was circumcised on the instructions of his father but against her wishes.
Together with the European Union, the UN launched in 2017 the Spotlight Initiative, a global, multi-year undertaking that aims to create strong partnerships and align efforts to end all forms of violence against women and girls, including female genital mutilation by 2030. As well as assisting with asylum claims for girls and women who have escaped from FGM, UNHCR runs programs in refugee camps and settlements to encourage communities to abandon the practice. These include educational activities, public debates and using various media to spread awareness of the dangers involved. However, in countries like Guinea with deeply entrenched beliefs about FGM, it can be an uphill battle.
The practice of routine circumcision rests on the absurd premise that the only mammal in creation born in a condition that requires immediate surgical correction is the human male and female. From a religious point of view: "God/Allah made us so, therefore why would we alter His creation? In altering ourselves do we not insult Him? God/Allah does not want us to suppress sexuality "artificially" by surgery, but intends our normal natural sexual desires to be a challenge to us through life, to control our sexual urges within moral and ethical boundaries ourselves. The fact that the consequences of circumcision may lead to death, including the death of newborns, is most damming. Surely, this is truly immoral and against God/Allah's will." The claim, for instance, that female circumcision is required in Islam is merely an inaccurate male interpretation of the Koran to control women, and as such it is rejected by many Muslim scholars.
Female circumcision increases fidelity in women. It also ensures that young women are virgins when they marry. In the words of one of Islam's leading religious figures: girls who are not circumcised when young have a sharp temperament and bad habits, if girls are not circumcised they will be subjected to situations which will lead them to immorality and corruption.