Please sign our Statement and share it with others if you identify with, or are positively sympathetic to, our position on the Naming and Abolition of Female Genital Mutilation. *
Our aim is to gather like-minded citizens of the world, including activists and academics in many places, to assert that patriarchal oppression is the bedrock of female genital mutilation (FGM) [a] and related harmful traditional practices [b]; and to promote research, dialogue and activism which derives from such an understanding. To that end we insist, for instance, that FGM be correctly named – as ‘mutilation’ and not, in formal discourse, by any evasive or softening euphemism.
We are aware that many established and university-affiliated researchers, unlike ourselves, are not also activists. Criteria for building a career in academia differ from the standards by which we evaluate volunteers, employees of government agencies, or managers of civil society organizations such as non-governmental institutions and community-based groups. Individuals we hope to attract to our issue-based community are, therefore, both academically qualified and experienced in the field; they also frankly oppose FGM and they use language appropriate to raise general awareness that ablation of girls’ genitalia is never, under any circumstances whatsoever, acceptable.
We hope that, by publishing our Feminist Statement on the Naming and Abolition of Female Genital Mutilation, we shall find common cause with others who like ourselves have a serious commitment both to solidly rigorous academic research and to human rights-embedded, evidence-based and value-led activism.
Unlike the known majority of scholars working on the subject, we subscribe to a feminist understanding of FGM itself and tie that viewpoint to the strategies we support to confront it. In other words, we favor honest, action-oriented and end-result targeted research – the result defined as elimination of FGM, full stop. Specifically, our position is value-led and immovably against any form of medicalization of this harmful traditional practice – as distinct from an orientation towards ethically dubious research on FGM which claims (the fiction of) intellectual neutrality [c].
To define the term ‘ethically-dubious’ we can apply the concept to research which appears to collude in, reinforce, at best not disallow and at worst facilitate, the amputation of girls’ genitalia.
Why is it so important to name this distinction between ‘engaged’ and ‘ethically-dubious’ or ‘insufficiently-engaged’ research?
The negative influence of ‘neutral’ research and non-engagement on policy cannot be underestimated. Recent examples of damage include
(1) the declaratory bombshell dropped on activists by the American Academy of Pediatrics [d], announcing a ‘revision’ in its acceptable 1998 guidelines to children’s physicians, which was clearly inspired by a ‘neutrality’ approach. Not entitled as female genital mutilation, but rather ennobled as ‘surgeries’, the intervention was no longer seen as a violation of children’s rights to bodily integrity nor as violence. The cultural-relativist thinking led so far as to propose to doctors that they lobby politicians to repeal laws against FGM and thereby enable them to “reach out” to practicing communities to offer a “ritual nick.” The vast literature that shows how, for traditional practice defenders of FGM, so-called ‘nicks’ are insufficient was bracketed out, and instead, an unproven if not disproven idea about harm-reduction via medicalization came into play [e]. A global outcry [f] led to almost immediate retraction of this document the following month but the attitude and input that enabled it remain very much alive.
(2) The British Government has recently announced that £35m will be made available to the United Nations and some others to further the cause of eradicating FGM [g]. Already, however, it is consistently demonstrating a position which bolsters now unsubstantiated claims to have reduced the incidence of FGM in some areas [h] via the ‘abandonment model’ and community declarations through persuasion [i]. But at the same time we see in the UK a failure (as of Summer 2013) to secure even one prosecution, despite the several thousand British children who are forced to undergo this horrendous practice every year [j].
(3) The Australian Government states it is taking ‘action’ to stop FGM, by “working with states and territories to ensure that police and prosecutors are in the best possible position to detect, investigate, and prosecute FGM whenever and wherever it occurs” [k]. However, in 2013 the Australian Government awarded $1Million AUD to 15 programs, none of which was aimed at increasing detection of FGM in at-risk children, resources for child protection or enforcement of FGM laws.
In these contexts, where the lives of many, many women and girls are daily at risk through FGM, it becomes clear to us that passivity as we travel in another direction is not enough.
We must insist, resolutely, that FGM is without exception an abhorrent breach of basic human rights and of women and girls’ dignity.
We therefore hereby offer our Statement as an invitation to researchers and activists who share our understandings, to assert the criticality of a value-led, feminist perspective via which, we believe, fundamental change towards the abolition of FGM will be enabled.
We welcome your support for our Statement, here.
[a] World Health Organisation (WHO): About FGM
[b] WHO: Female genital mutilation and other harmful practices
[c] The first sort of (good) research is exquisitely illustrated by PLAN – Deutschland in Alice Behrendt’s 2010 report, Listening to African Voices: Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting among Immigrants in Hamburg. Knowledge, Attitudes and Practice [see also a review of the report].
A counter-example of ethically dubious scholarship is described in the same issue of Feminist Europa: Review of Books, special on FGM and here: ‘Highly valued by both sexes ‘“: Activists, Anthr/apologists and FGM (Tobe Levin, 2007)… Or simply search ‘ANTHR/APOLOGISTS’ on the internet.
[d] American Academy of Pediatrics (26 April 2010): Policy Statement – Ritual Genital Cutting of Female Minors
[e] Hastings Center Report 42, USA: The Public Policy Advisory Network on Female Genital Surgeries in Africa, “Seven Things to Know about Female Genital Surgeries in Africa”, no. 6 (2012): 19-27.
[f] WHO (2010): Regarding the “Policy Statement – Ritual Genital Cutting of Female Minors” from the American Academy of Pediatrics
[g] Department for International Development (DfID, UK) (22 March 2013): A time for change: ending female genital mutilation and TOWARDS ENDING FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION / CUTTING IN AFRICA AND BEYOND: A programme to demonstrate effectiveness, catalyse change, build the evidence base and strengthen a global movement to end Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting
[h] UNFPA (23 July 2013): Scaling Up Strategies to Encourage Abandonment of FGM/C
[i] UNICEF Report on FGM: a change of strategy needed? (Interview with Alvilda Jablonko, FGM Program Coordinator of No Peace Without Justice, Brussels, 13 August 2013)
[j] BBC, UK (13 June 2013): MPs urge more action on female genital mutilation and The UK Can Learn From France On Female Genital Mutilation Prosecutions (Burrage, 2012)
[k] Minister for Health, Australia (21 July 2013): $1 Million to help end female genital mutilation in Australia
The idea of a Feminist Statement on the Naming and Abolition of Female Genital Mutilation arose from private email correspondence between some academically-oriented activists in June 2013.
Since then we have sought the advice and views of a diverse range of researchers and activists in the field.
This Statement is the initial result of this consultation. Our thanks to all who have helped and supported us along the way.
* A more detailed account of how the Statement arose can be found here:
Fighting Female Genital Mutilation With Our Keyboards: The Feminist Statement on
FGM Is Launched Today .