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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: Cut it out: FGM is its own issue

If knives are to be held to a child’s genitals, a thorough discussion better take place first. The dialogue about female “circumcision” — or genital mutilation — has amplified over the past few years.

Recent figures released by the UK’s Health and Social Care Information Centre show that nearly 500 women and girls were hospitalized for treatment of FGM in England in January alone. This data indicates how the dangerous practice, often only associated with non-western countries, has moved into Europe and, according to Newsweek, the U.S., with the “number of women and girls at risk for [FGM]” more than doubling in the last decade.

As the issue moves closer to home for westerners, numerous political and media movements have arisen to ban the practice on an international scale. But whenever news media attempts to have a conversation about FGM and the need to eliminate its practice, there are always readers who ask the questions: What about male circumcision? Doesn’t it deserve the same media attention and legal treatment?

Huffington Post article “Men Break Down Watching Footage Of Female Genital Mutilation, Vow To Speak Out Against Practice” contains no mention of male genital cutting, yet many of the top comments focused on male genital circumcision being equivalent to FGM.

This is not an argument for or against male circumcision. That debate certainly needs to take place; it just needs to happen in a different forum than that of FGM.

To combine debates about male and female genital circumcision on medical or ethical grounds is unjustified and misleading. Yes, FGM and MGC both involve the cutting of genitals. But the similarities end there.

Male circumcision most often involves partial or complete removal of the foreskin, which serves to cover the glans of the penis. The foreskin is said to be anatomically homologous to the clitoral hood in females. Some FGM procedures remove only the clitoral hood, but most additionally remove the clitoris, cut out part or all of the labia minora, and stitch the labia majora together, leaving only a small hole for the excretion of urine and menstrual fluid.

When it comes to anatomy, most cases of FGM are more comparable to a full penectomy than to male circumcision. If baby boys’ penises were being lopped off around the world, then we could have a discussion about MGC being equivalent to FGM. Of course, given the publicity surrounding the 2014 case of an Alabama man whose entire penis was removed during a routine circumcision gone bad, a tradition of infant penectomies wouldn’t even get off the ground. Unfortunately, there’s no similar outrage about the epidemic of baby girls suffering an equivalent fate.

Moreover, the most commonly cited reasons for male circumcision are religious requirements, cleanliness, aesthetics and reduced transmission of STIs. For women, the most commonly cited reasons are tradition, preservation of virginity and better marriage prospects.

Most importantly, the practices differ vastly in their short- and long-term health impacts. According to a 2013 article published in BJUI International, circumcised men face issues such as desensitization and painful erection or urination. Circumcised women, on the other hand, usually encounter pain and bleeding during intercourse, permanent inability to orgasm, blocked menses and urinary tract infection.

Furthermore, nonprofit PATH states that those “who have undergone FGM are twice as likely to die during childbirth and are more likely to give birth to a stillborn child than other women.”

According to Mary Koss, UA regents’ professor at the Mel & Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, “The U.S. has the highest rate of [male] circumcision for non-religious reasons in the world.”

The mortality rate for U.S. male circumcision was found to be 1 in 566,000. In Sudan, the country with the fifth highest FGM rate, the mortality rate is estimated to be as high as one death for every three girls.

Of course, any death resulting from a procedure performed on a child is one too many. But in a world with limited resources, it makes sense that female genital mutilation, the more fatal practice, is considered the more timely issue receiving more political and media attention.

Debate about circumcision, both female and male, is highly necessary and should be encouraged. But, given the differing medical, social and ethical implications of the two practices, it doesn’t make sense to compare the two issues on political grounds. To do so would dilute arguments against either practice and hamper efforts to gain global attention for both.


Hailey Dickson is a freshman studying public health and molecular & cellular biology. Follow her on Twitter.

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