Female Genital Cutting (FGC) is a practice that completely or partially removes the external female genitalia. FGC has been reported in various cultures and countries across the world, but according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), almost ½ of all incidents occur in Egypt or Ethiopia. In communities that practice FGC—some Islamic– many proponents believe that FGC is sanctioned by the Quran (also spelled Koran; Islamic religious text); in fact, no religion, including Islam, is associated with FGC (HHS Office on Women’s Health). Debates continue as many do not understand that formal religious endorsement of FGC has never occurred.
Tradition and superstitions, such as cleanliness and family honor, contribute to the continuation of the practice. For communities that practice the tradition, fears drive families to participate: if a girl is not cut, she will be viewed as an outsider to a community and runs the risk of being unwed. Intervention strategies target men to abandon FGC as a norm, focusing on patriarchal belief systems and the subordination of women.
Although some groups point to the issue of cultural competence, human rights groups and the World Health Organization (WHO) argue that the health risks of FGC outweigh this. Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) (created by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948) states that every person has the right to health, well-being, and security. Although critics have argued that the UDHR is framed in a Western lens, the document guides issues that compromise the safety and health of humans, especially if inflicted by another being. According to the World Health Organization, health problems related to FGC include: bleeding; hemorrhaging; increased risk of Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) and HIV infection; infection of the genitals and urethra; painful scarring and menstruation; trauma and emotional distress; infertility; and problems during labor/pregnancy (http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs241/en/).
A New York Times video describes a grassroots social mobilization strategy in Senegal to teach families about the harms of FGC. This social movement reflects the principle that before the practice can be abandoned, there must be widespread communication and awareness. There are many short videos describing various aspects of female genital cutting, including one that provides further information about the intervention strategy in Senegal and female genital cutting in Kenya.