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Opinion Pieces Address Terminology Surrounding FGM

The following is a summary of opinion pieces examining the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) and the terminology used to discuss it.

  • Hilary Burrage, Huffington Post U.K.’s “Impact” blog: “Wednesday, August 28 is the day when a small group of women, me included, launch our Feminist Statement On Female Genital Mutilation,” Burrage, a sociologist from the U.K. writing a book on eradicating FGM, writes. “The basic premise of our statement is this: Patriarchal oppression is the bedrock of [FGM] and related harmful traditional practices … [and] female genital mutilation in all its forms is cruelty and abuse,” she writes, adding, “[O]ur aim in publishing the statement is: … to gather support, from concerned citizens and from people directly working to abolish FGM, for research, dialogue and activism which derive from such an understanding. To that end we insist, for instance, that FGM be correctly named — as specifically ‘mutilation’ and not, in formal discourse, by any evasive or softening euphemism.” Burrage provides some statistics regarding FGM, and she concludes, “Until nations everywhere perceive FGM not as a custom, but rather as an epidemic which must be addressed by governments as well as community workers, it will continue to blight the lives of millions” (8/28).
  • Kim Thuy Seelinger and Hernan Reyes, Huffington Post’s “World” blog: The “[r]ecent release of UNICEF’s fascinating report [.pdf] about the practice it refers to as ‘female genital mutilation or cutting (FGM/C)’ triggered lively coverage in national and international news outlets,” Seelinger, director of the Sexual Violence Program at the University of California Berkeley School of Law’s Human Rights Center, and Reyes, an obstetrician and gynecologist who spent 28 years as medical coordinator for the International Committee of the Red Cross, write. “While the UNICEF report sparked critical discussion about the practice itself, the issue of terminology and its implications must not be overlooked,” they state, noting, “Debate over vocabulary has persisted in the West for decades.” They examine the use of different terminology in media coverage, stating, “Of the different terms used in the West, at least ‘female circumcision’ should be abandoned. At best, it is inaccurate. At worst, it inches the practice into the realm of the medicalized or sanitary, obscuring aspects that still undermine girls’ and women’s human rights.” The authors conclude, “It is medically inaccurate, falsely reassuring, and distracts from the fundamental question of whether alteration of the female genitalia for no medical benefit — and, indeed, to limit a woman’s full sexual integrity — is a human rights violation” (8/28).