Sunday, August 03, 2014

IWHHR: Week 3A (Childhood and Adolescence: Female Genital Cutting / Mutilation)

During the summer of 2014, I am taking an online course in Global Health from Stanford University taught by Anne Firth Murray entitled, "International Women's Health and Human Rights" (IWHHR). I will be posting my reflective writing assignments from each week's course of study. All writings can be found under the tag IWHHRDetails on the course can be found here.
If you are interested in taking this or another course, you can find a listing of the online courses offered by Stanford here. From economics to cryptography, courses are added each semester.


Consider the different terminologies used for the cutting of female genitalia, as discussed in the text, "From Outrage to Courage" and write three to five thoughtful paragraphs about the implications of the different terminologies:
  • Female Genital Cutting
  • Female Genital Mutilation
  • Female Circumcision

I have always been a staunch believer in the fact that you can say anything to anyone, but how you say it will alter the outcome of how it is received. Execution matters. Words and terminology matter.

At one point in my reading during this unit, I thought about the fact that calling this practice "mutilation" could be very harmful for a victim of the act to live with. To feel as though you have been mutilated, to be told you're a victim of a mutilation and no longer whole could have lifelong psychological effects. And, indeed, we know that FGM/C causes lifelong adverse psychological effects on many, if not all who are subjected to the practice.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has officially adopted the term "female genital mutilation" to identify the practice. However, we know that "female circumcision and "female genital cutting" are also used just as often to describe the practice.

Female circumcision is a term that is a little misleading, since its comparison to male circumcision is inevitable. In fact, female genital cutting is very different than male circumcision. The only way the terms could be equivalent would be if when males are circumcised, they are entirely or partially dismembered and their penises suffer mutilation that cannot ever be repaired. I will not be making an argument for or against male circumcision, but it only involves cutting away the foreskin from the tip of the penis and none of the actual sexual organs are harmed. This not the case with female circumcision, so the term is hardly equitable. Also, the term circumcision also brings with it a level of validity and appropriateness since male circumcision is widely practiced and typically does not cause major physical and psychological health concerns for the rest of that male's life. It's an easier term to handle for some because it does not immediately bring to mind the horror that the terms mutilation and cutting do.

Despite the possible psychological effects that the term female genital mutilation may impose on those have undergone the practice, I think this term combined with cutting is the most accurate and keeps on the forefront of our minds the tragic horror that is this practice. Education is key in decreasing and eventually eradicating this practice which is deeply entrenched in the cultural traditions of the people who perpetuate it.

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