(Phoenix, AZ, February 26, 2016) AIFD is both outraged and gravely disappointed to learn of the recent “compromise” position offered by physicians Kavita Shah Arora and Allan J. Jacobs in the Journal of Medical Ethics on the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM).
Arora and Jacobs refer to the practice, which mutilates, maims, tortures and in many cases is responsible for killing millions of women and girls worldwide – as “female genital alteration,” as though the bodies of women and girls are a pair of pants or a dress. We at AIFD do and will continue to call female genital cutting what it is: mutilation.
Arora and Jacobs acknowledge that women and girls must be “protected,” but rather than introducing measures to do so, they suggest that practitioners of female genital mutilation make “small nicks” on the genitals of girls and women, or that they remove the clitoral hood – the skin protecting the glans of the clitoris, covers its shaft, and forms part of the structure of the labia minora. Basic information as to the structure of the female anatomy, the practice’s dangerous link to extremist ideology, and the horrific psychological impact of it all seem to be lost on these gynecologists, who make the following egregious and dishonest assertion:
“De minimis procedures such as removal of the clitoral hood or a ritual nick on the external female genitalia (Categories 1 and 2) cause little or no functional harm. Therefore, it is difficult to characterize them as unethical or a human rights violation.”
The clitoral hood serves protective, immunological, and erogenous purposes. The structure of this hood varies from woman to woman; some women have clitoral hoods that do not retract fully, thus leaving these women vulnerable to even more severe cutting should a practitioner be trying to remove the hood. Not only is removal of the clitoral hood or “nicking” of the clitoris immensely cruel, it is also dangerous. Removal of the clitoral hood on infants, children, and many women would necessarily lead to the cutting and damaging of the clitoral shaft and the clitoris itself, as well as the labia – especially in environments where blades and other implements are used. Of course, there is also the risk of infection and excessive bleeding and the certainty of trauma. Scar tissue from “nicking,” particularly on women prone to keloid scarring and difficult healing, can inhibit erogenous response and cause discomfort.
In addition to sacrificing girls and women to physical torture by proposing a “compromise,” these Arora and Jacobs are ceding to extremist interpretations of Islam and radical tribal culture. Female genital mutilation is advocated by misogynists, many of whom are radical Islamists; and is carried out in families who seek to forcibly deny girls and women their bodily autonomy and normal healthy sexuality. This procedure serves no purpose other than to diminish the sexuality of women in the name of religion and/or culture. By publishing this article, the Journal of Medical Ethics sets back anti-Islamist reform against Islamist misogyny hundreds of years. They ultimately gave approval to a barbaric procedure inside the pages of a leading journal, now broadcast across most major Western media outlets.
Allowing a girl or woman to be forcibly mutilated in any way sets the stage for male-dominant psychological torture, control, and dehumanization of that woman in her family forever. Whether it’s a so-called “nick” or a more extensive cut, the authors’ inability to forcefully reject this practice in its entirety is an act of complacency, and a medically unethical act of criminally negligent proportions.
Survivors of and advocates against FGM join us in rejecting this “compromise” on female genital mutilation. Survivors like Khadija Gbla, Hibo Wardere (who said that Shah and Jacobs are “glorifying mutilation”), Leyla Hussein (who is also a psychotherapist), and others; as well as organizations like No FGM Australia and Amref Health Africa (lead by Dr. Githinji Gitahi, a gynecologist) – have come out forcefully against Arora and Jacobs. These are individuals and organizations who have experienced and who are surrounded by the horrors of FGM in all its incarnations.
We at AIFD stand with the survivors of FGM, and with the doctors, mental health professionals, and community organizers who have dedicated their lives to ending any and all forms of this horrible practice. We reject interpretations of our faith which condone this practice, and we continue to demand reform within our community to end the misogyny which allows it to continue. We condemn and demand the exposure of those scholars who promote FGM as a means to constrain the sexuality of women, of which they are terrified. We recognize that “compromises” on FGM are dangerous and actually empower misogynistic theocrats.
AIFD President Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, a physician in private practice and a leading ethicist in the national medical community, had this to say: “As a bioethicist of 20 years, as a lifetime anti-Islamist Muslim dedicated to reform, and a man who has a wife and a young daughter, I am beyond horrified by the position of these so called ‘ethicists.’ There is NO compromise against the immorality and barbarism of FGM. To offer any compromise sacrifices girls and women to barbarism and sets the movement for women’s rights in Muslim communities back hundreds of years.”
We condemn in no uncertain terms the morally bankrupt, vile positions of Drs. Arora and Jacobs, and call on the medical community to reject their “compromise.” We further urge an immediate investigation into the ethics of these two gynecologists, who have betrayed the population – women and girls – they are charged with healing. They have handed girls and women over to a legacy of misogyny, pain, torture, and death.
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