The argument on behalf of female genital mutilation (FGM) has been happening for thousands of years, as the procedure has been practiced for centuries globally. According to the United Nations, over 30 countries have practiced FGM.
FGM is generally practiced as infibulation, where young girls’ or infants’ labia lips are cut off, as well as their clitoris. The vaginal opening could also be sewn nearly completely shut, with just enough room for menstrual bleeding to emerge. These procedures can cause irrevocable complications for childbirth and sex, as well as psychological trauma.
Although FGM is criminalized in Canada and depicted negatively throughout mainstream media, gynecologist Dr. Allan Jacobs argues that minor vulvar procedures should be legalized as a “compromise.” He states that to disallow “small vulvar nick[s]” would be discriminatory towards different cultures that uphold this practice, and that allowing them could “forestalls subsequent vulvar infibulation done under dangerous conditions.”
His intention is to replace major infibulation procedures with smaller, less invasive procedures; ones he claims are completely harmless to the child at the time, and as she grows into womanhood. In an interview with CBC radio, Jacobs compares ear piercings, circumcision, and breast enhancement surgeries to female genital mutilation procedures.
Though, when creating analogies like these, it is crucial to look to the reasons for a procedure. Female genital mutilation procedures are based in patriarchal traditions, can be meant to inhibit sexual pleasure for women, can cause dangerous repercussions, and are simply harmful operations that young children cannot consent to.
If Allen Jacobs intends less invasive procedures to be a compromise, it is a compromise that will most likely fail. According to Ruth Macklin of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, cultures that are inclined to perform extreme mutilation of female genitals would not be likely to acceptless invasive alterations just because they’re available. In fact, the practice of genital mutilation was often done in many cultures to determine whether a women was essentially ‘marriage material.’
If less invasive vulvar ‘nicks,’ as Jacobs proposed, were carried out as harmlessly as he describes, then there would be no evidence on the woman by the time of marriage; and therefore could be seen as obsolete.
The fact of the matter is, not every cultural practice deserves respect. Historically, the United States used female genital mutilation to cure hysteria in the 19th and 20th centuries, until people began to question the ethics of the practice.
To preach cultural acceptance surrounding a violent and non-consensual procedure in nonsensical. It is undeniable; some cultural practices are harmful. Culture is a dynamic force that can shift and change, and to accept a practice as harmful as FGM is regrettable at best.
Maryum Saifee has written for The Guardian about her experiences with ‘less invasive’ FGM, and hopes to be an inspiration for other women to come forward with their experiences. Saifee, when speaking on air to CBC, states that her experience with type one female alteration procedures was a “blocked out the memory because it was so traumatic.”
Instead of making loose inferences about whether or not “less invasive” FGM procedures are psychologically and physically traumatic, Jacobs should turn to survivors of the procedure he is recommending in order to learn the real effects it can have. As Saifee adamantly insists, “any form of structured gender-based violence [. . . is] just wrong,” and in no way should we condone or accept it.