Reaction to The New York Times letter: ‘The Law in a Female Genital Cutting Case'


Your advocating for the “total abolition” of female genital mutilation with “the substitution of a benign, sterilized, symbolic pinprick in the hood covering the clitoris..” is a destructive attempt to undo 30 years of exceptionally challenging work – from grassroots up – to end a centuries-old practice.

Proposing that “If all who today practice female genital mutilation can be persuaded to substitute the pinprick, as some groups have done, much good will be achieved” is to deny that FGM, in all its forms, is internationally recognized as a violation of a girl’s human rights and her right to physical, mental and psychological integrity—irrespective of the degree of harm caused or indeed the medical qualifications of the person performing it.

FGM plays a central part in the traditional norms of many societies, according to which many girls and women are subjected to several such procedures over the course of their lives. You fail to recognise that the ‘symbolic pinprick’ you propose begins a process that puts women and girls at risk of repeated and more severe forms of FGM at a later date. Furthermore, all forms of FGM can entail psychological trauma that is not necessarily linked to the severity of the cut: the breach of a child’s trust and her physical integrity can cause trauma in and of itself.

The proposal of a “substitution of a symbolic pinprick” on religious grounds or the suggestion that it is “much less intrusive than procedures practiced by some groups while protecting the constitutional right of its religious practitioners” is a particularly worrying development. The “consulting and advocating” with religious groups on behalf of a harmful practice or "lighter forms" of FGM and its medicalization might be taking care of the physical symptoms to alleviate them, but it completely overlooks the symbolic aspect of the practice and the very root causes of FGM. In proposing such a “substitution”, you advocate for the power inequality between men and women and the will to control women and girls' sexuality. Advocating for a lesser form of FGM can just as easily be compared to a "lesser form of violence and discrimination" against women and girls the world over.

The fight to legitimately end the practice of female genital mutilation is a long one. Yet notable progress has been made in a diverse range of communities around the world. Critical to this continued if slow progress has been the clear message that all forms of FGM are unacceptable. Simply criminalising certain types of FGM will not change attitudes. But it will confuse a carefully crafted message that aims to achieve fundamental change in communities affected by FGM.

The End FGM European Network

Link to referenced letter.