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Salon Writer Inspires Anti-FGM Legislation

By carolyncastiglia |

It’s easy to feel helpless when you’re just one person standing at the foot of a behemoth problem, but as Tracy Clark-Flory reported yesterday, Salon contributor Lynn Harris brought Gandhi’s, “Be the change you wish to see in the world” mantra to life by exposing the horrors of female genital mutilation happening on US soil.  Her in-depth coverage of the subject inspired representatives Joseph Crowley (D-NY) and Mary Bono Mack (R-CA) to introduce anti-FGM legislation referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary on Monday.

According to Clark-Flory’s piece, the Girls Protection Act “would make it a federal crime to transport a minor outside the United States for the purpose of female genital mutilation.”  Harris’s original reporting on the subject concluded that while female genital mutilation has “been outlawed by U.S. federal law since 1996 and is also illegal in 17 states — its practice by immigrant families here is, by all anecdotal reports, only increasing.”

Harris should feel particularly proud of her work, because as she stated, “Versions of a bill that would require (New York) state to report to the governor annually on its efforts to address FGM has passed the state assembly repeatedly since 1995 but has died a thousand deaths in the Senate. (Re-re-reintroduced in January 2009 by Assemblywoman Barbara Clark of Queens, the bill is currently cooling its heels in the Senate’s Health subcommittee.)”  Bringing attention to the problem on a federal level should certainly impact what is happening in New York State, and more specifically in New York City, where many immigrants whose country of origin condone the practice of FGM reside.  Unlike male circumcision, which is executed for both religious and health reasons, Harris notes that female genital mutilation, though a part of Muslim culture in some countries, is a social, not religious, practice and serves not only no benefit, but often traumatizes the young women forced into it.

For more on the Girls Protection Act, click here.

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About carolyncastiglia

carolyncastiglia

carolyncastiglia

Carolyn Castiglia is a New York-based comedian/writer wowing audiences with her stand-up and freestyle rap. She’s appeared in TONY, The NY Post, The Idiot’s Guide to Jokes and Life & Style. You can find Carolyn’s writing elsewhere online at MarieClaire.com and The Huffington Post. Read bio and latest posts → Read Carolyn's latest posts →

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21 thoughts on “Salon Writer Inspires Anti-FGM Legislation

  1. GtothemfckinP says:

    Thumbs up for this, but it is a little bit of a leap to say male circumcision, is executed for both religious and health reasons…I don’t really think so. Health reasons? Not so much. Thank god I am not having any sons. This would be a big bone of contention in our house…

  2. Joy says:

    Health reasons? Not so much. The AAP, WHO, AAFP, et al don’t recommend routine infant circumcision for health reasons saying the evidence to support it doesn’t outweigh the risks.

  3. Mark Lyndon says:

    The people that cut girls say they do it for both religious and health reasons. It’s illegal to cut the prepuce off a baby girl though, so why don’t boys get the same protection?

    If you want to end female circumcision, you have to end male circumcision too. Even if you see a fundamental difference, the people that cut girls don’t.

    Everyone should be able to decide for themselves whether or not they want parts of their genitals cut off. Whose body is it?

  4. Ri-chan says:

    Both male and female circumsicion make me sick. Ouch. Poor babies :(

  5. Restoring Tally says:

    It is a shame that there is still a gender bias for genital mutilation. Everyone wants to stop cutting of the female genitals because it is against our culture, but cutting genitals of boys is OK because that is what we do in the US. Well, we do it in the US because it was originally thought to reduce masturbation. That’s right, it was done by the Victorians to reduce sexual pleasure and it is now part of our culture. Leave all children natural, just as they were born.

  6. Frank OHara says:

    Since passage of the 1996 FGM Law, there has been exactly TWO CASES of minor females being circumcised in the United States. Of course, that’s two too many but do we need to expend such great sums and efforts when there has been only one case every 7 years?

    BTW, both those who practice male and female circumcision on minor children believe there are health benefits when any health benefits are about equal for both. “Health benefits” are simply a justification for a cosmetic procedure the parents want.

    .

  7. stcelia says:

    I have to agree. I have never understood why it is socially accepted (here) to surgically remove part of a boys genitals, but considered so backwards, dangerous and hideous to do it to a girl. I also don’t understand why most people don’t see the double standard for what it is. I think partly because there is an us vs them component to the distaste. And because our boys are cut inside hospitals and doctors offices and the girls are done secretly in back room procedures without “proper” medical equipment.

  8. Equal says:

    I can tell you from the perspective of someone who was mutilated at birth “circumcised” that this procedure is meant to hinder, and nothing else. Any one with half a brain can see through the bullshit that the doctors use to justify this mutilation. I disagree with any sort of mutilation on both men and women, and I hope that the children of this world can one day universally enjoy a fully functioning and INTACT genitalia. Please everyone wake-up and stop this madness.

  9. Jack says:

    Any health reasons for cutting off the parts of the penis called the foreskin would also apply to cutting off similar tissue of a girl (the labia and clitoral hood of girls — what most FGM is). There are even two studies that show female circumcision reduces a woman’s risk of HIV by over 50%. But there is no hygiene or health reason to cut off genital parts of a child.

    Cutting off erogenous tissue from a minor or any person without their consent or some immediate problem is a heinous act. All of these genital cutting practices are bad when done without consent of the owner. Male and Females each deserve the chance to experience their whole natural body. Stop all genital cutting.

  10. Manjari says:

    I have to agree with the other comments here. My son is circumcised, and it’s my greatest regret so far as a parent. There were no complications or anything, but I was just misguided and thought it was in his best interests at the time. I REALLY wish I had done my own research instead of listening to my family.

    I agree that boys and girls should all grow up with intact genitalia!

  11. Sarah says:

    Frank- Just because it (FGM) is not being detected or prosecuted doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. As for the way this review of the Salon article was presented- I have to wonder why they felt compelled to inset the dismissive quip about MGM. As long as she continues to differentiate between male and female genital mutilation- as if the motivation of the mutilator is of any consequence to the person being mutilated- she will not have made any grounds for human rights. Male circumcision in the USA is a sexist cultural act hidden behind a veneer of weak medical excuses. All people have a basic right to genital integrity, let’s stop with the hypocrisy and stop with ALL the cutting.

  12. [...] really a matter of resources or are the doctors taking a stance on circumcision. Don’t miss this discussion of female circumcision and legislation banning [...]

  13. carolyncastiglia says:

    Just wanted to say for the record that while I don’t think circumcision of male babies is as horrifying as FGM, I personally wouldn’t choose to circumcize a boy if I had one. I was married to a European for many years, tho, which allowed me to see that circumcision is a choice. More and more Americans are beginning to realize it may not be necessary, and I agree that ending all genital cutting would certainly promote the end of FGM. Though I think because of the role it plays in Judiasm, the end of circumcision is a long way off. That’s why I mentioned FGM being a social, rather than religious custom, so it couldn’t be argued that if male circumcision is an accepted religious practice FGM should be too.

  14. GtothemfckinP says:

    Sort of makes you wonder…the pagans, the people whose ancestors were running around in the woods, the ones who used to be called “barbarians” are, in fact, the most civilized…the big time world religions of Judaism and Islam don’t even respect God’s creation enough to leave perfectly formed humans as they are born into the world. Shame.

  15. Equal says:

    Actually Carolyn, and this is unfortunate, but it absolutely could be argued that female circumcision is a religious practice. Most times, in africa when a female is circumcised it is done by other females to keep in accord with their social customs. Now whether one is worse then the other is a sexist comment to begin with, I personally believe they are both EQUALLY bad. Most people don’t know this carolyn but studies show that the most sensitive parts of the penis are in the foreskin. Let me explain, the foreskin is partly made up of specialized mucous membrane skin which are packed full of nerves. Also included in the foreskin is a “rigid band”, this part of the foreskin connects directly to the frenulum to allow stimulation of the frenulum during penetration. The frenulum is a more rigid type of skin closely related to the clitoris in females and studies show they give a very similar sensation. Now during circumcision the foreskin is removed, taking with it the smooth muscle fibers of the skin that house and protect the glans of the penis. The frenulum and rigid band are also amputated. Now thats over four different types of specialized tissue that are removed, those tissues combined have close to double the nerves than the glans of the penis. Not to mention that once circumcised the glans of the penis keratinizes, which severely decreases the sensitivity of the glans. By the way keratin is a very tough material generally produced by animals in their hoofs and claws and it is closely related to chitin which is used in the protective scales of alligator skin.

    So in conclusion, circumcision of males especially before they even know they have a penis is just as bad and possibly even more debilitating than female circumcision. This is especially true in my opinion if you take into consideration the number of male victims and the number of female victims, if you do the math it will definitely tip your scale. Now please, I am well researched. I understand they use crude tools and believe me my sympathy goes out to those women who are victims. But realistically speaking there is twice the amount of material and twice the amount of skin types removed from males than there is from females. I am not trying to make a war saying one is worse, though it may appear so given the information presented. For the sake of humanity I say they are both a crime of equal stature. A crime that when practiced on children should be punishable by death. Now unfortunately these mutilations are still practiced on both sexes and for that I am deeply disgusted.

  16. Marj says:

    It seems to me that total removal of the clitoris, or fully sealing up the the vulva (both types of female circumcision) is far more damaging than a male circumcision. Most men I know who are circumcised enjoy sex a lot. I don’t think that is true in the cases of these extreme cases of female circumcision. I mean, there is a difference between cosmetic stuff (and women do get their genitals altered cosmetically as well), and being left with basically non-functional genitals.
    (I read up on female circumcision after I read this article, because the comments made me think I had misunderstood that it was more invasive than just altering the appearance of the vulva. I had not apparently.)

  17. Equal says:

    Marj, i have to agree with you, female circumcision is terrible. It is an absolutely repulsive thought that someone would cut on a child’s genitals. The one reason though that I am convinced that male circumcision is worse than female circumcision is the overwhelming majority opinion that male circumcision is OK or UP TO THE PARENTS while female circumcision is generally regarded (with exception to the few societies who actually practice it) as absolutely wrong. In reality it is outrageous that either practice continues, and in my opinion should be halted immediately. In my previous comment i mentioned the fact that there are more male children affected than female children. In reality if you look at the numbers they are shocking. There are an estimated 100 million living women who have been mutilated, while there are an estimated 650 million men living who have been mutilated. I know many like to justify the fact that “studies show” male circumcision helps prevent against std’s, when in reality all the “study” did was measure the fact that there was less skin (sensitive mucous membrane skin) that could allow for the infection of disease. While that may be true less skin would allow less infections, the problem lies in the solution itself. By the concept of less skin equals less areas of infection than why not amputate the entire genitalia, that would by the same definition help prevent disease. The same for female mutilation, they claim that if they seal the vagina shut they will be “preserved a virgin” for one, but they also tout the fact of less infection due to less exposure to the internal mucous membrane skin that covers the inside walls of the vagina. By definition this may sound like a good idea to those who support mutilation. However to those on the receiving end, i’m sure that they would much rather practice safe sex with fully intact genitals or suffer the consequences otherwise. Infant mutilation is wrong on both sexes, stop justifying one while demonizing the other. But of course if you are of legal age, man or women, you should have the right to any cosmetic procedure you could afford, as long as you consent.

  18. Hugh7 says:

    Well, everyone who says female genital cutting is much worse than male genital cutting (circumcision) can take a break now, because the AAP wants to legalise a “ritual nick” of girls that is much milder than male circumcision. If you oppose that, you’d be a monster not to oppose male circumcision as well.

  19. [...] is “nerve sparing” surgery, as opposed to the traditional removal of the organ.  But as we’ve discussed here on Strollerderby, there really are no good reasons for altering a baby’s genitals.  I’ve come to the [...]

  20. Ahmed says:

    It is interesting that as more and more people come to realize what Islamic female circumcision really requires, namely, removing the prepuce of the clitoris, the practice gains in popularity.

    Some countries that earlier banned it have allowed it again. This includes Indonesia which recently medicalised it and legally stipulated what needs to be removed, namely the prepuce of the clitoris.

    There exist many ahadith or sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) to show the important place, circumcision, whether of males or females, occupies in Islam. Among these traditions is the one where the Prophet is reported to have declared circumcision (khitan) to be sunnat for men and ennobling for women (Baihaqi).

    He is also known to have declared that the bath (following sexual intercourse without which no prayer is valid) becomes obligatory when both the circumcised parts meet (Tirmidhi). The fact that the Prophet defined sexual intercourse as the meeting of the male and female circumcised parts (khitanul khitan or khitanain) when stressing on the need for the obligatory post-coital bath could be taken as pre-supposing or indicative of the obligatory nature of circumcision in the case of both males and females.

    Stronger still is his statement classing circumcision (khitan) as one of the acts characteristic of the fitra or God-given nature (Or in other words, Divinely-inspired natural inclinations of humans) such as the shaving of pubic hair, removing the hair of the armpits and the paring of nails (Bukhari) which again shows its strongly emphasized if not obligatory character in the case of both males and females. Muslim scholars are of the view that acts constituting fitra which the Prophet expected Muslims to follow are to be included in the category of wajib or obligatory.

    That the early Muslims regarded female circumcision as obligatory even for those Muslims who embraced Islam later in life is suggested by a tradition occurring in the Adab al Mufrad of Bukhari where Umm Al Muhajir is reported to have said: “I was captured with some girls from Byzantium. (Caliph) Uthman offered us Islam, but only myself and one other girl accepted Islam. Uthman said: ‘Go and circumcise them and purify them.’”

    More recently, we had Sheikh Jadul Haqq, the distinguished head of Al Azhar declaring both male and female circumcision to be obligatory religious duties (Khitan Al Banat in Fatawa Al-Islamiyyah. 1983). The fatwa by his successor Tantawi who opposed the practice cannot be taken seriously as we all know that he has pronounced a number of unislamic fatwas such as declaring bank interest halal and questioning the obligation of women wearing headscarves.

    At the same time, however, what is required in Islam, is the removal of only the prepuce of the clitoris, and not the clitoris itself as is widely believed. The Prophet is reported to have told Umm Atiyyah, a lady who circumcised girls in Medina: “When you circumcise, cut plainly and do not cut severely, for it is beauty for the face and desirable for the husband” (idha khafadti fa ashimmi wa la tanhaki fa innahu ashraq li’l wajh wa ahza ind al zawj) (Abu Dawud, Al Awsat of Tabarani and Tarikh Baghdad of Al Baghdadi).

    This hadith clearly explains the procedure to be followed in the circumcision of girls. The words: “Cut plainly and do not cut severely” (ashimmi wa la tanhaki) is to be understood in the sense of removing the skin covering the clitoris, and not the clitoris. The expression “It is beauty (more properly brightness or radiance) for the face” (ashraq li’l wajh) is further proof of this as it simply means the joyous countenance of a woman, arising out of her being sexually satisfied by her husband. The idea here is that it is only with the removal of the clitoral prepuce that real sexual satisfaction could be realized. The procedure enhances sexual feeling in women during the sex act since a circumcised clitoris is much more likely to be stimulated as a result of direct oral, penile or tactile contact than the uncircumcised organ whose prepuce serves as an obstacle to direct stimulation.

    A number of religious works by the classical scholars such as Fath Al Bari by Ibn Hajar Asqalani and Sharhul Muhadhdhab of Imam Nawawi have stressed on the necessity of removing only the prepuce of the clitoris and not any part of the organ itself. It is recorded in the Majmu Al Fatawa that when Ibn Taymiyyah was asked whether the woman is circumcised, he replied: “Yes we circumcise. Her circumcision is to cut the uppermost skin (jilda) like the cock’s comb.” More recently Sheikh Jadul Haqq declared that the circumcision of females consists of the removal of the clitoral prepuce (Khitan Al Banat in Fatawa Al Islamiyya. 1983).

    Besides being a religious duty, the procedure is believed to facilitate good hygiene since the removal of the prepuce of the clitoris serves to prevent the accumulation of smegma, a foul-smelling, germ-containing cheese- like substance that collects underneath the prepuces of uncircumcised women (See Al Hidaayah. August 1997).

    A recent study by Sitt Al Banat Khalid ‘Khitan Al-Banat Ru’ yah Sihhiyyah’ (2003) has shown that female circumcision, like male circumcision, offers considerable health benefits, such as prevention of urinary tract infections and other diseases such as cystitis affecting the female reproductive organs.

    The latest is the study Orgasmic Dysfunction Among Women at a Primary Care Setting in Malaysia. Hatta Sidi, and Marhani Midin, and Sharifah Ezat Wan Puteh, and Norni Abdullah, (2008) Asia Pacific Journal of Public Health, 20 (4) accessible http://myais.fsktm.um.edu.my/4480/ which shows that being Non-Malay is a higher risk factor for Orgasmic Sexual Dysfunction in women, implying that Malay women experience less problems in achieving orgasm than non-Malay women. As you know almost all Malay women in Malaysia are circumcised (undergo hoodectomy) in contrast to non-Malay women who are not. This would suggest that hoodectomy does in fact contribute to an improved sex life in women rather than diminishing it as some argue.
    There is also reason to believe that an uncircumcised clitoris can cause oral cancer in a man if he engages in oral sex with her.

    US scientists have found strong evidence linking oral sex to cancer, and urged more study of how human papillomaviruses may be to blame for a rise in oral cancer among white men.

    In the United States, oral cancer due to HPV infection is now more common than oral cancer from tobacco use, which remains the leading cause of such cancers in the rest of the world.

    Researchers have found a 225-percent increase in oral cancer cases in the United States from 1974 to 2007, mainly among white men, said Maura Gillison of Ohio State University. “The rise in oral cancer in the US is predominantly among young white males and we do not know the answer as to why.”

    It is obvious that the only way men can acquire the HPV virus is through the oral stimulation of one’s partner’s clitoris which allows the virus to enter the mouth. The virus no doubt is harboured in the prepuce of the clitoris just as it has been found that HPV also resides in the foreskins of males, through the transmission of which cervical cancer occurs in females. Thus a hoodectomy could, by removing the part that harbours the virus, significantly reduce or eliminate the risk of women transmitting the virus to their male partners.

    For more information on the benefits of hoodectomy see http://www.hoodectomyinformation.com

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