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March 24, 2009

New York does little to stop illegal female genital mutilation

Female genital mutilation is illegal in New York State, but as Alyson Zureick reports in the latest issue of the Gotham Gazette, authorities are neither prosecuting offenders nor performing legally-mandated education and outreach to communities that have historicially practiced FGM.

According to one estimate, 41,000 women in New York are at risk of being cut, or have already been subjected to genital cutting. This estimate is based on data from the 2000 census, so clearly more up-to-date information is needed.

Female genital cutting can range in severity from a harmless ritual pinprick to the complete surgical removal of the external genitals. These procedures can cause acute and chronic infections, loss of sexual sensitivity, difficult labor, and PTSD.

According to a lawyer quoted in the article, no one has ever been charged under New York's anti-FGM statute or its federal equivalent since the laws were enacted in the mid-nineties. The last state-level FGM outreach program in New York took place a decade ago.

A handful of community-based organizations, including the Sauti Yetu Center for African Women, are grappling with the problem at the grassroots level. State officials are currently engaged in discussions with these groups about how best to address FGM.

In early 2009, Assemblywoman Barbara Clark of Queens reintroduced legislation that would require State health authorities to present an annual report to the legislature documenting their efforts to combat FGM. The bill is currently before the Senate health subcommittee.


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I don't think New York does anything to stop male genital mutilation.

Not even close to the same thing

The FGM laws prohibit all female genital cutting, even a "harmless ritual pinprick" as Lindsay put it. The more extreme forms, like clitoridectomy or infibulation, are equivalent to, or worse than, the removal of the entire penis, but other equally illegal manifestations, like clitorodotomy (the removal of the clitoral hood) are very much equivalent to male circumcision.

The only reason Americans assume that male genital mutilation is not as bad as female geital mutilation is because of the high rates of this barbaric practice in America. Children die from male circumcision it is unnecessary alters the genitals of the male permananently and densitises him for life. This mutilation also impacts on the partner of a circumcisied male often causing uncomfortable abrasion due to the lack of lubrication. The ritual circumcision of neonates was abandoned in Europe decades ago get real learn the facts circumcised males are subjected as children to the removal of sexually erogenous there is no difference between the two practices both are child abuse.

Can we ever have a discussion of FGM without the neonatal anti-circumcision crowd hijacking it? This has happened about four times already, and I'm getting sick of it. I'm sympathetic to your position, but folks, please don't commandeer every single thread about female genital cutting. Have some perspective, here. You're cheapening your own cause by hijacking FGM discussions.

Yes, there exist variants of FGM that are roughly anatomically analogous to neonatal hospital circumcision--but they are more like points in logical space than health concerns. The main, pressing, public health problem of FGM is analogous to removing the entire penises of male adolescents (and, sometimes, turning the whole bleeding, unsterile mess inside out and stitching it back together).

There are extremely active forums for you to discuss the evils of neonatal foreskin docking. Please take your concerns there.

Lindsay, is there anyone who's actively championing this bill who has power in the state legislature? It seems nothing moves unless someone strong thinks it'll advance his reelection chances, or his money stash.

Parse, you can look at it from a community point of view. Most of the anti-FGM impetus comes from African women who've been genitally mutilated, or know people who have. There are very few people who fight this apart from them, and people inspired by them. Essentially, this is an oppressed class asking for the government for help. With male circumcision, there are some secular Jewish activists who fight the practice, but a) even they describe it as far less disfiguring than FGM, and b) they often focus more on promoting medical circumcision, which is less dangerous, than on banning the practice, especially in Israel, where they view moyels as one more tie between synagogue and state. This is not everyone, and sometimes they do attack circumcision as a whole; Sweden has been good about this and cracked down on circumcision (to my knowledge no country has effectively done the same for FGM). But I can't think of any who compare circumcision and FGM, outside men's rights advocacy.

Alon, you raise some interesting points, though I'd take issue with some of your assertions. But I'm happy to honor Lindsay's request not to use this thread for that discussion.

Female Genital Cutting is outlawed in most of the western world, with a particular completeness - no matter how minor, surgical, sterile and anaesthetised, and with religion and culture specifically NOT allowed as excuses. In some jurisdictions (including mine), an adult woman is not permitted to give her informed consent to such procedures, absent pressing medical need. (I'm surprised feminists are not outraged at this restriction on their right to choose.)

I agree that anti-MGM-activists (like myself) should not hijack threads that have not already mentioned it (though remarkably many do, gratuitously, and in its favour). As you imply, some FGC is milder than MGC. Human rights are not about severity, and as their name implies, should be blind to gender.

Barbara Clark's Bill deserves support. To have a law on the books serves no purpose if there is no way of telling it is - or is not - being enforced.

Wondering... America's all againstthis big issue, femile genital mutilation. What are some of the most recognizied laws and regulations for it?
PS: I'm a student... would really apreciate any helpful answers for it... Thank You

Without wishing to high jack this discussion by bringing up male circumcision it is clear that there will never be an eradication of female circumcision in western countries unless there is an eradication of its male equivilant. Circumcision regardless of gender is child abuse and arguments concerning the degree of harm are maningless when male children die from circumcision in American hospitals with their foreskins sold for profit.

Linda, what you say makes no sense. The West has a whole has varying levels of circumcision, but no FGM practiced outside African immigrant communities. The Middle East has plenty of circumcision but no FGM, too. Arguing that one cause is irrelevant without another requires more evidence than just asserting it is so.

For what it's worth, a new study documents evidence that male circumcision helps reduce transmission of some STDs. I am unaware of any benefit from female circumcision.

Lindsay: I'm not sure how good the numbers of American women at risk for FGM are. They essentially looked at the number of women in the US who come from countries where FGM is prevalent. This is sloppy, because people who emigrate from a developing countries tend to have different profiles from people who don't; they tend to be more educated and more liberal, so they're less likely to engage in extreme practices like FGM. This is different in different countries, but that just shows activists and the government need to learn more about which communities are at risk so that they can know where to target their efforts.

I'm all for further research. I pointed out another shortcoming of the 41,000 estimate in my original post: "According to one estimate, 41,000 women in New York are at risk of being cut, or have already been subjected to genital cutting. This estimate is based on data from the 2000 census, so clearly more up-to-date information is needed." I think money for public health research on FGM has been at least as scarce as money for outreach.

*Disclaimer: I am not a proponent of genital mutilation of any kind, I am merely pointing out the similarities in how cultures that promote 'circumcision' justify it for both men and women.*

Just thought I'd chime in with some of the beliefs I'm seeing about Female Genital Mutilation that aren't supported by the evidence.

Belief # 1 -- Female Genital Mutilation has no protective effect against STDs unlike Male Genital Mutilation:

"[A] large survey of Tanzanian women netted the vexing conclusion that female circumcision halved their risk of HIV infection. Rebecca Stallings (ORC Macro, Calverton, Maryland) set out to see whether variables influencing circumcision or HIV risk could solve this apparent riddle [abstract TuOa0402]. But session attendees guessed Stallings had no good news when she started her talk with a terse avowal of opposition to female circumcision and to government intrusion in women's lives. [...] None of the variables Stallings weighed explained why circumcision apparently protected women from HIV in the primary analysis -- and she weighed a lot of them: region, years living there, household wealth, age, education, religion, years sexually active, union status, polygamy, number of recent and lifetime sex partners, recent infection or abnormal discharge, use of alcohol, and ability to say no to sex. [...] In the final model, circumcision whittled the risk of HIV infection by 40% (odds ratio [OR] 0.60, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.41 to 0.88)."


The article above discusses the benefits of circumcision on both men and women. It mentions the work of an anti-FGM researcher in trying to discredit findings that show FGM has a protective affect against HIV. She could not. So, in conclusion, FGM has been found to have a protective effect against HIV infection. Also, the Africa results on MGM being protective against STDs haven't transfered over to US cohorts. Here's one study that indicates a reduction in genital warts for non-amputated men:

And another that found no protective benefit for foreskin amputation:

Also, the US leads western nations in both STD infections AND MGM.

According to our own western research, both FGM and MGM can protect against HIV infection. But only one form of GM is acceptable to our culture, so we only promote one. In my opinion, none of this conflicted evidence provides an excuse to remove erogenous tissue from either men or women.

Belief # 2 -- Female Genital Mutilation is like cutting off a man's penis:

All of the erectile structures of the clitoris are internal and unharmed in most FGM. The clitoral glans is not an erectile structure, and it's the only external structure of the clitoris. (O'Connell HE, Sanjeevan KV, Hutson JM., "Anatomy of the clitoris", J Urol. 2005 Oct;174(4 Pt 1):1189-95.) The clitoris is as big as the penis, btw, it's just INTERNAL. This is a common anatomical misconception. During development, both male and female genitals form from a 'genital tubercle'. The erectile structures of the genital tubercle that become the penis in a male are internalized in a female and become the internal erectile structures of the clitoris.

Most forms of FGM remove no erectile tissue. Therefore none of them can be equivalent to removing _all_ of men's erectile tissue. The clitoris is likely correlated to the frenulum of an intact male (they are both non-erectile and able to be stimulated to orgasm in similar ways for example, by a vibrator). Therefore the average infant circumcision in the west is equivalent to removing the clitoral hood, the clitoris and the inner labia of a female. Both forms of GM remove the non-erectile sexual structures of both men and women. (The average adult male circumcision may not be equivalent as the frenulum may be left intact.) This makes MGM and FGM very comparable, with the caveat that MGM also permanently exteriorizes a sexual structure (the glans of the penis) that then becomes less sensitive--like the effect of removing the lips and cheeks on the tongue.

Belief # 3 -- FGM removes all sexual pleasure for women:

Studies don't show this. FGM impairs female sexual function, just like MGM impairs male sexual function. However women who have undergone FGM do not loose all sexual function.

Catania, Lucrezia, Omar Abdulcadir, Vincenzo Puppo, Jole Baldaro Verde, Jasmine Abdulcadir, and Dalmar Abdulcadir, "Pleasure and Orgasm in Women with Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C)", J Sex Med 2007;4:1666–1678

F.E. Okonofuaa, U. Larsenc, F. Oronsayea, R.C. Snowd, T.E. Slangerd, "The association between female genital cutting and correlates of sexual and gynaecological morbidity in Edo State, Nigeria", BJOG,October 2002, Vol. 109, pp. 1089–1096


IMHO, FGM and MGM are very comparable. The only difference is our cultural attitudes. Read the comments of women who are circumcised and proud of it. Their rationales sound identical to circumcised men in the west--they deny any effect on their sexuality, they call the clitoris a 'filthy piece of worthless flesh' that they would cut off again if it ever grew back--and their societies make the same arguments for it as well: hygiene, protection against disease, sexual attractiveness to the opposite gender and sexual control(it's only been since the seventies that the argument that MGM controls boys sexual appetites and reduces their sexual pleasure has been dropped from our rationales for promoting it.)

Finally, I don't think you can understand FGM without also understanding MGM, and vice versa. The two phenomena are so similar, society deciding that sexuality exists only to serve society's aims, and not for individual expression and enjoyment.

Yes,about time somebody else raise the dust/smog cloud happening in Bronx,Queens and maybe even Manhattan.Those girls are having the procedure done to them not in Africa,but here,in some filthy buildings and cramped apartments.
Why nothingf has followed?
Because they are black and poor mostly.Racism.If it was happening to some white girls,the hearts and money will walk the talk.
And about baby boys foreskins,ask Oprah why it is a profitable operation to keep sweeping it under the medical carpet of medical blunders,push it more in the "untold,unfit" stories,because their denouncers are demonized as attention seekers and worst.Pay attention,it is innocent children above all.Or you compare too?
Look at the Crime,forgive the finger that shows it to you.

Maybe one day people will look at this,and stop making distinctions like those in Dachau.
Was it less of a crime to be in the same concentration camp under the same torture criminals,because your race or political ideas,maybe because you were also Aryan but born with some "physical undesirable" cause for sentence?
Who is less guilty or less victim?

The 6 million NY men who've undergone MGM, of course, are irrelevant.

This is an outrage. I thought I could expect more from my hometown. Thank you for this alarming and provocative post. Painful to read but we must all wake up, if we're ever going to make a difference.

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