“The campaign against Female Genital Cutting: empowering women or reinforcing global inequity?” by Susie Latham

This paper was sent to us by the author who gave us permission to feature it on our website. We’d like to thank Susie Latham for sharing her work with us.

In her paper, Latham discusses how the practice of female circumcision was abandoned in  Khuzestan, Iran. Further, it highlights the minimal impact that this FGC abandonment had on the lives of girls and women raises the question of whether the attention and resources currently spent on FGC abandonment programmes might provide a greater benefit to communities if spent differently. She also raises the suspicion on the effectiveness and the financial and ideological interests  of the UN and other NGO’s in their anti-FGC activism.

We at www.FemaleCircumcision.org support the changes made to any religious practice made only by those who practice the religion. We condemn the worldwide anti-FGM rhetoric that is “designed in a haphazard fashion with no strategic format”, based on poor scientific evidence, colonial and racist in its approach, and seeks to demonize entire people and nations.

Some salient quotes from Susie Latham’s paper are provided below:

“[The WHO] asserts, ‘In every society in which it is practised, female genital mutilation is a manifestation of gender inequality’…Yet the women I spoke to in Iran did not see it this way. They saw FGC as a religious obligation, just as they still see male circumcision as a religious obligation.”

“I had interviewed women across the generations about their lives. When describing their most difficult times, not a single older woman had raised FGC. Invariably, they spoke about living in poverty, being hungry, not having running water or electricity, not attending school, working incredibly hard on the farmlands and domestically, marrying at a young age and having large families.”

“The greatest issue the Iranian abandonment of FGC in the 1950s raised for me was how ending it failed to significantly improve the circumstances in which women and girls lived.”

“But designing programmes to end FGC without addressing issues that damage health more broadly or that deny most FGC practicing communities their rights to education and an adequate standard of living is problematic. Choosing to prioritise issues whose harmful effects can be attributed directly to community behaviour, while ignoring those caused by global inequality, can be characterised as victim blaming.”

“[I]nternational aid donors, UN agencies and NGOs, no matter how well-meaning, have financial and ideological interests in promoting themselves as the only groups capable of ending FGC, in exaggerating both the effectiveness of their interventions and the impact FGC abandonment has on women’s lives and in promoting FGC abandonment as an international priority. We should be suspicious of the disproportionate effort spent on issues which focus on community behaviour compared to issues which emphasise global inequity.”


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