Circumcision like FGM?

Critics say circumcision is as "barbaric and unnecessary" as FGM


'FGM and male circumcision aren't the same'

Nimco Ali is a Somali anti-FGM campaigner and survivor of female genital mutilation (FGM).

She spoke to BBC Africa ahead of the International Day of Zero Tolerance against FGM about her mission, misconceptions about FGM and the women in Africa who are at the forefront of the fight to eradicate the practise.

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Should circumcision be compared to female genital mutilation?

By Daniel J. McLaughlin

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is the deliberate cutting or removal of a female's external genitalia, often removing or cutting the labia and clitoris. It is often carried out for religious reasons, social acceptance, and misconceptions about hygiene.

While it is illegal, around 100,000 women and girls in the UK have undergone the brutal procedure.

Circumcision is the removal of the foreskin at the end of the male's penis. There are both medical reasons and non-medical reasons for the procedure, such as religious practice. It is legal, and carried out across the world.

Some argue that the similarities between circumcision and FGM are "glaring", calling both practices "barbaric and unnecessary".

However, one FGM campaigner argues that people do not understand the difference between male circumcision and female genital mutilation.

The Claim

Stephen Evans, chief executive officer of the National Secular Society, argues that male circumcision "needs to be seen as barbaric and unnecessary – just like female genital mutilation".

In an article for the Independent, he says that the similarities between the two practices are "glaring". He notes that they both vary in severity, they are both painful and usually performed on a non-consenting child, they are medically unnecessary, and they are risky.

Evans argues: "FGM is a violation of the human rights of girls. Non-therapeutic male circumcision is a violation of the rights of boys. The gendered double standard in the way the law deals with them needs to be addressed.

"Our response to both forms of cutting should be to apply the principle of genital autonomy and bodily integrity to all children, irrespective of their sex.

"Circumcision before the age of consent deprives a boy of a body part that he would otherwise likely appreciate. Every child should enjoy the freedom to grow up with an intact body and to make their own choices about permanent bodily modifications."

He says that if someone consents to their own non-therapeutic circumcision when they are old enough, that's fine. He adds: "But let's at least give them that choice."

The Counterclaim

According to Nimco Ali, a Somali anti-FGM campaigner and a survivor of the illegal procedure, FGM and male circumcision aren't the same.

Speaking to BBC Africa, she said: "There are a lot of myths around the female anatomy, and people don't understand the difference between male circumcision and female genital mutilation.

"What becomes the penis in the male baby and the clitoris within the girl is exactly the same.

"FGM is not male circumcision. The consequences of FGM are lifelong."

Ali argues that there needs to be more emotional support for the 200 million women globally that have undergone FGM. She says that 70 million girls are at risk of FGM, specifically in Africa, the Middle East, the UK and parts of India.

She explains that you do not have to spend millions on tackling FGM. In fact, a specific community in the Kenyan-Somali border ended FGM with just £800. Ali says that 300 girls were saved with that money.

She adds that her mission is to end FGM by 2030.

The Facts

According to Marie Claire, around 15 per cent of men in the UK have had a circumcision. This is a fraction compared to the United States, where over half of the male population have been through the procedure.

The World Health Organisation estimates that 30 per cent of men, aged 15 and over, are circumcised worldwide.

The Independent reports that the number of girls at risk of FGM doubled in a year in England and Wales. Figures show that FGM was listed in 1,960 social work assessments by councils in 2017/18 - compared to 970 cases in the previous year.

The figures have been described as "alarming", but experts say they are likely to be the tip of the iceberg.

Around 100,000 women and girls in the UK are estimated to have undergone the illegal procedure. NHS England statistics show that 1,015 FGM cases were recorded between April and June in 2018 - however, the procedures may have been performed many years before.

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Opinion: Male circumcision needs to be seen as barbaric and unnecessary - just like female genital mutilation

The debate over male ritual circumcision - the surgical removal of the foreskin from the penis of a baby boy for religious and cultural reasons - is becoming more prominent each year. A BBC documentary broadcast this week provides further evidence that the tide is beginning to turn on the historic carte blanche afforded to infant circumcision.

The non-therapeutic alteration of children's genitals is typically discussed in two separate ethical discourses: one for girls, in which such alteration is referred to as "female genital mutilation" (or FGM), and one for boys, in which it is usually referred to as "male circumcision".

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