Scandinavia stands up to female genital mutilation

Norway, Sweden and Denmark do the right thing.

Scandinavians — rather than quietly recoiling as immigrant mothers take their Europe-born daughters on vacation to Africa be circumcised — are fighting the traffic in female genital mutilation (FGM).
Sweden, Norway and Denmark are doggedly pursuing perpetrators of FGM, practiced by African and Middle Eastern cultures. Those perpetrators are mostly the immigrant mothers of the young girls.

Jail sentences, record damages and controversial immigration laws are Scandinavia’s weapons in this war. Meanwhile Africans — who have immigrated with their families for a better life in northern Europe — wring their hands, imploring Westerners to understand that they are doing what they think is best for their daughters.

“The reasons given for female circumcision are traditional, cultural and religious. It is believed to encourage cleanliness, to control promiscuity, enhance the males’ sexual pleasure, preserve virginity and protect against unwanted pregnancies,” said Timnit Embaye of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Kenya.
But Scandinavian leaders refuse to interpret tolerance of female circumcision as politically correct.

FGM “is a very serious assault on children,” said Norway’s Secretary of Justice Knut Storberget. “It is important that they will be given a chance to value this independently when they are old enough to understand.”

Excellent. I know, these people want to do what is best for their children. But the countries in which they have chosen to live won’t succumb to the moral relativism argument and I salute them for it. If you wish to be a citizen of these countries, female genital mutilation is non-negotiable – it is inhumane and intolerable. I hope the entire world takes note and realizes there is no room for political correctness when it comes to this act of barbarism.

I know, I’m outspoken, but I see this as a crime – and a heinous one at that, on the same level as honor killings. That argument that it’s a “cultural thing” that requires our “sensitivity” won’t wash. Murder is murder. Mutilation is an assault of the most devastating variety.

I’ve always had a great admiration for the Scandinavian countries, ever since as a boy I read about how they responded to Hitler’s demands for them to hand over their Jews. (And yes, I know about Sweden’s ambiguous relationship with the Reich, but also know they accepted Denmark’s Jews after they were ferried out of the country.) I see this response to an evil act as a continuation of this spirit of humanity, and this article reaffirms a belief I’ve always held that there is a lot we can learn from them.

______________

Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 35 Comments

I agree completely. I’m all for multiculturalism – I love the diversity of California and the ways different peoples have enriched our communities – but that doesn’t mean tolerating criminal behavior. Immigrants who want to continue this practice and who disapprove of the Scandinavian crackdown shouldn’t immigrate there.

September 20, 2009 @ 11:48 am | Comment

In a not too far a future we will probably see us Scandinavians stand up against male genital mutilation as well. There is already a debate going on.

The reasons given for male circumcision are traditional, cultural and religious, and lately also pseudo-scientifical (HIV protection, although with a corresponding increase in risk for women).

Mutilation is mutilation, and there is no consent. Although Americans will probably never see beyond their own cultural layer.

September 20, 2009 @ 12:14 pm | Comment

Precisely, Lisa.

Update to my earlier comment:
I think Nik is the same commenter from a couple of months ago who started a similar argument in an earlier thread and got quite rude.

Let me just say this: Male circumcision may or may not be a bad thing. There is debate in the scientific community about this. What is not debatable are the extreme differences between male and female circumcision. Performed on males, it does not leave the “victim” traumatized, physically and emotionally, though there may be a rare exception if it’s misperformed (as with any medical procedure). If you have any doubts as to the trauma of female circumcision please do your research. See how it’s done and what its after-effects are. Millions and millions of men have undergone circumcision without suffering any trauma whatever. No woman can undergo the procedure without trauma, because it is not “circumcision,” but true genital mutilation. It isn’t like a piece of skin being removed. Maybe you can argue a nose job is “nose mutilation,” and sometimes these operations are performed badl and there is trauma. But usually not, and nose jobs remain popular. Female genital mutilation is infinitely more risky, more debilitating and offers no advantages of any kind (while there is serious debate about the health advantages of male circumcision). From the World Health Organization:

Female genital mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

The practice is mostly carried out by traditional circumcisers, who often play other central roles in communities, such as attending childbirths. Increasingly, however, FGM is being performed by medically trained personnel.

FGM is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. It is nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children. The practice also violates a person’s rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death.

You may, in your fantasy land, see male circumcision as a horrible torture and something that regularly leads to severe emotional and physical trauma and even death. Maybe it’s a bad thing, and maybe it will eventually disappear. But it doesn’t come close to the mutilation involved in the female procedure, which is a crime against humanity. Anyone asinine to equate it with the snipping of male foreskin, no matter how bad that is, is either playing games or being an idiot. Or maybe they’re just a sadist.

September 20, 2009 @ 1:03 pm | Comment

We knew it was coming…

September 20, 2009 @ 1:36 pm | Comment

See my amended comment above, Lisa. It’s the same person. Should I bother arguing?

September 20, 2009 @ 1:51 pm | Comment

I think you did a good job already, not that it will probably matter.

I’ll just say, “female genital mutilation = penile amputation.” It’s about largely removing the ability to feel sexual satisfaction as a way of controlling sexuality. Perhaps male circumcision is the result of “traditional, cultural and religious” beliefs. But it’s not about amputating the penis. And I’m tired of this person’s attempts to falsely equate the two.

September 20, 2009 @ 2:11 pm | Comment

That said, I agree male circumcision should be the choice of the individual, once puberty hits and the foreskin may or may not be too tight, or any other number of complications or niggles manifest themselves (such as antiquated beliefs or medical dogma).

The two are in no way equal, but (as a Norwegian here) seeing male circumcision treated as normal irks me. Very few people have have had circumcisions at an age where the differences (sexually) could be quantified or described in any meaningful way.

(Again, not equating the two), but if you were circumcised as an infant, you would never know what you were missing. Sure, you’d feel something was off, but you would have no baseline to compare against. And -that- is what the male circumcision debate is missing.

September 20, 2009 @ 2:35 pm | Comment

Chris K – see, IMO, yours is the sane position. I wouldn’t argue with any of what you’ve said.

September 20, 2009 @ 4:08 pm | Comment

Two comments: no, I haven’t touched on this subject before at this place, and female circumcision also comes in a variety, most of which remove only part of the clitoris.

Whatever the degree of circumcision, it is fundamentally wrong. But Americans will never get it, as male circumcision is part of the culture.

September 20, 2009 @ 6:27 pm | Comment

Richard dixit:

“I know, I’m outspoken etc.”

No need to be shy about it, it’s your own friggin’ blog. (What kind of person feels uncomfortable criticizing female circumcision anyway?)

Nik dixit:

“But Americans will never get it etc.”

Erm, if you want to have a dialogue with people, begin by not antagonizing them.

If you just want to let off some steam, though, I suggest the following web-sites (far worthier of your attention than this modest blog):

littlegreenfootballs.com
forums.hannity.com
http://www.gopusa.com/forum/
http://www.lds.net/forums/

Best of luck!

September 20, 2009 @ 9:02 pm | Comment

Nik, you were on my spam list, which indicates you had commented here before and I wanted to screen your comments because of what I saw as abuse. Maybe there was a technical error and this is actually your first time. Male circumcision is not only American, and many Americans choose to forego the procedure. “Circumcision” doesn’t describe what’s done to the female – there is no equivalence with male circumcision. For the male, it may be bad or unnecessary. For the female, it is catastrophic and unconscionable.

Resident poet, Little Green Footballs has actually gotten much, much better. I am somewhat amazed – Charles Johnson, still an anti-Muslim racist, is leading the charge against the evils of Glen Beck and I do respect him for that, putting himself at odds with many of his commenters and the entire right-wing fringe that used to support him.

September 21, 2009 @ 12:43 am | Comment

Genital cutting kills hundreds per year and sends thousands to the hospital, while disfiguring countless innocents. I speak of male circumcision.

Like FGM it is fiercely defended by many of its victims. It is performed by force or coercion, and often imagined to improve opposite sex attraction. It steals about half of the sensual nerve endings and changes intimacy dramatically by eliminating the exquisite frictionless rolling/gliding mode of stimulation.

Now it’s being sold as an HIV vaccine, but most of the US men who have died of AIDS were circumcised at birth. The US has three times the HIV incidence that Europe has even though about 80% of US adults are presently cut and circumcision is rare in Europe. In fact the recent HIV/circumcision studies out of Africa showed that the HIV+ men they cut were 50% MORE likely to infect their partners then the HIV+ men they left intact were.

Even a tiny pin-poke to draw a ceremonial drop of blood is already illegal for 94% of the world’s females with no religious exceptions.

Please don’t offend half the population by suggesting that because one or the other is often less bad it should be tolerated.

Protect boys too. Foreskin feels REALLY good.

September 21, 2009 @ 6:24 am | Comment

I don’t know where you get the numbers from, but I’m willing to consider the worst-case possibilities of the harm of male circumcision. Even if true, percentage-wise it sounds like only a very tiny frcation of men undergo any trauma to speak of. On the female side, trauma is experienced by 100 percent of the victims. 100 percent are tortured. That is simply not the case for males, even if some are accidentally injured. Those injuries are caused by the procedure being done irresponsibly. For women, it is the procedure itself that is the torture, not a freak accident in which the procedure goes wrong. Foreskins may be good, they may enhance sex. Those things are nice. But Maybe male circumcision should be done away with. But having the process performed is in no way comparable to the complete mutilation of female genitalia. As Lisa says, there is circumcision for men and what amounts to amputation for women. It’s unfortunate that the word “circumcision” even comes into play when it comes to FGM, as it invites a specious comparison.

September 21, 2009 @ 7:13 am | Comment

It is nice to see these countries standing up for humanity. I think so many countries nowadays try so hard to be inclusive and openminded of other cultures to the point of insanity, and it’s refreshing to see some backbone on this matter.

September 21, 2009 @ 9:55 am | Comment

I agree with you completely and I raise you one. I do NOT believe those who allow their daughters to be circumcized are doing so out of a belief they are doing what is best for their daughters. I believe they are doing so despite knowing that what they are doing is horrible for their daughters and, to a certain extent, this is exactly why they do it; to put/keep them in their place. Equal treatment is not political correctness, it is non-negotiable if we are to remain a civilized society.

September 21, 2009 @ 10:39 am | Comment

Dan, thanks for a great comment. Your contention as to why the parents do it is quite frightening, and I’m afraid there’s a lot of truth to it.

September 21, 2009 @ 12:39 pm | Comment

I stumbled across Female Circumcision recently while doing research for a medical paper. Who knew females can be circumcised? What started as morbid curiosity has brought my unmutilated body such sorrow and grief. I believe male circumcision is wrong and in most cases medically unnecessary, but never can it be compared to that of FGM. The life long physical pain and suffering that is endured in the name of tradition should never be confused with loss of sexual feeling. Parents claim they are doing what is best for their daughters but I question their motives. They cite tradition, chastity, family honour, and the ability for their daughters to be married off as their primary reasons. These are selfish excuses that can be obtained without the removal of a woman’s genitalia. Silence equals acceptance.

September 22, 2009 @ 12:06 pm | Comment

“But the countries in which they have chosen to live won’t succumb to the moral relativism argument and I salute them for it.”

Amen to that.

September 22, 2009 @ 1:39 pm | Comment

Thanks Cassandra. And you, too, Stuart.

September 22, 2009 @ 2:41 pm | Comment

Curious. Why would those people want to do female genital mutilation? They don’t want to see their women to get high? (I thought watching the lady getting high is half of the fun of having sex with her). Can anyone here offer some sensible (historical, religious or medical) explanations?

Anyway, it is nice to see that Richard’s liberal leaning has limit. Pity that he doesn’t condemn ENFORCED Ramadan or burqa – to me these are of the same nature as FGM.

September 22, 2009 @ 6:08 pm | Comment

image, how the f@@@ do you know where I stand on enforced burqas or Ramadan? I don’t like them, but I don’t put them anywhere near FGM.

September 22, 2009 @ 11:04 pm | Comment

Yet another person who calls for multiculturalism for politically correct sakes, but can’t stomach the full meaning of multiculturalism. Your world view is too narrow and not tolerant of other people’s cultures. Seriously, multiculturalism is not all fairy fluff that is about enjoying food, celebrating festivals and wearing clothes. Anyone can accept those kind of things, but only a truly tolerant person can accept different cultural practices. You have to accept that what you see as evil and revolting is seen as normal in some culture, and what you do daily or considers holy is seen as stupid/barbaric/unethical in some other culture.

Note that some cultures (either real or constructed as a thought experiment) could potentially not view free will as important or not think that it exists or have never developed a concept of it. Thus they would never view parents making decisions for their children as evil and barbaric.

If they made FGM surgeries painless and professional and chance of death or other injuries incredibly low (as low as circumcision) and the only thing that the recipient would lose is supposedly pleasure from sex, would you still be against it?

I am especially against some western NGO or government trying to get the governments in East or Central Africa to ban FGM. That is the definition of cultural imperialism/genocide.

September 23, 2009 @ 12:37 am | Comment

Bullshit. Torture and murder are not things that can be negotiated and tolerated in any way. If people want to do these things, then they cannot be citizens of Norway, Sweden or Denmark. More countries should follow suit. Many aspects of multiculturalism are good things, things that contribute to society and help expand the horizons of others. Torture and murder are not among these things. They are crimes against humanity. Antisemitism was part of Europe’s culture, slavery was part of America’s. Part of the growth of these cultures, at times painful, included the recognition that these are crimes that cannot be supported or tolerated. These practices have victims who actively suffer, and die. That’s crossing a line from cultural diversity into crime.

September 23, 2009 @ 1:04 am | Comment

Well Said Richard, Lisa.

My sense is that it’s all about choice. A culture that doesn’t let women go to school, is limiting her choice. Whatever the culture has to say about it, at the end of the day, women who can’t go to school are oppressed.

FGM to my understanding (not an expert at it) limits the choice of a woman. Male circumcision (understand the original intent was for health, but now there’s a debate on it) to my understanding does not limit the man’s choices in any substantial way (except the right to flick at some piece of skin).

BTW, “Moral Relativism” by Steven Lukes is an interesting read.

September 23, 2009 @ 3:44 am | Comment

It’s not torture and it’s not murder. Explain to me how it is torture if it is not suppose to done only to cause pain and if given proper equipment, it can be done under anesthetics, and explain to me how it is murder if it is not suppose to kill and death is the result of a failed FGM. Again, if it’s done professionally, it is not going to “murder” the person. So please don’t ignore this part and answer it,
“If they made FGM surgeries painless and professional and chance of death or other injuries incredibly low (as low as circumcision) and the only thing that the recipient would lose is supposedly pleasure from sex, would you still be against it?”

Also, all these attempts at finding differences between Male circumcision and FGM, in order to justify the western culturally accepted Male Circumcision over FGM, is logically unsound. Not everything in other cultures will have an exact parallel in your own culture. So if it does not have a parallel, then it is not legitimate and morally corrupt? Sometimes, there can be no comparison. The only thing that matters is that the other culture do it and the people in that culture want to do it. The mothers, who received FGM when they are young, want their daughter to receive it as well. Please read some academic anthropologist analysis of how people in FGM culture view FGM.

September 23, 2009 @ 5:25 am | Comment

I KNOW they want to do it. I know that. But they cannot do it if they want to be a citizen of these countries, and I support that. It doesn’t mater if these people want it. They have chosen to be citizens of Norway, Denmark or Sweden and they either abide by the laws or leave.

Look, I saw a piece on TV last week about all the eager, willing enthusiastic Cambodian mothers who want to sell their pre-teen daughters to pedophiles from the West. Just because people want something doesn’t mean we have to accommodate. They want their daughters to be prostitutes and to have sex as children with old men. Do we apply moral relativism, considering that in SE Asia many young prostitutes are seen as heroes in their villages who brought fortune to their families? Personally, I say no because there is no way for a girl that young to be subjected to being a prostitute without serious psychological scarring. Have you read about honor killings? Where mothers kill their own daughters because they dared to be raped by their older brothers or cousins? Mom wanted to kill her daughter, and the entire family was enthusiastic about it. Call it culture. I’ll call it murder. Sorry if I am culturally insensitive. But there are some universal morals; culture cannot be used to wave away barbarism. and where it crosses from cultural phenomenon to crime is when there is a victim.

As I said above, there is a lot to celebrate about other cultures joining your country. But if they are not willing to live there under the terms of the social contract, then they had better go elsewhere. My reference to FGM as murder was in regard to the WHO report on how it kills. If it will make you happier, let’s change “murder” to “bloody assault.” For your nice talk about how it can be done antiseptically and professionally, I simply suggest you read some of the many harrowing descriptions that have been written by women who have had to undergo the procedure. And because, unlike getting their ears pierced, this procedure is about mutilation with no benefit (except, perhaps, in the eyes of those who wish to keep women subjugated), I see it only as an assault, as a crime, as torture. Embrace it and defend it if you choose. You have to live with yourself.

September 23, 2009 @ 6:17 am | Comment

[...] went through all of this in the at-times painful thread below. The post was noticed by an organization that alerted me to their new film on this topic, and [...]

September 23, 2009 @ 8:08 am | Pingback

Wow, FTC! Are you a woman? Because I’m sorry, there are limits to “multiculturalism,” and FGM is about amputating a body part that is integral to a woman’s sexual pleasure. It’s basically prohibiting women from sexual satisfaction so they will be more compliant toward their husbands and a way of strengthening patriarchy. The fact that older women pass this tragedy to their daughters is an example of internalized oppression. And disapproving of it, and prohibiting it in Western countries is not “cultural imperialism,” it is protecting individual freedom and women’s rights — which are among some of our more attractive cultural values, IMO.

September 23, 2009 @ 9:24 am | Comment

Thanks Lisa.

September 23, 2009 @ 9:41 am | Comment

We should learn to respect cultural differences. If everyone practices the same culture as the US, if everyone uses US as a standard, then what is the diversity in the world? What is the color in the world? Same thing politics. Let a thousand flowers bloom, let a hundred schools of thought contend. Be tolerant of dissent, be open to different ideas. This is the way to a harmonious society.

September 23, 2009 @ 11:10 am | Comment

HongQi, you are a panic. Most of those raising the alarm bells about this practice are Africans, not Americans. This is not about adopting American culture. I don’t preach that, ever. It’s about not torturing women. I guess that in your mind, tortured, subdued, suppressed women are a sure-fire solution for ensuring “a harmonious society.” Why don’t you suggest to your manager in the PSB bringing back foot binding? “Be tolerant to different ideas,” as you say. That kind of thinking can excuse any excess, all in the name of “culture.” But we’ve been through this all before, and if anyone thinks HQ really believes any of the drivel in his last comment….

September 23, 2009 @ 11:24 am | Comment

HongQi, here’s a comparison for you – FGM and foot-binding. The Nationalists and then the Communists outlawed the practice because it was feudal and literally crippled women, even though this was against the wishes of millions of Chinese people. Was this a case of a “cultural difference” not being respected?

September 23, 2009 @ 12:25 pm | Comment

Way past the time for an Islamic Reformation.

September 23, 2009 @ 5:11 pm | Comment

First of all, since it seems like I didn’t articulate my point well enough and neglected to mention it, I am actually not against these Scandinavian countries banning the practice of FGM on their own land. It’s their national sovereignty and it’s what their society and culture wanted to do. That’s perfectly fine in essence.

What’s not fine is how the developed and fully globalized world can not see the possibilities of the legitimancy of culture differences that are more extreme than what they think it’s the limit of cultural differences, but yet they still believe that they are tolerant. So they use their developed technology and economy to bear down and suffocate the remaining non-globalized and undeveloped cultures and societies, while believeing that they are doing the right thing.

You should read in academic anthropology papers what the woman that have gone through FGM actually feel about that practice. Many thinks it is a form of empowerment and a practice to free themselves from the control of sexual desires. It’s not the mothers who gone through it hates it, but still forces the practice onto their daughters. Most women who have gone through it thinks it’s good for them. I know the right to enjoy sex is currently a big thing in liberal western culture, but why not considers the possibility that it is not considered morally accepted to have sex only to gain hedonistic pleasure in some other cultures.

As for your parallels to SE Asia Prostitution, why don’t you find out that whether the woman who went through it thinks it’s an emotional scar, instead of conjecturing base on your intuition? Stop using psycology that is developed in a western moral system by mostly observing the subjective feelings of western patients. No, it’s not that easy to have traumas. People are not that sensitive. How they view the event have a huge influence in whether it’s a trauma for them. In modern times, seeing dead corpse and body parts when young are considered trauma. But how would children who grew up in the black plagues or genocides ever grew up normally? They must be all emotionally unstabled clinincally depressed mental patient who takes copious amount of anti-depressant daily, right? When people only worried about their survival, they are not that easily to become emotionally unstable or traumatized. It all depends on the people who gone through it and the culture’s view of it. As I said before, stop applying philosophies of free will and individualism on cultures and societies that do not accept it as freely as the more modern and globalized societies. Maybe the family or the village wanting it is enough. Personal desires taking the backseat is just another moral system.

Also, I know it’s mostly not carried out with anesthesia, but it’s because of inadequate technology or money. It does not follow logically that since the FGM that is getting carried out now is done without anesthesia and is dangerous, then the procedure should be completely banned and the opinion of the culture be not important. That’s a logic fallacy (a somewhat similar demonstration of the fallacy: if the water is not boiling, it must mean that the water can not possibly boil and thus people should never attempt to boil it; and not that it is not given heat or time). Why not give the resources to let it be carried out professionally? I am sure male circumcision is carried out at one time or another without anesthesia, but I am sure people are smart enough now to do it with anesthesia given the resources.

Also, to respond to your arguments in your new blog post about how African woman themselves rejected it. Selective source bias. Opinion that agrees with western view are given a bigger platform. People who speaks out about change are given more funding from human right groups. People who wants change are usually more vocal and visible than people who wants status quo, in a more survival oriented society. Why don’t you show an unbiased survey of all females in that society, instead of just citing the testimonies of the few that is given as evidence to support the goal of the human rights groups (Obviously they are not going to give evidence of otherwise, when they want to push an agenda)? Why do you assume that the only reason that they want to go through pain is because they are ignorant? Why do you assume that they would be so ignorant of the pain when it is happening all around them, while you only read about it through human right reports? Instead of relying so much trust in human rights groups who have goals which automatically make them not the best source of unbiasedness, why not read up on more rigorous and respected academic studies that attempts to present the view of FGM in a more balanced light?

September 24, 2009 @ 1:38 am | Comment

I don’t depend only on human rights groups for my information. I first became aware of the horrors of the procedure from a first-hand account by Ayaan Hirsi.

I see the legitimacy of cultural differences. I draw the line at things like honor killings and FGM.

Why not give the resources to let it be carried out professionally? I am sure male circumcision is carried out at one time or another without anesthesia, but I am sure people are smart enough now to do it with anesthesia given the resources.

If you want to subsidize mutilation, write your congressman. Foot binding is an excellent parallel – very important to the culture and to the belief that women should be an ornament. Only problem, it’s an act of torture. Women then wanted the procedure done, it was so much part of the culture. A shame it left them crippled and in constant pain. Education and awareness eventually helped them recognize that any such procedure is inherently wrong.

About allocating resources to make FGM safer: I would much rather spend that money on educating people about the rights of women and the fact that husbands can still have a meaningful, happy marriage without mutilating their wives’ vaginas. There is no way to perform FGM without trauma, no matter how safely it’s performed, because the end result is mutilation. And every time the woman gives birth she needs to be cut again; it’s a gift that keeps on giving. You can defend it if you want like they used to defend foot binding. I understand all the anthropological background. I know that to them it’s a good thing. And I would be all for it, just as I would be all for foot binding – IF it didn’t leave the woman in pain and suffering for the rest of her life. A big “if.” If this is all about delighting their husbands, then spend the money of educating their husbands. I am not in favor of subsidizing a procedure deemed necessary because these men believe their wives must be dehumanized and mutilated for their marriage to work. Spend the money to get to the root of the problem – ignorance and superstition and an unfair perception of the role of women. The Chinese overcame these obstacles, and these people can, too.

I am closing this thread – please put any comments on this topic in the post above this one, as one thread on FGM is enough.

September 24, 2009 @ 2:09 am | Comment

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.