Female genital mutilation: why Geneva University should care

A woman who has undergone genital mutilation can have a great sex life, her health won’t be affected and she has almost no chance of dying from the procedure – according to a course given at the Geneva University. A student contacted my employer, the Geneva Foundation for Medical Education and Research, to ask whether this is a correct account of current scientific evidence. “In my opinion even one woman dying because of female genital mutilation is unacceptable,” the student wrote in an email, “or am I overreacting?”

Female genital mutilation are procedures (the World Health Organization distinguishes four different types) involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs. It is practiced mostly in Africa for non-medical reasons and is often regarded as a cultural requirement. Numerous governmental and non-governmental organizations have developed approaches to motivate people to abandon female genital mutilation. Nevertheless it’s been estimated that 130  to 140 million girls and women had been subjected to FGM worldwide and that, each year, 3 million girls undergo the practice – part of whom live in the migrant communities in Europe.

The severe health effects of female genital mutilation are both immediate and long-term: bleeding, problems urinating, cysts, infections, infertility, complications in childbirth and increased risk of maternal and newborn deaths. The serious mental effects of the painful procedures, performed without anesthesia using instruments such as broken glass and scissors, are well-documented. Despite the mounting evidence of the health consequences, Geneva University teaches students that we  have to consider female genital mutilation as a cultural practice that we can’t judge with ‘Western’ moral codes. But well-being is not a Western concept: it’s a basic human right.

Last December the United Nations passed a resolution condemning the practice of female genital mutilation and urging enforced legislation, awareness-raising and the protection of women and girls. The resolution was sponsored by the Group of African States that considers female genital mutilation not as cultural heritage, but as violence. Supporting them in their efforts to stop female genital mutilation is not western imperialism.

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