Female Genital Cutting: The Michigan Case and Beyond

August 8, 2017

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The spotlight is on the topic of female genital cutting (FGC—also called circumcision or mutilation). An ongoing Michigan court case involves a doctor accused of performing FGC on young girls; FGC is against the law in the United States (as it is in many countries), but this is a precedent-setting case as prosecutions are rare. Adding to the focus on this issue in the United States, a video widely circulated on social media showed a Washington D.C.-area imam defending FGC, arguing that it curtailed women's “hypersexuality.” Many Muslims were outraged because nowhere does the Qu'ran recommend FGC. For decades the global human rights and health communities have actively condemned the practice as abusing children's and women's rights and serving no health purpose whatsoever. Despite activism and senior religious voices condemning FGC, however, the practice persists, affecting over 200 million children and girls worldwide. The topic raises fundamental questions about why this practice is linked by many to religion and how states and activists can intervene most effectively to bring a cruel practice to an end while respecting the dignity of all concerned.

This week the Berkley Forum asks: What is the best way to counter the arguments being made on so-called "mild" forms of FGC that suggest it is a religious practice deserving protection under the banner of religious freedom (as the Michigan defendants argue)? With religious leaders denying religious justification for FGC, what is the best way to react when local leaders and communities see the practice as religiously sanctified and grounded? What are the best paths to end a practice that is, by multisectoral consensus, cruel and unnecessary?

related | Case Study - Female Genital Cutting: Cultural, Religious, and Human Rights Dimensions of a Complex Development Issue

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