Female Genital Cutting: Cultural, Religious, and Human Rights Dimensions of a Complex Development Issue

Author: Anny Gaul

March 15, 2012

A common practice in many African and Middle Eastern communities, female genital cutting (FGC), also commonly referred to as female genital mutilation or female circumcision, outrages many outside observers. It is a prominent and polarizing flashpoint in debates that occur at the intersection of culture, religion, gender, development, and human rights. The FGC challenge pits international (and often national) human rights standards against rights to cultural identity, centralized and intellectual versus local and practical religious teachings and practice, and changing expectations about gender roles against realities of gender relationships as they are experienced at the family and community level.
This is the pilot in a series of case studies intended to highlight the complex dimensions of specific global development issues. It is designed as a teaching tool for use in the classroom as a four-hour workshop. The goals are twofold: (a) to explore in-depth a topic that is important for both human rights (gender equality, rights of children) and public health, and that is rooted in both culture and religious practice; and (b) to learn about opportunities and pitfalls of international approaches to addressing the issues raised in such cases. It is meant to provoke discussion and critical analysis by offering a range of perspectives and approaches to an issue, with the intent that readers will draw their own conclusions. "Female Genital Cutting: Cultural, Religious, and Human Rights Dimensions of a Complex Development Issue" is a project of the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs; the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University; and the World Faiths Development Dialogue.

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