Female Genital Mutilation and Female Genital Cosmetic Surgery: where are the boundaries?
In European societies, Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting FGM/C is regarded as an alien cultural practice that should not be part of society. It is seen as a barbaric tradition that is associated with refugees and immigrants from African and Muslim States who have brought this custom to Europe.
Many studies concentrate on the harmful consequences for girls’ and women’s bodies and the practice is mostly forbidden by the authorities by criminal law. Sometimes measures are taken to prevent parents from taking their daughters to countries where FGM/C is practiced, although in most countries in the world the practice is criminalised as well.
As regards Female Genital Cosmetic Surgery FGCS the attitude is very different. Whereas FGM/C is regarded as a practice that is imposed on women and goes against their right to self-determination, FGCS without any medical necessity is accepted as an expression of girls’ and women’s free will to modify and beautify their bodies. The authorities accept it and do not interfere in all kinds of surgery, although some of the operations may be very similar to certain forms of FGM/C. FGCS is not regarded as a cultural practice although many girls and women decide to undergo surgery because of beauty ideals that are imposed on them by partners, social media, fashion magazines and the porn industry. On average, girls and women have no idea how female genitalia should look like or what can be considered as ‘normal’. It is also not recognised that FGCS perpetuates stereotypes in respect of women as sexual objects.
The different attitude towards FGM/C and FGCS by European authorities and European societies raises many questions. Why does society reject FGM/C as a harmful cultural tradition, while cosmetic surgery is embraced as normal? Why is it that women in African and Asian countries, where FGM/C is practiced most, are seen as victims who cannot express their own free will, while it is assumed that European women act out of their own volition and are not pressured in any way? Why would surgeons agree to cut into a woman’s body without any medical necessity? What is the role of the authorities? Is it useful to criminalise FGM/C or will it work counterproductive? Is it to a circumcised girl’s benefit if her parents are imprisoned because they forced her to undergo genital cutting? Should FGCS be regarded as a harmful cultural practice as well and as a result, should the authorities take legal and all kinds of other measures?
All these questions about socio-cultural drivers and justifications of intervention can only be answered if regarded from the viewpoint of different disciplines.
On Friday, 20th September a multi-disciplinary seminar will be organised in the StayOkay Hotel Maastricht in which speakers with a background in medicine (plastic surgery), human rights, sociology, political science, anthropology, health promotion and ethics will address both FGM/C and FGCS.
Interested UM staff members and students are invited to attend free of costs after registration at maastrichtuniversity.nl
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