Starting in the early 1980s, media coverage of customary African genital surgeries for females has been problematic and overly reliant on sources from within a global activist and advocacy movement opposed to the practice, variously described as female genital mutilation, female genital cutting, or female circumcision. Here, we use the more neutral expression female genital surgery. In their passion to end the practice, anti-mutilation advocacy organizations often make claims about female genital surgeries in Africa that are inaccurate or overgeneralized or that don't apply to most cases.
The aim of this article—which we offer as a public policy advisory statement from a group of concerned research scholars, physicians, and policy experts—is not to take a collective stance on the practice of genital surgeries for either females or males. Our main aim is to express our concern about the media coverage of female genital surgeries in Africa, to call for greater accuracy in cultural representations of little-known others, and to strive for evenhandedness and high standards of reason and evidence in any future public policy debates. In effect, the statement is an invitation to actually have that debate, with all sides of the story fairly represented.