Female Genital Cutting: A Harmless Practice?



A recent article in Medical Anthropology Quarterly (Obermeyer 1999) argues that the "facts " about the "harmful effects " of female genital cutting (FGC) are "not sufficiently supported by the evidence" (p. 79). The article suggests three further hypotheses, among others: (1) FGC may be of minimal harm because the more educated continue the practice just as much as the less educated; (2) FGC may be of minimal harm because it is so widespread and persistent; (3) FGC may be of minimal harm because the supposed link between the clitoris and female sexual pleasure is a social construction rather than a physiological reality. I challenge these hypotheses. I say that by appropriate standards of evaluation, FGC is harmful. Finally, I submit that most FGC is a proper matter of concern because it is the irreversible reduction of a human capacity in the absence of meaningful consent, [female genital cutting, harm evaluation, critical epidemiology, harmful traditional practices]