Eradicating Female Genital Mutilation Chapter 3: Perceptions and Beliefs Over Time

One of the most puzzling questions around genital mutilation is how it arose, such a long time ago and spontaneously, in totally unconnected parts of the world. To date, just as there is no commonality in how genital mutilation is practised, there is also no universal answer. Nonetheless, one of the most interesting responses to the puzzle has been, as medical historian David Gollaher suggests, to examine the meanings assigned to it, to ask what people believe they are doing when they perform genital ‘cutting’.

There is a widespread – but erroneous – belief that female genital mutilation is required by adherents to Islam (Muslims). The general perception of a direct connection between female genital mutilation and Islam arises largely because it is most often found in Muslim countries such as those of the sub-Sahara region. The reality, however, is that FGM is practised by various denominations and sects of Islam, just as it has been adopted by some denominations and sects within Christianity and Judaism in that part of the world. But in every case FGM was in place before the various religious groups adopted it.

In fact, female genital mutilation actually precedes all the major world faiths and is also found in communities with animist or pantheistic beliefs. Despite claims to the contrary, FGM is fundamental to no global religion, even though at various times and in various places various faiths have adopted the practice.    

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Eradicating Female Genital Mutilation Chapter 8: Prevention: Communities

Female genital mutilation is a complex business. It involves deeply entrenched beliefs, real and resolute social and economic forces, human agency of a particularly intimate nature, brutality and secrecy. It is also held by large numbers of those involved, and perhaps also by the recipient of the action, to be in the best interests of the person who experiences it.

These are not easy issues to unpick, and the path towards understanding and arresting the practice is further complicated by the gulf between the traditions and beliefs which engender and enable, even ennoble, FGM, and those which proclaim it without exception to be abhorrent abuse.

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