Please see UPDATE at end of article!
On April 26,2010, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued a new policy statement seen by many as essentially advocating the practice in this country of female genital mutilation (FGM)[sometimes this 'tradition' is referred to as female genital cutting (FGC) as well]. In pertinent part, the policy advocates for “federal and state laws [to] enable pediatricians to reach out to families by offering a ‘ritual nick’,” such as pricking or minor incisions of girls’ clitorises.
Yes, I said this was issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics. How, in the world, you ask, could such an august body promote such a misogynistic practice?
For those who may not be familiar with this barbaric (you fill-in the other adjectives – the list is simply too long) ‘ritual,’ a recent online article by PRNewswire sets the chilling background of this controversy.
FGM is a harmful traditional practice that involves the partial or total removal of the female genitalia and is carried out across Africa, some countries in Asia and the Middle East, and by immigrants of practicing communities living around the world, including in Europe and the U.S. It is estimated that up to 140 million women and girls around the world are affected by FGM.
Putting aside my personal opinions regarding the overall chauvinistic cultures of – to name a few – Africa, Asia and the Middle East, what would motivate any culture to engage in such a ritualistic practice?
In an NPR interview of Professor of Law, Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, Cleveland State University, Dena Davis, on May 14, 2010, Professor Davis, a consultant to the AAP and the lead author of the policy statement, the ‘rationale of this ‘tradition’ is explained.
RAEBURN: Do you have a sense I’m just I can’t help but interrupt. Do you have a sense of why in these cultures, there may be different reasons, but why this is done or what is supposed to be the benefit of it?
Ms. DAVIS: Right, it’s a wide array of things. On a positive side, it’s seen as a growing-up ritual, as a celebration of ethnic or national identity. It became politically important as a response to colonization, for example, but it’s also done to remove sexual pleasure from women so that they can be controlled, to guarantee women’s virginity so that they are marriageable and to protect the family’s honor.
So just how did this ‘celebration of ethnic or national identity’ work its way to our shores? How did it conceivably become a part of a policy statement by the AAP?
Professor Davis offers the following explanation:
Ms. DAVIS: Well, I want to start by reiterating what you already said. The statement ends with four recommendations, and none of those mention this compromise. The recommendations are that the American Academy of Pediatrics opposes all forms of female genital cutting that pose risks of physical or psychological harm, encourages its members to educate themselves about the practice, recommends that members actively seek to dissuade families from carrying out harmful forms of FGC and recommends compassionate education of the parents of patients.
Having said that, the controversial part, as you made mention, is a discussion toward the end of the possibility of pediatricians offering what would literally be a nick. And in the statement, we analogize it to ear piercing.
And the idea here was that we knew that some pediatricians in Seattle a number of years ago who had a good relationship with the Somali immigrant community around their hospital had been asked by mothers of girls for this kind of compromise. And they had gone down the road of – they’d had meetings with mothers and so on, and they were about to do that…
RAEBURN: So this was mothers from some of these cultures where this is practiced had suggested that…
Ms. DAVIS: Right, were Somali immigrant mothers.
RAEBURN: Okay, so it was their idea?
Ms. DAVIS: Well, I’m not sure whose idea it was, but they embraced it to the extent that they held off on doing something worse until the doctors could get set up to start offering this. But before that could happen, Congresswoman Pat Schroeder wrote to tell the hospital that it would be criminal under her new law that had recently passed in Congress.
The concern is that we know that in many cases, when pediatricians turn down parents, girls are taken back to Africa for the worst possible procedures done, you know, with no painkilling and no, you know, no infection control and extremely severe forms of these procedures where girls’ labia are scraped away, for example.
And there’s really that’s very difficult to stop…
The uproar from this AAP statement advocating a ‘compromise’ – ostensibly premised on the concept of the ‘lesser of two evils’ – comes from virtually every group in this nation. One I quite frankly didn’t anticipate was posted by Jihad Watch: “[T]here are those four words of the Hippocratic oath that the American Academy of Pediatrics seems to have forgotten: First do no harm. And if it is supposed to be harmless, let the AAP doctors line up forthwith for their own “ritualized nick.” The comments to this posting by Jihad Watch, which refers to this practice as being “primarily enforced in Muslim countries, ” are also quite revealing. One person identified as ‘Ccoopen’ had this to say:
I’m not sure why this is listed under dhimmitude, considering that FGM is not Islamic. Sure, it is practiced by Muslims, but it is not a Muslim practice. It is a cultural practice which predates Islam by hundreds, if not thousands of years. In fact, the majority of practitioners in Africa are of the African Tribal religions, not Muslim. While it is a horrific practice, it doesn’t need to be tied to Islam since it has nothing to do with Islam, but with culture.
For those who have dedicated their life’s work to obtaining equality among the sexes, the AAP’s attempt at a ‘neutral’ statement of compromise has been vehemently rebuked:
“Encouraging pediatricians to perform FGM under the notion of ‘cultural sensitivity’ shows a shocking lack of understanding of a girl’s fundamental right to bodily integrity and equality,” says Taina Bien-Aime, executive director of the human rights organization Equality Now. “If foot-binding were still being carried out, would the AAP encourage pediatricians to execute a milder version of this practice?”(See “An End to Female Genital Cutting?”) See our source – Time online article.
In its online posting, Time, a partner of CNN, reports (as do many others) reports a legislative twist to the timing of the AAP’s policy statement:
On the same day the AAP published its new recommendation, the Girls Protection Act, which would make it illegal to take a minor outside the U.S. to seek female circumcision, was introduced in Congress. “I am sure the academy had only good intentions, but what their recommendation has done is only create confusion about whether FGM is acceptable in any form, and it is the wrong step forward on how best to protect young women and girls,” said one of the bill’s sponsors, New York Representative Joseph Crowley, speaking to the New York Times. Davis counters that such a law would be extremely difficult to enforce.
So where do you stand on the issue? Has the AAP done more harm than good? Is the ‘compromise simply dangerous folly or adoption of ‘the lesser evil’ for the safety and well-being of these children? You be the judge. Share with us and our community of readers your reaction.
UPDATE: in response to my posting this blog on Twitter, one person using the Twitter name kvetchingguru brought to my attention a posting which is a ‘call to action.’ It is entitled “Urgent Alert: Call on the American Academy of Pediatrics to retract their endorsement of Type IV FGM.” A form letter is made available and the names of the Executive Director/CEO of AAP, the Chair of AAP and the President and CEO of the American Board of Medical Specialties are provided.
As I wrote earlier today, this ‘endorsement’ in any fashion – call it ritual snip or piercing – has created a groundswell of reaction.
UPDATE: May 27, 2010
It appears that the uproar reported in this article has taken its toll.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has retracted its policy statement on female genital cutting after sparking controversy by apparently endorsing the illegal practice of “ritual nicks” to forestall more extensive mutilation.
“The AAP does not endorse the practice of offering a ‘clitoral nick,’” according to a new statement by the organization’s board of directors. “This minimal pinprick is forbidden under federal law, and the AAP does not recommend it to its members.”
The following from the AAP president about says it all:
In a new statement, AAP president Judith Palfrey, MD, of Harvard Medical School, clarified the academy’s position. ”Our intention is not to endorse any form of female genital cutting or mutilation,” she said. “We retracted the policy because it is important that the world health community understands the AAP is totally opposed to all forms of female genital cutting, both here in the U.S. and anywhere in the world.”
The source for these quotes: medpagetoday