05/18/2010 12:55 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

For Some, a "Little" Female Genital Mutilation Is Okay

There are days when, after catching up on my news reading, I wonder if I've been transported into another dimension. Some recent reports about what can happen to American girls in their doctors' offices have me half expecting Rod Serling to show up in my office any day now.

As many as 140 million girls in the world have lived through the torture of ritual female genital mutilation (FMG). FMG is illegal in the United States, yet a bunch of American doctors think that they need to be more culturally attuned to this torture and are recommending that maybe just a little clitoral cutting in pediatricians' offices across America should be acceptable as a way to keep more extreme forms of FMG from happening. I haven't tried to get my head around that kind of twisted logic since the Supreme Court's decision about corporations being real people!

Was there an American Association of Pediatrics 'let's get high on crack' meeting that took place where they came up with this idea? Because if so, who knows what kind of white paper they're going to put out next. Maybe a little foot binding as a way to keep girls in smaller size shoes for longer so families can save on their footwear budgets?

The AAP contends that maybe they can stop full-blown removal of a girl's clitoris, labia and partial surgical closure of her vaginal opening, if, when approached by families who want FMG performed on their daughters, doctors agree to make just a "little nick" on a girl's genitals and send the girl on her way, no matter how painful, disfiguring or humiliating such a "nick" might be. Did I miss the part where they rescinded the idea of "first do no harm?"

There's no dispute that female genital mutilation often results in serious psychological and physical damage to the girls it's performed on, as well as subjecting them to a lifetime of medical issues and even possible death in childbirth. The "cultural" reasons aren't usually for any religious purpose, nor are there any legitimate medical reasons --the sole purpose is to control girls and women sexually. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), FGM has been declared to be a violation of international human rights.

So in light of that, how has the AAP been able to rationalize that just a little cutting -- just a tiny bit of torture, evidence of blood and smidge of a human rights violation -- should be turned into an acceptable procedure in the United States where, if they checked, it's already against the law?

In case there's even a shadow of a doubt about the horrendous nature of FMG, the WHO's fact sheet states:

FGM has no health benefits, and it harms girls and women in many ways. It involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue, and interferes with the natural functions of girls' and women's bodies.

Immediate complications can include severe pain, shock, hemorrhage (bleeding), tetanus or sepsis (bacterial infection), urine retention, open sores in the genital region and injury to nearby genital tissue.

Long-term consequences can include:
  • recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections;
  • cysts;
  • infertility;
  • an increased risk of childbirth complications and newborn deaths;

Some contend that FMG is akin to male circumcision. It's not. Not ever having been a parent to a boy, I've never had to face the decision about whether I would have done that to a son. And I know that it's a source of a lot of discussion among parents for religious and medical reasons. But the rationale behind male infant circumcision isn't to control the sex life of the child and it doesn't, for the most part, permanently do physical or psychological damage or result in a lifetime of pain, medical complications or death in adulthood.

I'm not the only one out here feeling like my head will spin off as I try to process this. Julie Marsh at The Mom Slant, Kristen Chase at Motherhood Uncensored, Lynn Harris at Salon, Bonnie Erbe at U.S. News & World Report, and others have been sounding the horn, each asking in their own way, "What the hell is happening here?" At least there is one thing we can all try to do to make the AAP sit up and take notice.

As a result of increased writing on female genital mutilation and what it really means and what it really does to girls and women, new legislation has been introduced in Congress called The Girls Protection Act. Please contact your representatives in Congress to make sure that this bill becomes law so that in addition to being illegal in this country (again, could someone let the AAP in on that?), it would be a crime to transport a girl outside of the United States to have FMG performed.

If you have any doubt about how the world in general views violence (FMG and violence in many other forms) against girls and women, even as we think women have made advances in having control over their lives, sit down for a few hours with the book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, and you'll see that none of us should be resting until we convince the majority of the world that maiming, abusing and brutalizing girls and women is not acceptable.

Maybe I should send a gift copy of Half the Sky to the AAP? I think I'll toss a copy of The Handmaid's Tale in the package, too, just for good measure.

Joanne Bamberger is an author, political analyst and recovering attorney who writes about all things political at her site, PunditMom. Her book on how mothers are revolutionizing the world of political involvement through social media will be published this fall by Bright Sky Press.

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