Medically, it is maiming and invasive. Psychologically, it is traumatic. There is no reason whatsoever to support female genital mutilation.
Earlier this spring, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) came out in support of doctors performing a ceremonial nick in the clitoral skin.
Their argument was that while the procedure serves no medical purpose, an outright ban may prompt some families to take their daughters to other countries to undergo mutilation. In other words, some minor injury must be committed in order to prevent a greater harm.
However, condoning this ritual, even in a mild form, is the wrong message to send. In the U.K., the U.S. and Canada, female genital mutilation is illegal. Hundreds of activists are working in Africa and Asia as well to abolish this practice. They have succeeded in having it banned in 18 African countries.
Approximately 140 million women and girls worldwide have undergone mutilation, which is most prevalent in part of West, East and Central Africa and some parts of the Middle East and South Asia. Each year about 3 million more, are added to this number.
There is no reason for western, liberal democracies to tolerate this cultural practice. It is a form of violence and discrimination against women. The procedure is not comparable to male circumcision because the clitoris is cut, the inner labia is cut and the opening of the vagina sewn together to ensure chastity, so the motivation is to control a woman's sexuality.
Following a firestorm of protest from women's and human rights advocates, the AAP reversed its position this month.
The organization of 60,000 doctors is now advising members not to perform these procedures. "As typically practised, female genital mutilation can be life-threatening. Little girls who escape death are still vulnerable to sterility, infection and psychological trauma."
However, the organization had no reason to re-open its age-old stance against the practice and other professional societies of obstetricians should not be swayed by arguments in favour cultural sensitivity.