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Female circumcision, excision and infibulation

1 November 1981

In Africa today, women’s voices are being raised for the first time against genital mutilations still practised on babies, little girls, and women. These voices belong to a few women, who, from Egypt to Mali, from the Sudan and Somalia to Senegal, remain closely attached to their identity and heritage, but are prepared to call it in question when traditional practices endanger their lives and their health. They are beginning the delicate task of helping women free themselves from customs which have no advantage and many risks for their physical and psychological well-being, without at the same time destroying the supportive and beneficial threads of their cultural fabric.

Sexuality remains for many of us an obscure area, mined with cultural taboos, loaded with anxiety and fear. This is one of the reasons why the subject of genital mutilations provokes violent emotive reactions, both from those in the West who are shocked and indignant, and from those in Africa and the Middle East who are wounded when these facts are mentioned, and prefer to minimise the quantitative importance of the practice. The total number of women affected is in any case unknown, but without any doubt involves several tens of millions of women. Medically unnecessary, painful, and extremely dangerous operations are being carried out every day, at the present time.

Our endeavour in this report is firstly to communicate the facts, drawn from as many different countries as possible where information is available, and then to discuss practical programmes to eradicate the custom. These will be limited to proposals which can be put into operation immediately, given goodwill in the countries concerned, and given practical and financial assistance from international organisations.

Please note that the terminology in the fields of minority rights and indigenous peoples’ rights has changed over time. MRG strives to reflect these changes as well as respect the right to self-identification on the part of minorities and indigenous peoples. At the same time, after over 50 years’ work, we know that our archive is of considerable interest to activists and researchers. Therefore, we make available as much of our back catalogue as possible, while being aware that the language used may not reflect current thinking on these issues.

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Scilla McLean