Female genital cutting is an ancient tradition practiced in 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East. The condition is often called female genital mutilation or F.G.M. It is also called female circumcision.
It is on the decline in some communities. It is still the norm in others. More than 90 percent of women are cut in Somalia and Guinea.
The cutting can be as limited as a small incision. It can be as extensive as an Infibulation. An Infibulation involves removing the clitoris and repositioning the labia to form a seal with a small opening.
The practice is a respected tradition in some cultures. It is linked to purity. It has no medical benefits. It is often painful and usually done without anesthesia. Opposition to F.G.M. is growing.
It is outlawed in the United States. And it is illegal to send a girl abroad for the procedure.
More African immigrants are coming to America. About half a million women in the U.S. have arrived with the procedure. That number is three times the last estimate made in 1997.
One big issue is that American doctors have little experience or knowledge about genital cutting. This makes it difficult for African women to seek medical help without feeling ashamed.
Many women complain of painful sex. One doctor has opened fused closures. Infections are also common. Sometimes, a pregnant woman asks that the doctor reseal her labia after birth. This returns her body to its previous, traditional appearance.
African women want to get the medical care they need. The U.S. medical community is trying to educate itself. Nevertheless, genital cutting is controversial.
Source: The New York Times February 5, 2015
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