Thursday 3 July 2014

Where does culture, oops, female genital mutilation, come from?


Many years ago it was common to feel sympathy for citizens living behind the Iron Curtain, because their press was severely controlled. Even though their main newspaper Izvestia was called “the deliverer of messages", derived from the verb izveshchat "to inform"and "to notify" it left many messages undelivered and failed to notify the population about many matters. For example, they were rather late to admit the Americans had landed on the moon, and late and dismissive about the meltdown of one of their reactors at Chernobyl, though that eventually changed when the reactor kept burning and the nearby company town had to be evacuated.

So, I hope you will feel sympathy for those who rely on the BBC for their news, as I often do. Here is a BBC news item today (broadcasts on the topic were being shown last night)

Failure to stop FGM is a 'national scandal', say MPs.


I certainly agree with that. Here is the link to the full story:

Perhaps saying “the full story” is being too generous. The story certainly includes this line: “Practised in 29 countries in Africa and some countries in Asia and the Middle East”. However, it does not say who practices this cultural habit in the UK. If there is a scandal, it is usual to identify what sort of people are perpetrating it. I presume that although the MPs blamed a "misplaced concern for cultural sensitivities" for inaction, the BBC maintained its usual stance of cultural sensitivity for the perpetrators wielding their razor blades.

The Wikipedia entry is better:

FGM is practised as a cultural ritual by ethnic groups in 27 countries in sub-Saharan and Northeast Africa, and to a lesser extent in Asia, the Middle East and within immigrant communities elsewhere.[8] It is typically carried out, with or without anaesthesia, by a traditional circumciser using a knife or razor.[9] The age of the girls varies from weeks after birth to puberty; in half the countries for which figures were available in 2013, most girls were cut before the age of five.[5]

The practice is an ethnic marker, rooted in gender inequality, ideas about purity, modesty and aesthetics, and attempts to control women's sexuality.[13] It is supported by both women and men in countries that practise it, particularly by the women, who see it as a source of honour and authority, and an essential part of raising a daughter well.

So, Wikipedia actually says “and within immigrant communities elsewhere”.

I presume, but cannot confirm, that the UK figures are related to the cultural/genetic origins of the people, as Wikipedia suggests, but if anyone has data about the continuation of this foul practice in European countries, I would be interested to see the findings.

If it is necessary to send it to me in Samizdat form, using the Gestetner Cyclostyle duplicating process which I un-fondly remember using in 1968, then I am willing to meet you on a park bench somewhere in London. As Vladimir Bukovsky summarized it: I myself create it, edit it, censor it, publish it, distribute it, and get imprisoned for it."[1]

Sounds like blogging, doesn’t it?


  1. the problem with the whole FGM hype train is that no one has produced realistic estimates of prevalence. The most commonly used estimates simply seem to assume that all girls in the UK born to families who have migrated to the UK from nations where FGM is practiced are "at risk". This is simply not realistic. Immigrants, as a rule, can hardly be considered entirely representative of the nations they come from. Some may indeed have left their native lands to avoid practices such as FGM, and have no inclination to continue them here. Others may have no strong feelings on the matter, but adopt the motto of "when in Rome, do as the Romans do". Others may wish to have their daughters cut, but are unable to access the means to do so. I do not doubt that there are a large number of mutilated women in the UK, but inevitably most of them will a) have been cut abroad and b) not been born here in the first place. This is regrettable but is a matter for our foreign aid and development policy to address.

    It is still unclear to what extent FGM represents a serious risk to young girls, raised in the UK, of certain minority group origins. Much of the hue and cry looks more like a moral panic. French doctors screen their young female patients far extensively than is customary here, but despite this just 100 convictions since 1985 for mutilation does not exactly suggest an endemic problem.

  2. Very culturally sensitive Mister Sabisky.

    "It is still unclear", " moral panic", "regrettable but".

    Are you employed by the BBC?


    1. Dear Gordo, I think it is uncalled for to suggest that one of my readers is employed by the BBC. Please consider your remark and issue a fulsome apology (in the best BBC tradition).

    2. "Following an investigation by myself I now accepts that my commment was misleading and unfair to the Frankfurt School.

      "I gave the impression that Mister Sabisky was responsible for shortcomings in the verite. Unfortunately this was based in an unfounded manner on Mister Sabisky's pink avatar thus demonstating my hideously homophobic bias.

      "In addition I accept that that that the BBC, including Lord Sir James Saville, are examples to us all

      "When I have access to Licence Payer's Funds, I shall disemburse them to anyone who has a fair chance of winning a case against me"

      Hideously White Gordo

    3. Some quick googling would have established that it's rather unlikely that I work for the BBC: &

      FGM, like any other form of child abuse, is disgusting and barbaric, but nobody is helped, as far as I can see, by hyped prevalence or even "at risk" estimates. What good is it to any medical professional or social worker to be told that a very large number of girls from a particular set of ethnic backgrounds are "at risk", if only a tiny fraction of those girls actually are at genuine risk? is the study whose figures are most often quoted in the media - google the title and you'll find the full PDF. I leave you to judge as to whether the scanty and impressionistic data can really be trusted.

      The spectre of child abuse has a tendency to stir moral panics - the satanic ritual abuse cases sparked by "Michelle Remembers" should give us pause.

    4. "What good is it to any medical professional or social worker to be told that a very large number of girls from a particular set of ethnic backgrounds are "at risk" "

      Maybe a preventative approach would be better, screening everyone in the 'potentially at risk' group? That's what the NHS does vis. age and sex; bowel, breast, etc.

      "if only a tiny fraction of those girls actually are at genuine risk? "

      is that true? isn't the reason why professionals ask for data, in order to establish and describe the extent of the practice, and actual incidence ?

      I could get on my high horse about this one. How can anyone, anyone, find any, any, excuse to delay, decrease, obfuscate, side-step, or even debate attempts to eradicate this practice asap, like yesterday.

      OK, I'm off my horse now.

  3. Thanks Andrew. It was the harder data I was after, and your cautionary remarks make sense. STD clinics and contraception clinics might have some data I suppose.

  4. Thanks. Will comment later, but very clear that the data are impressionistic.

  5. hmmm. my guess would be that there could be some robust regional figures hiding in the BMJ somewhere, perhaps incidental to articles about dealing with surgical reconstruction, but maybe that would take some finding.

  6. I stumbled on David Cameron, over at the Parliament channel, giving a surprisingly good opening speech to the first Girl Summit

    It is going to become mandatory for professionals to report and there will be a legal liability for parents.