"Ö(B)oth male and female circumcisions raise the same human rights questions. Our mutual
fight is against ignorance. People like us, those who have the pain, are the best fighters,
because we know the pain of circumcision. What happened to you, you canít change it, but you
can help to stop it from happening to other children."
--Shamis Dirir, Coordinator, London Black Womenís Health Action Project, interviewed in NOHARMM Health & Human Rights Advocate/July, 1997(read the full article)
People who accept male circumcision as the cultural norm and who are unfamiliar with this debate are sometimes initially surprised when male circumcision is compared to female genital modification (FGM). Can male circumcision be compared to female genital modification? Yes, most definitely male circumcision can and should be compared to female genital modification.
Promoters of male circumcision like to say that there is no comparison between male circumcision and FGM. They point out the differences between male circumcision and the most severe form of FGM, infibulation. They are reluctant to admit that male circumcision is not the only form of male genital modification (MGM) and infibulation is not the only form of FGM.
There are different types of MGM ranging from minor to severe; they include genital piercing, circumcision, subincision, and castration. There are also different types of FGM ranging from minor to severe; they include genital piercing, sunna circumcision, excision, and infibulation.
The different forms of MGM have an analogous form of FGM in terms of damage done to the person whose genitals are being modified. Piercing a boy's penis is analogous to piercing a girl's clitoris or labia. Surgically removing the prepuce of a boy's penis is analogous to surgically removing the prepuce of a girl's clitoris (sunna circumcision). Cutting open the urethra of a boy's penis (subincision) is analogous to cutting off all or part of a girl's clitoris and/or labia minora (excision). And castration is somewhat analogous to infibulation, the most damaging form of FGM, which removes the clitoris and labia and then sews the sides of the vulva together leaving only a small opening.
MGM vs. FGM
Male Genital Modification
Female Genital Modification
piercing the penis
piercing the clitoris or labia
All forms of genital modification, including genital piercing, are a violation of a child's right to their own bodily integrity. No national medical organization anywhere on the planet now recommends any form of genital modification for children, not even male circumcision. There is no medical indication for any surgical modification of a child's genitals unless there is a medical condition present that has not responded to less invasive treatments.
Should parents be allowed to pierce their son's penis or their daughter's labia? If it is unethical for a parent to pierce their child's genitals, why is it ethical for a parent to ask a doctor surgically remove a normal, healthy, functional part of their son's penis?
People who say that MGM and FGM can't compare often point to the different conditions that they're usually performed under, with MGM being performed by doctors in a hospital setting while FGM is performed in unsanitary conditions by an unqualified person with no medical training which results in a high complication rate. It may be true that most forms of FGM practiced in the Middle East are done this way, but what neglect to mention is that on these same countries boys are also circumcised in these same conditions, and with similar results yet they don't get nearly as much attention by human rights activists as the girls. Here are some news stories describing how circumcision is performed in these countries and what kind of complications result from it:
Just because FGM usually is performed in unsanitary conditions by unqualified individuals doesn't mean that it has to be. Procedures such as Sunna circumcision could easily be performed in a hospital setting. In fact FGM is now commonly being performed in hospitals by doctors in Africa, and it's even been proposed in hospitals in the U.S. as these stories show:
However, despite what conditions it's performed under or how severe it is, any form of FGM is usually considered by our culture to be a violation of a girl's rights, and since 1996 has been against the law in the United States. The same principle should apply the rights of a baby boy to keep his body intact. When the law banning all forms of FGM was adopted in 96 they had to word it carefully so that it would only protect minor females and not outlaw the modification of male genitals as well, because this would apply to male circumcision. What this represents is pure gender bias, females now enjoy the right to keep their genitals intact for all reasons while males have no such right. Bodily integrity should be a human right for every reason, and now that females have been granted that right it's time to allow males to receive the same rights.