Reaction to The Economist article of Saturday 18th June 2016 ‘Female genital mutilation: an agonising choice'

The End FGM European Network would like to comment on the article published in The Economist on Saturday 18th June 2016 entitled ‘Female Genital Mutilation: an agonising choice’.

The author claims that since campaigners’ efforts in the last three decades have not resulted in the elimination of the practice, it is time for ‘a new approach’. The article suggests that governments should ban the ‘worst forms’ of female genital mutilation (FGM) and instead ‘try to persuade parents to choose the least nasty version’, concluding that ‘it is better to have a symbolic nick from a trained health worker than to be butchered in a back room by a village elder.’

Performing these ‘symbolic nicks’ would deny that FGM is a violation of human rights and a recognised form of gender-based violence, irrespective of the degree of harm caused, or the medical qualifications of the person performing it. All forms of FGM are a violation of human rights and the right to physical, mental and psychological integrity.

All types of FGM also violate children’s rights and women’s rights and go against the principles enshrined in several international conventions, including the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (respect of physical and mental integrity, principle of non-discrimination). The global commitment to eliminate all forms of FGM by 2030 is clearly stated in target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

The article does not recognise the danger of women and girls undergoing FGM more than once during their lifetime – being subjected to this type of procedure would expose them to the danger a more severe form of FGM at a later date. It also does not recognise that the psychological trauma of undergoing FGM can last a lifetime and is not necessarily linked to the degree of severity of the cut. The breach of trust and physical integrity can cause trauma in and of itself.

Accepting certain types of FGM would lead to confusion for communities affected by FGM, health and other types of professionals and for those working to protect the rights of the child. It will adversely affect the work done on raising awareness of FGM, prevention and protection of girls. It adversely affects the message of prevention, which is crucial to bringing an end to the practice of female genital mutilation.

We are gravely concerned about the medicalisation of FGM - where FGM is performed by healthcare professionals. FGM has no benefits to health whatsoever and the consequences of FGM can affect a woman throughout her life. FGM carried out by trained doctors can have even more severe, long term consequences, as stated by Dr Pierre Foldes.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has recently published guidelines addressed to healthcare professionals calling for an end to the medicalisation of FGM. WHO states that medicalisation violates medical ethics, since FGM is a harmful practice. It perpetuates FGM and the risks of the procedure outweigh any perceived benefit, while medicalisation might also confer a sense of legitimacy on the practice or give the impression that the practice is harmless.

See also:

Letter sent to The Economist by the End FGM European Network and the Mediterranean Institute of Gender Studies (MIGS).

Article in Forced Migration Review May 2015: The medicalisation of female genital mutilation by Pierre Foldes and Frédérique Martz

A repeat call for the full abandonment of FGM by WHO, UNFPA, UNICEF and UN Women


The End FGM European Network is a European umbrella organisation of sixteen organisations across 11 European member states, working to ensure sustainable European action to end female genital mutilation.

Female genital mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures involving partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons as defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

For all further information regarding this issue, please contact Natalie Kontoulis or call 0032 489 709 272.