In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Female Genital Cutting

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • History
  • Health Consequences
  • Medicalization Debates

Childhood Studies Female Genital Cutting
Elizabeth Heger Boyle
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 March 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 March 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0099


Female genital cutting (FGCs; also known as female circumcision or female genital mutilation) affects millions of girls and women. Nearly all FGCs are imposed during childhood, with the potential to create lifelong health consequences. FGCs became a lightning-rod issue for activists, academics, and policymakers interested in global issues beginning in the 1970s. FGCs have been used as a tool to explain such wide-ranging topics as patriarchy, ethnocentrism, sovereign autonomy, medicalization, imperialism, media sensationalism, cultural relativism, and women’s and children’s rights. Even naming the practices has been highly controversial. Terms have gone through a number of phases, from unique labels in local languages, to “female circumcision,” “female genital mutilation,” and, most recently, “female genital cutting.” Important in and of themselves, the practices acquire even greater significance as a result of their deployment as a symbol to promote or critique certain forms of globalization.

General Overviews

The references in this section provide broad overviews of FGCs. World Health Organization 2008 identifies four forms of FGC, which range in severity from the removal of the hood of the clitoris to infibulation, a radical alteration of female genitalia. The practices are most prevalent in a geographic band of countries stretching from the Horn of Africa westward to the Ivory Coast area, running south of the Sahara Desert. FGCs are unheard of in many African countries and occur in some countries outside of Africa, such as Yemen, Malaysia, and Indonesia. It is therefore incorrect to consider FGCs “African” practices. Toubia and Izett 1998 provides a broad overview of the occurrence of FGCs; Yoder, et al. 2004 and Yoder, et al. 2013 employed summary survey statistics to illustrate the levels of FGCs across regions. The edited volume Shell-Duncan and Hernlund 2000 illustrates the range of interdisciplinary approaches to FGCs. Toubia 1995 was the first to document national policies opposed to FGC, while United Nations Children’s Fund 2004 provides an overview of how international law, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child, apply to FGCs. The authors in the edited volume Abusharaf 2006 relate the impact of anti-FGC interventions in a number of different countries, while Okeke, et al. 2012 provides a comprehensive review of studies in Nigeria. Boyle and Corl 2010 provides an overview of legal impact studies, identifying the circumstances under which anti-FGC laws are most effective.

  • Abusharaf, Rogaia Mustafa, ed. Female Circumcision: Multicultural Perspectives. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006.

    DOI: 10.9783/9780812201024

    Chapters in this edited volume consider primarily policymaking and the implementation of anti-FGC programs. Chapters focus on Canada, Egypt, Senegal, and Tanzania, among other locations.

  • Boyle, Elizabeth Heger, and Amelia Corl. “Law and Culture in Global Context: The Practice of Female Genital Cutting.” Annual Review of Law and Social Science 6 (2010): 195–215.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev-lawsocsci-102209-152822

    Review reveals that law tends to be more effective in the Global North, where it is typically accompanied by changes in informal social control mechanisms. In the Global South, trusted organizations are highly effective when working with communities to increase overall living standards as well as combat FGCs. To determine the impact of laws, scholars need to consider development efforts as well as anti-FGC statutes. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Okeke, Tokuchwu Christopher, Ugochukwu S. B. Anyaehie, and Cyril C. K. Ezenyeaku. “An Overview of Female Genital Mutilation in Nigeria.” Annals of Medical and Health Science Research 2.1 (January–June 2012): 70–73.

    DOI: 10.4103/2141-9248.96942

    A brief but comprehensive literature review of studies of FGC conducted in Nigeria.

  • Shell-Duncan, Bettina, and Ylva Hernlund, eds. Female “Circumcision” in Africa: Culture, Controversy, and Change. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2000.

    Chapters in this edited volume represent an interdisciplinary array of perspectives on FGCs and cultural relativism, human rights, patriarchal oppression, racism, and Western imperialism. The central focus is the role that scholars should play in approaching this issue. The impact of, and local reactions to, international efforts to eliminate FGCs are considered.

  • Toubia, Nahid. Female Genital Mutilation: A Call for Global Action. New York: Rainbo, 1995.

    Overview of the problems associated with FGCs from one of the earliest anti-FGC activists.

  • Toubia, Nahid, and Susan Izett. Female Genital Mutilation: An Overview. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization, 1998.

    The first comprehensive review of the history of FGCs, the different types, short- and long-term consequences, and national and international policies designed to reduce them.

  • United Nations Children’s Fund. Changing a Harmful Convention: Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting. Innocenti Digest 12. Florence: United Nations Children’s Fund, 2004.

    Representative of United Nations agency analyses of the practice in terms of the international human rights instruments, this report also provides some historical detail.

  • World Health Organization. Eliminating Female Genital Mutilation: An Interagency Statement. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization, 2008.

    Provides the framing strategy of UN agencies regarding the elimination of FGCs. A human rights framework is preferred over a purely medical frame. Organizations involved include OHCHR, UNAIDS, UNDP, UNECA, UNESCO, UNFPA, UNHCR, UNICEF, UNIFEM, and WHO.

  • Yoder, P. Stanley, Noureddine Abderrahim, and Arlinda Zhuzhuni. Female Genital Cutting in the Demographic and Health Surveys: A Critical and Comparative Analysis. DHS Comparative Report 7. Calverton, MD: ORC Macro International, 2004.

    Systematic overview of the prevalence of FGCs and evidence of change across many countries. Based on representative samples of women of reproductive age from each country.

  • Yoder, P. Stanley, Shanxiao Wang, and Elise Johansen. “Estimates of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting in 27 African Countries and Yemen.” Studies in Family Planning 44.2 (2013): 189–204.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1728-4465.2013.00352.x

    Drawing on national population-based survey data regarding FGC prevalence and census data regarding the number of women in each country, the authors indicate that nearly eighty-seven million girls and women aged 15 and older have experienced circumcision in twenty-eight countries.

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