Reference Work Entry

Encyclopedia of Medical Anthropology

pp 252-262

Female Genital Cutting

Social and Cultural Dimensions of the Practice and the Debates1
  • Bettina Shell-Duncan
  • , Ylva Hernlund


Having little parallel in its ability to arouse an emotional response, the practice of female genital cutting (FGC) has come under increasingly intense international scrutiny from news media, feminist and human rights organizations, health practitioners, and legislators. A reclassification has taken place: the local has become a global concern, “female circumcision” has become “female genital mutilation,” and a “traditional practice” has become a “human rights violation.” Under the gaze of international attention, this issue has come to constitute a site for a number of emotionally charged debates around cultural relativism, international human rights, racism and Western imperialism, medicalization, sexuality, and patriarchal oppression of women, resulting in an onslaught of discussion and writing on the topic. Yet misunderstanding, confusion, and controversy over the complex dimensions of this issue have not been resolved.

The intervention of outsiders has been ...

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