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#EndFGM Campaigners And Intactivists Against Male Circumcision (MGM) Have Many Concerns In Common

November 11, 2018

Activists against female genital mutilation often insist FGM must not be called ‘female circumcision’; and it’s not, in formal dialogue, ‘cutting’, either. I agree with them. As the WHO, UNFPA, IAC, the Bamako Declaration and others such as the authors (me included) of the Statement on FGM insist, FGM is quite simply ‘Mutilation’.
But the idea that FGM is ‘worse’ than ‘male circumcision’ (MGM) is not very helpful.  There is no need for competition as we seek to prevent harm to either gender.  FGM and MGM are both issues of child protection and human rights. Mutual support and collaboration will take us further, more quickly.

Terminology is important. The term ‘circumcision’ brings to some minds a suggestion that, as male circumcision (more accurately, male genital mutilation, MGM) is deemed – in error – to do no harm, then FGM is also harmless. This claim, that MGM is harmless, or even advantageous for health reasons, is contested vigorously by various activist groups: there are low and dropping global trends in MGM, but still more than 50% of American men have been circumcised, and there are campaigns against MGM by people in most western countries.

Some intactivist campaigners however claim that ‘feminists’ have little concern for the well-being of male infants who undergo MGM, despite a logic that suggests most would agree that all ‘genital cutting’ is of concern to all. Nonetheless some ‘End FGM’ activists (such as Dr Tobe Levin of UnCUT/VOICES) also maintain overtly however that MGM is indefensible, despite the determination of various religious groups around the world that male circumcision should continue.

There is little knowledge in most Western countries of the damage that even closely regulated male circumcision can inflict. Boy babies die as a result of circumcision, even in the USA, and in parts of the developing world hundreds of adolescent boys are killed by the procedure every year. The well-intentioned claim that male circumcision in parts of Africa helps prevent the spread of HIV is also contested. It has been suggested by a few contributors to the book Female Mutilation that this HIV-prevention programme may actually cause problems for parallel ‘End FGM’ programmes.

Human rights
The human rights and consent issues are the same in both cases – how can any child give meaningful consent to a ‘procedure’ which is not medically necessary, and brings about changes for life?  Doctors are expected to ‘do no harm’. By what reasoning can medical practitioners who undertake circumcision on male children justify their act?

And yes, the legal situation regarding FGM is currently different from that of MGM, but slowly MGM is also becoming regarded as wrong.

Until such time as MGM is also explicitly illegal in most countries, it will be necessary for activists on behalf of females or males to approach their challenges in different ways.  But different strategies need not imply different levels of human concern.

Working together
There is an emerging opinion in some parts of the EndFGM community (eg the views expressed in my book Female Mutilation and elsewhere of Hazel BarrettTobe Levin and Hannah Wettig) that neither FGM or MGM will cease entirely until the other does.

The current situation inevitably offers the defence for proponents of both FGM and MGM that ‘you let the other group cut their children‘.  That excuse to continue these harmful traditional practices must be removed.

It’s time for everyone to support each other and work together, not to compete.

~ ~ ~

ADDENDUM (more facts for consideration to aid debate)

Hanny Lightfoot-Klein designed this important comparison of FGM and MGM:
Similarities in Attitudes and Misconceptions toward Infant Male Circumcision in North America and Ritual Female Genital Mutilation in Africa. (2003)

The Intactivism Pages also provide a neat summary comparison of FGM and MGM.

The Circumcision Information and Resources Pages (CIRP) offer detailed information and links to circumcision reviews and policy for  Australia, Canada, Finland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the USA and UK (input last updated March 2016):
Circumcision: Medical Organization Official Policy Statements

The UK-based National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) likewise provides direct links to the policy and information documentation on male circumcision / MGM from British, Canadian, US and other (inter-)national health / medical bodies (last updated 2016).  Legal and ethical issues are also addressed in this reading list.

Australia, Iceland, Norway and Sweden are amongst the countries which have banned, or are close to banning, MGM.  One region of Germany also attempted to do so.

Your Comments on this topic are welcome.
Please post them in the box which follows these announcements…..

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Books by Hilary Burrage on female genital mutilation

18.04.12 FGM books together IMG_3336 (3).JPG

Eradicating Female Genital Mutilation: A UK Perspective (Hilary Burrage, Ashgate / Routledge 2015).
Full contents and reviews   HERE.
FEMALE MUTILATION: The truth behind the horrifying global practice of female genital mutilation  (Hilary Burrage, New Holland Publishers 2016).
Full contents and reviews   HERE.


There is a free FGM hotline for anyone in the UK: 0800 028 3550, or email:

Details of NHS Specialist Services for FGM here.

More info and posts on FGM here.

Activists, service providers and researchers may like to join the LinkedIn group Female Genital Mutilation (FGM): Information, reports and research, which has several hundred members from around the world.

The (free) #NoFGM Daily News carries reports of all items shared on Twitter that day about FGM – brings many organisations and developments into focus.

Also available to follow at no cost or obligation is the #NoFGM_USA Daily News.

Twitter accounts:          @NoFGM_UK  @NoFGMBookUK @FemaleMutlnBook  @FGMStatement  @NoFGM_USA @NoFGM_Kenya  @NoFGM_France  @GuardianEndFGM [tag for all: #NoFGM] and @StopMGM.

Facebook page: #NoFGM – a crime against humanity

Email contact: via Hilary


[NB The Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children, which has a primary focus on FGM, is clear that in formal discourse any term other than ‘mutilation’ concedes damagingly to the cultural relativists – though the terms employed may of necessity vary in informal discussion with those who by tradition use alternative vocabulary. See the Feminist Statement on the Naming and Abolition of Female Genital Mutilation,  The Bamako Declaration: Female Genital Mutilation Terminology and the debate about Anthr/Apologists on this website.]


I am categorically opposed to MGM, but that is not the focus of most posts on this website.

Anyone wishing to offer additional comment on more general considerations around infant and juvenile genital mutilation is asked please to do so here or via these relevant dedicated threads.

Discussion of the general issues re M/FGM will not be published unless they are posted on the relevant dedicated pages. Thanks.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. November 11, 2018 09:34

    Excellent, Hilary.
    I look forward to your comments on my forthcoming post about circumcision. What a coincidence… or not?

  2. November 11, 2018 10:25

    NOTE from Hilary: I am always doubtful about publishing extended commentary from people who provide for public reference neither their full identity nor any indication of the capacity in which they write. This (patronising) piece affords however an opportunity to see that opposition to the position which many of us have reached still pertains, and I am therefore publishing in its entirety, as it was written…..

    I support and applaud your efforts to eradicate female genital mutilation and male genital mutilation. However, your article immediately stumbles when you attempt to equate circumcision with male genital mutilation. They are completely different items, and you are compromising your authority as a force against genital mutilation by attempting to do so.

    A reference to a dictionary illustrates the difference, in this case Merriam-Webster:

    Definition of mutilate
    transitive verb

    1 : to cut up or alter radically so as to make imperfect
    the child mutilated the book with his scissors
    a painting mutilated by vandals
    2 : to cut off or permanently destroy a limb or essential part of : CRIPPLE
    His arm was mutilated in the accident.

    Definition of circumcision
    1a : the act of circumcising
    especially : the cutting off of the foreskin of males that is practiced as a religious rite by Jews and Muslims and by others as a social custom or for potential health benefits (such as improved hygiene)

    So, mutilate is to alter radically, make imperfect, cut off or permanently destroy a limb.

    Circumcise removes the foreskin and improves health.

    In the first case, mutilate destroys functionality. In the second case, circumcision arguably increases functionality by improving health and decreasing disease.

    Circumcision has been utilized by the genus homo for 100,000 years or more

    by multiple societies. Societies that migrated from Africa some 50,000-70,000 years ago practiced circumcision and spread it world wide. In fact, despite the disparity of societies world wide, a common practice has been, at times, circumcision. In this respect, the institutionalization of circumcision in the religious rituals of Jews and Muslims make them late commers to the practice.

    Circumcision has what is called “the wisdom of the commons”, knowledge gleaned and agglomerated by hundreds of generations of individuals observing the world about them and making conclusions therefrom.

    Societies throughout the ages did not mutilate their males, they gave them enhanced health and reproductive success.

    Peer reviewed research over the recent time frame validates and expands on that wisdom of the commons as coalesced in this recent World Journal of Clinical Pediatrics article:

    Statistical decrease in many penile and partner diseases for circumcised men. Interestingly, there are no published research studies showing increased health outcomes for either men or their partners for remaining uncircumcised. These are the highest strength studies, meta studies, randomized control trials, and observational studies.

    If you subscribe to the scientific method, there can be no doubt. But, you say, I am skeptical. It is wise to be skeptical. Otherwise, such advances as cold fusion, vaccination causing autism and others would not have been subjected to critical analysis and they being discarded when others could not replicate the original theory. A noted skeptic published the following article:

    Finally, circumcision is a feminist and human rights issue. A woman has the basic human right to start a new relationship and not be faced with a potentially fatal disease decades later, long after she has forgotten the man. And, a baby boy has the fundamental human right that his parents will act in his best interests, both current and future, to ensure his optimum health. This includes circumcision. If his parents do not make the ethical decision to circumcise, their child and his partners (and society as a whole) are the ones who suffer. An overview of the medical, legal, and ethical issues was published in this PHD thesis:

    In summary, you are to be commended on your stance against Female Genital Mutilation. But, for instance, the section on “harm” cites discredited articles and authors. You are doing yourself a disservice by using less than exemplary articles and authors when you have a universe of authors and studies of the highest rank from which to choose. The only problem is that the highest quality authors and studies to not support a link between circumcision and mutilation. If you have the strength to make that disassociation, you will improve your standing in the anti-Female Genital Mutilation universe. I kook forward to your progress in this issue.

    • November 11, 2018 22:07

      You may be interested to learn that some women who report they don’t practise FGM will say they do ‘sunna’ or ‘khafz’ (also khafd or khatna):
      A large proportion of those who said they had undergone so-called “sunna circumcision” (i.e. excision of the prepuce and all or part of the clitoris, equivalent to type I FGM) were found on examination to have a form of FGM that extended beyond the clitoris. This applied to 10 out of 23 girls (43%) and 20 out of 35 women (57%). Of those who said they had undergone this form, nine girls (39%) and 19 women (54%) in fact had type III FGM (infibulation plus excision of part or all of the external genitalia).
      Research studies on the prevalence and classification of female genital mutilation

      The attempt to distinguish ‘sunna’ (or khafz) from FGM is not honest or realistic. Even if the ‘cutting’ were indeed minimal excision as claimed, it is still FGM. The same disingenuity applies to your attempt to distinguish male ‘circumcision’ from MGM.

      ‘Sunna’, ‘khafz’ and ‘circumcision’ are words employed to avoid the realities of mutilation.

  3. November 11, 2018 12:26

    Beautiful, Hillary!

  4. November 11, 2018 14:32

    “At least these young women are conscious and they are told that it is a sort of test, an act of courage. Although, in fact, it is meant to make them submissive to men and insure that they will never challenge man’s power.

    But there is no such consciousness in the newborn. The torture is experienced in a state of total helplessness which makes it even more frightening and unbearable. Yes, it is high time that such a barbaric practice comes to an end.”

    Dr Frédérick Leboyer

  5. Jhon Murdock permalink
    November 12, 2018 04:06

    All removal of healthy body tissue constitutes mutilation. Some healthy tissue may be unavoidably removed along with diseased tissue as occurs with margins lost in the removal of skin cancers. Healthy tissue that is removed for non-medical reasons such as culture, custom, cosmetics or religion constitutes avoidable mutilation. Removal of healthy tissue for non-medical reasons from any person without that person’s informed consent constitutes a Human Rights Violation.

  6. November 12, 2018 06:32

    On 4 July 2007 the Royal Academy of Medicine hosted an 8-session, all day event on human genital mutilation at which Efua Dorkenoo presented FGM and all additional 7 sessions focused on the harm of circumcising a boy’s prepuce. The audience consisted mainly of doctors — internists, specialists in cosmetic surgery, andrologists, psychiatrists and psychologists, sexologists and, yes, activists as well. Even ‘way back then’ – more than a decade ago — one of the UK’s premier medical institutions took a principled stance on new, clinical information. The fact that a tradition is old can hardly be brought forward as an argument for keeping it and should set off alarm bells …

  7. Jhon Murdock permalink
    November 23, 2018 19:06

    “It’s time for everyone to support each other and work together, not to compete.”
    Brian Earp agrees:

  8. Mutilated Boy permalink
    January 20, 2021 13:06

    We got ours. You get yours on your own.

    A paraphrasing of a British MP after success in promoting the addition of misogyny to the list of hate crimes.

    It would be nice if we could work together but it won’t happen.

    • January 20, 2021 20:14

      What do you mean? I presume you did actually read the post above?

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