The first large-scale medical study of female genital cutting, also known as female circumcision, has determined that the procedure raises, by more than fifty percent, the likelihood that a woman or her baby will die during childbirth.
The report was published in The Lancet, a British medical journal. It also points out that the rates of serious complications such as bleeding rose substantially in women who had undergone female genital cutting. Human rights advocates have long campaigned against female genital cutting as a violation of a woman's basic rights and dignity.
The study by members of the World Health Organization provides the first conclusive medical evidence of the practice’s long-term physical harm. Adrienne Germain is president of the International Women's Health Coalition in New York. "Finally," she said, "we have data to prove what health workers have long known: that female genital mutilation is a health issue, a killer of women and children, as well as a human rights issue."
As many as one-hundred thirty million women, mostly in Africa, but also in the Middle East, have undergone genital cutting, and an estimated two-million girls are at risk each year. Often the instruments used are not sterile and the conditions are unsanitary. Short-term consequences of the procedure include bleeding, post-operative shock, damage to other organs, and infection. The long-term effects of female genital cutting include childbirth obstruction and risk of HIVV/AIDS infection.
The Lancet study found that the women who had undergone the most extensive genital cutting produced the highest rates of maternal and infant death during childbirth. Moreover, women who had the procedure had longer hospital stays, experienced more blood loss, and were more likely to need a Caesarean section. Babies were nearly twice as likely to require resuscitation at birth.
Around the world, female genital cutting is now recognized as a practice that threatens the health and violates the human rights of women. The United States government supports host country legislation against the practice of female genital cutting, but recognizes that successful elimination must end the demand for the practice.
Entire communities must be involved in efforts to eliminate the practice. Local and national N-G-Os, women's groups, community leaders and religious organizations need to adopt culturally appropriate activities and reach out to all stakeholders, including men and boys.
The U.S. supports outreach programs in many countries aimed at educating women and their families about the devastating consequences of genital cutting. But governments need to do much more to enforce laws against a practice that degrades and dehumanizes women.
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.