Of all the ways in which women and girls are made to suffer because of their sex, infibulation is perhaps the worst. Each year 400,000 are subjected to this atrocity in which the external genitals are excised and the vagina stitched almost completely closed. More than 4m undergo some form of female genital mutilation (FGM) each year—a range of practices, from infibulation at one end, through incisions or pricks that hurt but cause no lasting damage, to the merely symbolic, such as rubbing the genitals with herbs.
For three decades campaigners, led by the UN, have tried to end all FGM. They have pushed for bans and prosecutions; trained medical practitioners to refuse requests for it; lobbied religious leaders to oppose it (though FGM is not mentioned in the Koran, many Muslims regard it as part of their faith); and tried to persuade parents of its dangers. They have had some success. Between 1985 and 2015 the countries where FGM is most common saw the share of girls cut fall from 51% to 37%.
There are good arguments for a blanket ban on FGM. One is that medical procedures with no possible benefit are unethical—especially when inflicted without consent, on children. Another is revulsion at FGM’s misogynist roots: the motive is generally to cleanse the girl of some supposed impurity and tame her sexual desires, thus ensuring her virginity until marriage and fidelity thereafter. But progress has been slow, especially in the African countries where the worst forms are common. On current trends, most girls in Somalia and Djibouti will see their own daughters mutilated, too.
Excerpt from , Female genital mutilation: An agonising choice, Economist, June 18, 2016