Female Genital Mutilation, a form of mutilation of the female genital organs for religious/ritual purposes, often as part of an initiation rite. Also known as clitoridectomy, female genital mutilation involves the surgical removal of parts of the clitoris, labia minora, and labia majora. Also sometimes performed is infibulation, in which the labia are sewn up, allowing a small opening through which urine and menstrual fluid may pass.
The clitoris is extremely sensitive and plays a central role in female sexual stimulation. Hence despite other religious or cultural reasons for performing clitoridectomy, an underlying function is clearly the prevention of unwanted female sexual desire, thereby controlling extramarital sex, and keeping women passive.
Intercourse and childbirth for women who have undergone genital mutilation are very painful and there are various associated medical risks: operations are often performed in unhygienic conditions by unqualified midwives, and patients may be at risk of contracting infections such as tetanus. Infibulation can lead to a build-up of menstrual fluid. Death often results from the operation.
Female genital mutilation is practised in many indigenous and non-Western cultures. It has recently been brought to the West by immigrants from certain areas. Human rights organizations have campaigned for its abolition. Feminists have seen it as a means of controlling women and perpetuating their subjugation. However, it is often women who wish for their daughters to be mutilated. Ethical questions have been raised as to how far Western campaigners should go in interfering with the practices of other cultures.