Female genital mutilation and other harmful practices
Research studies on the medicalization of female genital mutilation
Medicalization of FGM in Kenya
This study from 2004 set out to look at the role that health care providers play in the medicalization of FGM (or female genital cutting, as the authors call it) among the Abagusii community of Kenya . The Abagusii live primarily in the three districts of Nyanza Province in western Kenya, and FGM is almost universal among Abagusii women. In recent years, trained health care providers have been replacing traditional practitioners in carrying out FGM in the community.
The study, which consisted of interviews with health care providers and their Abagusii clients, showed an overwhelming belief that FGM fulfils a traditional cultural obligation, limiting a woman’s sexual desire. Interviewees felt that it would be difficult for a girl to get married if she had not been cut. The majority of respondents reported that, with medicalization of the practice, less tissue is cut nowadays and, with local anaesthesia and infection prevention, the procedure is less painful. The procedure is often performed in health facilities. Pricking or making just a slight cut in the clitoris is a new procedure, carried out mostly by health professionals, and is seen as a symbolic cut that some nurses refer to as “psychological circumcision”.
With medicalization of the procedure, FGM has become a business for a number of health care workers, although most interventions are carried out by nurses or midwives. To these health care staff, FGM has become a popular means of economic gain, the researchers report, with temporary “clinics” for FGM being opened during the school holidays.
The researchers say that the medicalization of FGM is opposed by traditionalists in the community because it is seen as a violation of the cultural value of the ritual and the meaning associated with the practice. Traditional circumcisers were also opposed to medicalization. Some reported that medicalization is an impediment to the abandonment of FGM since it creates confusion about what is and what is not acceptable. New approaches are needed, the researchers say, to present FGM as “violating human rights and national laws, as well as threatening girls’ and women’s health”.
1. Njue C, Askew I. Medicalization of female genital cutting Among the Abagusii in Nyanza Province, Kenya. New York, NY, Population Council, Frontiers in Reproductive Health Program, 2004.