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Discussing Female Genital Mutilation Non-Judgementally

November 22, 2014

I was schooled on Linked In this morning when I read an exchange between two persons on the subject of Female Genital Mutilation.

Not only was I eloquently informed on the subject, but I experienced a Master class on how to remain non-defensive while presenting one’s views firmly yet non-judgmentally.

Here is the discussion (names have been changed to maintain anonymity)…


Is Female Genital Mutilation child abuse? Why?


Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a form of child abuse because it is forcibly injuring a child, potentially causing them physical and permanent damage to their reproductive organs and overall health. It can cause complications such as infection- which can occur as a result of the original procedure or during menstruation and child birth. FGM can also cause death either through the initial procedure by infection or the loss of blood.

Many cultures practice FGM differently, some forms carry a higher risk of death. On an emotional level, most women who have undergone FGM, do not experience pleasure during intercourse and usually suffer pain. Cultures that practice FGM may have many values behind the practice but one consistent theme, is that it is viewed as a rite of passage for womanhood and is seen as a deterrent for promiscuity and to decrease infidelity. It is argued that women should not find sexual intercourse too pleasing as it means they may seek it out elsewhere.

FGM is considered child abuse because it causes physical damage and trauma to a child based solely on cultural norms and usually without any form of pain killer. It also psychologically reinforces to a child that she is in some way tainted or imperfect and will not be accepted by her society and future spouse if she does not undergo FGM. Furthermore, it sends the message to the child that her body is not her own and will soon be owned and possessed by her future spouse. The child is essentially taught that her body is a vessel for male sexual pleasures and child bearing.

This mindset is reinforced and perpetuated by other women who have historically undergone the procedure. There is a lot more being done to highlight the issue and it is considered a criminal offense in some countries. However, there are very few prosecutions. The cultural significance of FGM is deeply entrenched in some societies and this makes it harder to combat. Education is found to be the key ingredient in tacking FGM. But this requires the collaboration of governments, NGO’s and community leaders.

I think as social workers we need to be mindful that this is practiced in western countries. The better informed we about the practice the more likely we are to notice any signs or cultural practices that may support the use and implementation of FGM. This is not to say we should assume or stereotype. But it is considered more widespread than previously thought. We have become more diverse as societies and with this come practices that may be harmful. It is important to note that adults who support FGM are usually victims of the practice themselves and may be ignorant or in denial that it is harmful in anyway. Sensitivity is paramount when addressing FGM. Understanding the systemic and culture significance can help to better understand its existence and continued practice on women and young girls.


What utter rubbish! Where do you people get your theories from? I can’t believe what I have just read.

Firstly let me point some facts about female cutting (not FGM) as those who have gone through the practice do not see it as abuse as they felt that their mothers or ancestors did this for the love of them. It was ancient tradition that passed through African communities whom were illiterate and followed what was the cultural norm of their beliefs. All the thousands of girls that I know have good positive relationships with their mothers. Victims of female cutting do not see them as mutilated and it’s a complete and utter lie that such women do not get sexual satisfaction. Finally this practice is practically non existent and that’s why it’s been difficult to find any prosecutions. Diaspora communities are fed up with westerns telling them what happens in their community and especially when such lies are expressed in the media.


Nima, I am very interested in your opinion but there is no need to call anyone’s opinion here rubbish. We can have differing views. It was not my intention to exert my western views on an ancient practice. I personally was not pointing at African countries specifically nor saying those who have experienced FGM, do not have great relationships with their mothers. I did say it was deeply entrenched in some cultures which means it is viewed as a norm by both those who practice FGM and those who have experienced it. There is also plenty of evidence based research compiled by non westerners that back some of what I’ve pointed out. By no means does this apply to all. These are some of the implications that have been experienced by many who have undergone genital cutting.

Some cultures cut off some or all of the skin which can result in decreased sexual pleasure. Others sow up the vagina, and a small hole is left. This can cause infection built up by menstrual blood or urinary infections. The sowed up vagina is only widened after sexual intercourse which can be incredibly painful. Birth of children through scar tissue can also be deeply painful and dangerous.

There are many women who support FGM. But there are thousands of young girls who undergo this procedure in Egypt, Pakistan, Africa and in the West… that have experienced severe physical and psychological trauma as a result. Largely due to unhygienic tools used. There are medical and anthropological data that support this. Moreover, there also young and adult survivor testimony that backs this up.

This discussion however, was addressing whether it is considered child abuse. Usually the practice is done before the age of consent. I think this is where as social workers, we have to put aside our own values and beliefs and look at the best interest of the child. The law in the UK and in Canada where I am clearly stipulates this act upon a child is illegal. These policies are based on thorough research into the practice.

I apologize for generalizing in my post. It was not my intention to dismiss women who have had positive experiences with FGM. If an adult female wishes to undergo the practice safely and under medical supervision, then that is her right. I think we are looking at children that are forced to undergo this practice and why it can be viewed as child abuse.


That’s what it is about and that is how to express opinion about it.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker.

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.

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  1. What an interesting discussion, Gary (and of course Karen and Nima). Thank you for sharing.
    You might find this LinkedIn Group of interest: Combatting Female Genital Mutilation (FGM): Information, reports and research .
    We’d be delighted to welcome you, if you’d like to join.

  2. Nima is a man

  3. Depending on one’s culture – in Tibetan culture it is either a man or a woman.

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