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Not all cultural traditions deserve respect
  1. Ruth Macklin
  1. Correspondence to Professor Ruth Macklin, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, 1300 Morris Park Avenue, Bronx, NY 10461, USA; ruth.macklin{at}einstein.yu.edu

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The position Arora and Jacobs defend regarding female genital alteration (FGA) has much to recommend it. Sanctioning a form of FGA that seeks to minimise if not eliminate harm to infants, adolescents and adult women, and at the same time show respect for cultural traditions appears to make good sense. In arguing for a de minimis procedure, the authors contend that any harm would be equivalent to that of male circumcision, a practice that is permitted by countries that have made FGA illegal. They are correct in saying that in a de minimis form, FGA could not reasonably be considered a human rights violation.

With these and other reasons that seem persuasive at first blush, why do I remain resistant to accepting this apparent solution to a public health problem that affects millions of girls and women? Two different considerations lead me to reject the proposal. The first might be dismissed as ‘merely symbolic’, but is nevertheless real. The second is deep scepticism regarding several empirical premises that underlie the authors’ position.

There is no doubt that in whatever form, FGA has its origin and purpose in controlling women. Whether it be controlling their sexual behaviour in the …

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