Debating medicalisation of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): Learning from (policy) experiences across countries.


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    Although Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) is internationally considered a harmful practice, it is increasingly being medicalized allegedly to reduce its negative health effects, and is thus suggested as a harm reduction strategy in response to these perceived health risks. In many countries where FGM/C is traditionally practiced, the prevalence rates of medicalization are increasing, and in countries of migration, such as the United Kingdom, the United States of America or Sweden, court cases or the repeated issuing of statements in favor of presumed minimal forms of FGM/C to replace more invasive forms, has raised the debate between the medical harm reduction arguments and the human rights approach.

    Main body
    The purpose of this paper is to discuss the arguments associated with the medicalization of FGM/C, a trend that could undermine the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 5.3. The paper uses four country case studies, Egypt, Indonesia, Kenya and UK, to discuss the reasons for engaging in medicalized forms of FGM/C, or not, and explores the ongoing public discourse in those countries concerning harm reduction versus human rights, and the contradiction between medical ethics, national criminal justice systems and international conventions. The discussion is structured around four key hotly contested ethical dilemmas. Firstly, that the WHO definition of medicalized FGM/C is too narrow allowing medicalized FGM to be justified by many healthcare professionals as a form of harm reduction which contradicts the medical oath of do no harm. Secondly, that medicalized FGM/C is a human rights abuse with lifelong consequences, no matter who performs it. Thirdly, that health care professionals who perform medicalized FGM/C are sustaining cultural norms that they themselves support and are also gaining financially. Fourthly, the contradiction between protecting traditional cultural rights in legal constitutions versus human rights legislation, which criminalizes FGM/C.

    More research needs to be done in order to understand the complexities that are facilitating the medicalization of FGM/C as well as how policy strategies can be strengthened to have a greater de-medicalization impact. Tackling medicalization of FGM/C will accelerate the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goal of ending FGM by 2030.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number158
    Number of pages10
    JournalReproductive Health
    Early online date24 Sept 2019
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2019

    Bibliographical note

    Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.


    • Medicalized FGM/C
    • Harm reduction
    • Human rights
    • Medical ethics


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