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0Female Genital Integrity | Intersex Genital Integrity | Male Genital Integrity

It is easy to define genital integrity. Everyone has genitals. However, it becomes a problem to define female genitals. On one hand we could simply define a biological category called female and say that to be a proper female your genitals must look a stereotypical way. On top of this we could also say that only those who have the "right kind" of female genitals can be called female. But it is this very attitude of defining "female" that leads to forced genital surgeries. According to this type of logic, to be "female" your genitals must look female.

Students for Genital Integrity finds this rhetoric and the process of defining female genitals problematic because intersex children, whose genitals are not stereotypical "female," are often called female. Or, in cases where the penis of an infant is destroyed (this can happen during circumcision), medicine refers to the child as a pre-operative-female and proceeds to surgically alter the body to make it "look like" a female. Medicine does this in order to conform to what society believes "female" genitalia should look like. Only those who conform to a binary system of male or female genitals and gender are considered normal according to the heteronormative standard.

However, as we can see, there are inconsistencies within heteronormative standards where gender and genitals do not match or are ambiguous, but still infants are called a certain gender. While many societies consider only those who have a vagina and a clitoris as authentic "females" it continues to call those who do not fit the standard, more often than male, as female. Therefore, to SGI, no matter what a person's genitals look like, Female Genital Integrity protects the rights of any human whose body is called or gendered female by her host society. There should be no classification of genitals as "real" or "biological" female genitals in Female Genital Integrity. As it is currently, female bodies are not being protected. You cannot simply call a baby female and then change her genitals to look "appropriate!"

SGI believes that the main reason that circumcision may be happening could be that heteronormative societies do not consider uncircumcised (intact) or ambiguous females to have "normal" or "real" genitals. In order for this dissonence or "problem" to be resolved, our society does not change its views, but rather forces children into a physical perception that is not anything more than an injustice.

In this section, SGI will provide information regarding the forced genital cutting of sex organs that are often called "female." This does not mean that SGI considers these genitals, nor the individuals who own them, automatically female. SGI believes that there must be room within the definition of female to allow individuals like intersex or transgender persons, whose genitals do not conform to the female genital standard, to still be authentically female.

Female Genital Cutting

Female genital cutting (also known as FGM) is a term used by some organizations to refer to the practices that amputate or alter the genitals of females who have labial folds and a clitoris. There are three main types of FGM that are practiced throughout the world: Type I or Sunna circumcision, Type II or excision, and Type III or infibulation. Sometimes these practices are ranked by medical agencies in order, from bad to worse. However, even the least damaging practice (which removes skin from the clitoris) can lead to HIV infection. In the end each practice is almost always forced and is often very traumatic.

Beyond the "traditional" or cultural forms of forced genital cutting are the modern medical forms that ostensibly "reconstruct" the genitals of individuals whose genitals are ambiguous because they do not fit the female standard. Often these cases include a clitoris that is "too big" or "ambiguous" to the point of being more like a penis. Historically the clitoris was shortened or removed in order to conform to heteronormative "female" standards, and sometimes still is. Other cases include babies born with a scrotum and a micro penis. These babies were thought to be "in danger" of poor body image later in life, and their gender was assigned female instead. Reconstructive surgery was forced on them in order to make their bodies "look" female.

The descriptions above only comment on the physical aspects of genital cutting. There are many other damaging aspects of forced genital cutting that affect its victims for a lifetime, physically and mentally. The effects of forced genital surgeries can only be told by those who survive them. Many who speak out about their surgeries or forced circumcision describe their experience as painful and traumatic. Others claim that it was good for them and a necessary step toward becoming a woman. But, when an individual feels that a forced surgery has hurt them then we must ask, "Why was this surgery forced?" and "Do those who feel 'normal' with forced surgeries harbor stories of disenfranchised grief?"

While SGI recognizes the personal endangerment of genital cutting, it is a much different case when it is done by choice and with fully informed consent and not as part of a gender-based abusive practice. SGI believes in a person's right to choose.

To learn more about what happens to a person's vagina, labia and a clitoris when it is forcibly "circumcised" please refer to our links page or the FGM Network. (Note: FGM Network is not affiliated with SGI).

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Did you know?

There are between eight and ten million women and girls in the world who are at risk of undergoing one form or another of genital cutting.

In the United States it is estimated that about ten thousand girls are at risk of this practice.

Source: The FGM Network

Where is FGC practiced?

FGC is practiced predominantly in 28 countries in Africa. Eighteen African countries have prevalence rates of 50 percent or higher, but these estimates vary from country to country and within various ethnic groups. FGC also occurs in some Middle Eastern countries-Egypt, the Republic of Yemen, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Israel-and is found in some Muslim groups in Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan and India. 6Some immigrants practice various forms of FGC in other parts of the world, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United States and in European nations.

How many women and girls in the world have been affected by FGC? In the United States?

It is estimated that 130 million girls and women have undergone FGC. Approximately 2 million are subjected to this practice each year worldwide. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 168,000 women and girls in the United States had either undergone FGC or were at risk for FGC in 1990. Of these, 48,000 were girls younger than 18 years old.

(Source: FAQ)

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*Genital Integrity ribbon is Copyright © 1998-2003 NOHARMM Tim Hammond

No information within the domain is meant as,
or should replace, medical advice. However, many health care providers
know little about foreskin function and "ambiguous" genital care due to pandemic
North American ignorance and false information regarding "male" and intersex child
genital anatomy and its development. For a list of knowledgeable health care
providers in your area write to
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