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Thursday, 25 November, 1999, 03:44 GMT
MPs attack Greer on female circumcision
Germaine Greer backs the right of women to undergo circumcision

MPs have launched an attack on the feminist writer Germaine Greer for what they say is her defence of female circumcision.

The Commons International Development Select Committee said her comments on female genital mutilation - a practice which occurs in some parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East - were both "simplistic and offensive".

A resolution against female genital mutilation was passed by the World Health Organisation in 1994, and charities including Womankind Worldwide say that the practice contravenes UNICEF's convention on the rights of the child.

In her recent book, The Whole Woman, Ms Greer argued that attempts to outlaw the practice amounted to "an attack on cultural identity", adding: "One man's beautification is another man's mutilation."

Estimated percentage of girls and women circumcised by country
Djibouti and Somalia 98
Eritrea, Eithiopia and Sierra Leone 90
Sudan 89
Mali 75
Burkina Faso 70
Source: UNICEF
She said that women should have the right to undergo genital mutilation as a form of "self-decoration" and posed the question: "If an Ohio punk has the right to have her genitalia operated on, why has not the Somali woman the same right?"

However, in a report published on Thursday - coincidentally the International Day Against Violence Towards Women - the select committee accused Ms Greer of a "misplaced sense of the sanctity of culture".

The MPs cited figures from the World Health Organisation which estimated that between 85 and 115 million women worldwide had undergone some form of genital mutilation which doubles their risk of dying in childbirth and can increase by three to four times the chances their children will be stillborn.

Girls learning about circumcision in Keyna
The MPs' report also says that Ms Greer takes "no account of the purposes of female genital mutilation, nor the lack of choice for those young girls on whom it is inflicted.

"Equating the forcible clitoridectomy of an eight-year-old girl with the voluntary body-piercing of an American teenager is absurd.

"Culture can no longer be used as an excuse for inaction on securing women's rights," the MPs concluded.

Because the operation is often carried out in non-sterile conditions, sometimes using kitchen knives or pieces of glass, there is a risk that the child or woman could die of infections such a septicaemia.

Organisations like Womankind Worldwide works towards abolishing the practice with measures such as providing grants for traditional circumcisors - who make their living from performing the operations - to set up other businesses.

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See also:
10 Nov 99 |  Africa
Handover of circumcision tools praised
06 Sep 99 |  Africa
Kenya: Changing attitudes to female circumcision
11 Nov 98 |  Health
3,000 UK girls risk female circumcision every year
28 Dec 97 |  Briefings
Female circumcision: facts and myths

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