Saturday, 12 May 2012

The Bristol Compromise: An Unequal Approach To Tackling Genital Mutilation

The city of Bristol has been in the national spotlight recently after a local Muslim leader, the Imam Mohammed Abdul, was filmed advising his community to "take women and girls abroad so they can be circumcised legally" according to reports in the Daily Mail, the Sunday Times and local press

While it is in fact illegal to help and encourage anyone to carry out the procedure overseas it is perfectly legal for the authorities in Bristol and elsewhere to help and encourage anyone to carry out Unnecessary Male Circumcision without consent and for no medical reason in Bristol's health centres and hospitals. 

And so while Bristol is probably the UK’s most pro-active city in the fight against Unnecessary Female Circumcision (or Female Genital Mutilation) – it is also one the UK’s most proactive cities in promoting and legitimising Unnecessary Male Circumcision. When it comes to protecting boys and girls in Bristol from medically unnecessary circumcision, the City’s leaders have decided that genital cutting and mutilation is an issue that doesn’t cut both ways.

There are many cultures around the world where both male and female genital cutting are common practice. The number of women and girls affected is estimated at around 100-140 million. The number of men and boys affected is around the 1 billion mark. 

And while we are more aware of what is now called “Female Genital Mutilation” (FGM) than ever before in the UK – what most people don’t realise is that the definition FGM covers a broad range of cultural practices including rubbing the genitals with turmeric root, symbolically nicking the clitoris and extreme versions of the practice which involve both cutting and stitching.  

In countries like Indonesia the practice for boys and girls has become increasingly medicalised and sanitized and the majority of Indonesia's quarter of a billion inhabitants - male and female - have been circumcised. 

If you look carefully at the picture of the blade above you will see a small amount of skin cut from a baby girl in one such procedure. The picture  is taken from an eye-opening article comparing male and female circumcision in Indonesia.

The purpose of this post is not to defend female genital cutting but to shine a light on the contradictory approach that we are taking to the issue in the UK by highlighting what currently happens in Bristol.

At present mums, dads and community leaders in Bristol’s religious and cultural communities are told by the authorities that performing any form of genital ritual on their daughters – or taking them to other countries like Indonesia to be circumcised in sanitized conditions – is illegal.

At the same time, the same authorities are saying to the same mums and dads and community leaders that while it is perfectly legal for non-medical practitioners to perform medically Unnecessary Male Circumcision on non-consenting babies, you are “strongly encouraged to pay for our NHS service and to avoid using any service which is offered at a community centre, restaurant or private home”.

The justification the city's leaders give for supporting and encouraging Unnecessary Male Circumcision in Bristol's NHS facilities is that it helps local communities meet “religious and cultural requirements”.

The justification Bristol’s city leaders give for opposing Unnecessary Female Circumcision is that it is a “secretive practice” which is “illegal in many countries, including the UK” and that “it is a cultural practice NOT religious”.

So while it is perfectly legal for mums and dads to circumcise their sons in Bristol for cultural or religious reasons – and they are encouraged and supported by the authorities to do so in sanitized conditions; it is illegal for the same mums and dads to circumcise their daughters for cultural or religious reasons in Bristol, or to take them to another country where it is legal to have the procedure performed in sanitized conditions.

Regardless of whether you are for or against parents having the right to perform religious or cultural rituals on their children’s genitals, if you believe in equality then the double standard is obvious.

Bristol City’s leaders state in their Equality and Diversity Plan that their vision is to: “eliminate discrimination…..advance equality of opportunity between people from different groups and foster good relations between people from different groups”.

There is no question that permitting and supporting parents to perform medically unnecessary circumcision on boys but not girls in Bristol is a clear case of gender discrimination.

It is either gender discrimination against boys for failing to give them the same protection as girls, or it is gender discrimination against girls for failing to give them same opportunity to be part of their shared cultural tradition, such as the ritual circumcision of girls and boys from Indonesia.

In future posts we will look at the pioneering work that Bristol is undertaking to tackle unnecessary female circumcision in the city and - at the same time -  how the city promotes, supports and encourages Unnecessary Male Circumcision in Bristol.


  1. Genital mutilation of children is an issue that exposes cultural and sexist biases. How is it possible that now, in the year 2012, we are still barely speaking of these horrific sexual assaults that should long ago been made illegal and severely punishable?

    May every intelligent person become fully informed and every sane voice be raised against this atrocity.

    1. Agree 100% Pl see:

  2. Why is it that many parents feel it is not only their duty, but also their right, to modify the genitalia of their offspring (both female and male) for cultural or religious reasons? We know that the ancient custom of male circumcision is deeply embedded in both the Muslim and Jewish faiths and is widely accepted without question. I am not a religious person and I have no objection to those that choose it for themselves. I do however strongly object to the forced genital modification of infant boys that may or may not choose to adopt the religion of their parents when they reach maturity.

  3. Infant Male genital mutilation appears to be covered by the Offences Against The Person Act of 1861, and the various Acts passed since then, pertaining to child welfare. It is only because the authorities lack the backbone to prosecute the criminals who carry out the injury, and those who want it done.

  4. Bristol of course is the home of Bristol University Centre for Gender and Violence Research which is the source of most ideologically biased gender research in the World. Their appalling work is widely quoted by feminist inspired governments as fact.

    Never has group of "scientists" put their own ideological beliefs ahead of academic integrity before.

  5. You might find this Twitter account of interest: @NoFGM1. It has many links to people and organisations trying to stop this appalling abuse. It also considers issues around MGM (male circumcision) - which we could anticipate will result before too long is action by damaged boys and men against those who cut them, just as we might expect re FGM?

    The failure in modern day Britain to protect heart-breakingly vulnerable children is surely going to be the next child protection scandal?