Dear Secretary Clinton & Ambassador Verveer,
February 6, 2013 marks the tenth annual International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C).1 Cosmetic genital surgery is a practice of cutting girls so that they can fit cultural norms, even though there are no medical benefits. Many people in the United States believe this is something that only happens in other countries. Unfortunately, it happens here too. Every year, hundreds of girls in the U.S. undergo cosmetic genital surgery because someone had decided their clitoris is “too big” to fit our cultural norms.2 An estimated one to two in 1,000 births results in surgery to “normalize” genital appearance in children with intersex conditions or DSD (disorders of sex development).3
Survivors of normalizing surgery have compared it to FGM/C, stating it has similar results. Normalizing surgery can result in a loss of sexual and reproductive functions, genital pain or discomfort, infections, scarring, urinary irregularities, and psychological damage. These surgeries are not medically necessary.
Last year, in honor of the Day of Zero Tolerance, Secretary Clinton made a strong statement condemning the practice of FGM/C. This year, we call on her to recognize that genital cutting affects girls in the U.S. who are born with an intersex condition, and to condemn these unnecessary genital surgeries. We also call on Ambassador Verveer of the Office of Global Women’s Issues to add her voice to this call, and to use her influence to bring this issue to Secretary Clinton’s attention.
As Secretary Clinton has pointed out, culture and tradition can provide no excuse for a practice that mutilates children's genitals with no medical benefit.4 It can be much harder, though, to see the flaws in our own culture than in others. The United States will be in a much stronger position to address FGM in other countries when we have acknowledged and addressed the way our own society modifies girls' genitals to suit cultural ideas of beauty and normality.
We, the undersigned, are concerned citizens who urge our leaders to act now to stop this harmful practice. On the Tenth Annual International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM/C, we ask that Secretary Clinton and Ambassador Verveer acknowledge that genital-normalizing surgery happens to girls in the United States who are born with intersex conditions or DSD. Let’s work together to stop all forms of non-consensual genital cosmetic surgery, simply to fit cultural norms, in the United States and abroad.
1. U.S. Department of State. International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting. (Accessed June 3, 2012 at http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2012/02/183458.htm.)
3. Intersex Society of North America. Frequently Asked Questions. (Accessed June 7, 2012, at http://www.isna.org/faq/frequency.)
4. Secretary Clinton Marks International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation. Dipnote Bloggers. February 15, 2012. Accessed June 12, 2012. http://blogs.state.gov/index.php/site/entry/clinton_zero_tolerance_fgm_2012