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Call on The Economist to retract irresponsible FGM/C position

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The Economist's leader article, "An agonising choice" (18 June) has many misguided assumptions about female genital mutilation and the progress that has been made in recent years.  A second article "The unkindest cut" (18 June) also draws damaging conclusions. 

We the undersigned refute the stance of this leader piece, based on the following:

  • Firstly, contrary to the tone, which assumes little or no change across the decades, there is evidence that the practice is ending and there are communities who are choosing not to cut their daughters, in any form (Unicef 2016).
  • Secondly, due to this progress, it is most definitely NOT time to consider a “new approach” – but instead support known strategies that are working and leading to sustainable change around the world.
  • Thirdly, there is no evidence that a "lesser form" of FGM/C leads to "no long-lasting harm." Many survivors of this type of practice tell of the lifelong impacts and harm that they live with, given the nature of the practice as a human rights violation and an act which has emotional and psychological impacts, as well as causing physical harm.
  • Fourthly, the writer states that we do not know whether parents could be persuaded to "abandon the worst horrors of FGM", when in fact, we do know that communities in Egypt, for example, have moved to a medicalised and/or "lesser cut" in the mistaken belief that they are "protecting their daughters." A staggering 77% of all FGM across Egypt is now done medically (Unicef 2013) and a girl tragically died there from the procedure in the last month. Belief in a 'safer' cut through medicalisation or a 'lesser' cut with a move away from infibulation, does not constitute progress when lives are at risk and rights continue to be violated.  
  • Lastly, The Economist has now joined others in taking a stance of “advocating minor forms of FGM”. You rightly state that this provokes outrage. That is because it is a grossly irresponsible position, which contravenes international guidance from the World Health Organization and medics own pledge to “do no harm” as well as several human rights conventions.

Your article, "The Unkindest Cut" (also 18 June) about FGM/C sets out the issues in a more balanced way, however, it still ultimately advocates: "....redrawing the line to separate the harmless and atrocious might help." We reiterate our stance that there is no harmless element to this practice. 

For a publication of this calibre to advocate a "new approach" of "harm reduction" undermines decades of work that have been carried out successfully, including promising recent work.

We demand that the writer of the leader article from The Economist meet with organisations and individuals campaigning to end the practice to better understand why this position is irresponsible and to visit communities overseas that are choosing to abandon all forms of this harmful practice, without having to resort to a “lesser cut.”

For such a well-respected publication to be so irresponsible is worrying, alarming, and discredits the experiences of women and girls who have undergone any type of FGM/C, the campaigning and activism of those who work with them to end the practice - this is a highly regressive step, when there is so much at stake.

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