Rethinking Female Genital Operations: new perspectives on the zero tolerance debate

Rethinking Female Genital Operations: new perspectives on the zero tolerance debate

22 May 2019, 9.00, at the Institute for the Equality of Women and Men
Address: Ernest Blerotstreet 1, 1070 Brussels

Symposium in English. With the participation of Stéphanie Florquin, Project and Reseach officer at GAMS Belgium and coordinator of the SC-MGF.

“Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a generic term that refers to a set of practices aimed at changing the appearance of female genitalia to meet social norms linked to sexuality, gender and aesthetics. More than 200 million women worldwide are affected by these practices, which can affect women’s sexual and reproductive health and compromise their well-being and personal development. International organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) seem to agree on the geographical areas where FGM is practiced, the populations concerned, the types of care to be promoted and the behaviours to be prohibited. Practitioners in the field (e.g., doctors, social workers, activists), however, face a much more complex reality that undermines the coherence of the internationally approved prevention messages. The WHO condemns all forms of FGM – whether it is invasive (e.g. infibulation) or symbolic (e.g. pricking or “piercing”), medicalized or not, performed after consent or without, practiced on a child or an adult woman – the tolerance is “zero”. This strategy has the merit of promoting respect for the physical integrity and rights of women. However, it has Western-centric implications that unequally distribute the right to dispose of one’s body according to the “ethnic” origin of the women concerned. In fact, zero tolerance only concerns practices associated with African and South Asian countries but does not apply to female genital surgeries which are increasingly desired and practiced on adult women and teenage girls under age.”

Speakers :

  • Janice Boddy, social anthropologist, University of Toronto 
  • Brian Earp, philosopher, University of Yale
  • Omar Abdulcadir, gynaecologist/obstetrician, University of Florence 
  • Stephanie Florquin, network co-ordinator, GAMS Belgium 

Programme : 20190522-ULB-symposium-rethinking-FGM

Please register via email:


NOTE: The SC-MGF and GAMS support the zero tolerance of FGM. However, we recognize the need to reflect on the double standard around practices. Any type of FGM is prohibited (including requests from consenting adult women, which sometimes happens) but aesthetical genital surgeries are allowed, including labia or clitoral gland reductions, including for young women under the age of 18.

See the text in the Guide “Sexual Mutilation – Deconstructing Misconceptions” about aesthetical surgeries:

“These plastic surgeries can at different levels be compared to FGM, since they are generally performed for non-medical reasons. Although the demand for aesthetical surgery often comes from women themselves, it is nourished by social pressure from the spread of image of the “ideal vulva” or the obligation of pre-marital virginity to women. These aesthetic reasons and the pressure of society can play a role in the practice of cosmetic surgery, as in the case of female genital mutilation. Moreover, surgerical procedures on the genitals can lead to complications (such as bleeding, infections, pain).” (extract, see page 32 of the guide – in French,  English translation coming soon)