WHO Releases Strategy Condemning Medicalization of FGM
Tuesday, June 15, 2010 8:30 PM


The World Health Organization (WHO) has released an inter-agency global strategy that aims to eliminate the performance of female genital mutilation (FGM) by health-care providers. The strategy, “Global Strategy to Stop Health-Care Providers from Performing Female Genital Mutilation,” strongly condemns the medicalization of FGM. WHO collaborated with a wide range of stakeholders in drafting this strategy, including international organizations, NGOs, and organizations of health-care professionals.
According to the strategy, “FGM refers to all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons… Medicalization of FGM refers to situations in which FGM is practiced by any category of health-care provider, whether in a public or a private clinic, at home or elsewhere.”
Medicalization of FGM has been a growing concern among the international community in recent years. Its proponents argue that medicalization may reduce risk while upholding cultural beliefs and practices. This strategy establishes several reasons for why medicalization must be condemned by the international community. The authors note that medicalization serves to legitimize FGM, which is a violation of the human rights of women and girls. Permitting health-care professionals to perform FGM falsely indicates that the procedure has a medical purpose or is harmless to women and girls. FGM medicalization is cited as a violation of ethical responsibility as well as a violation of the law in a majority of nations.
The ultimate goal of the strategy is to end medicalization of FGM. Responsibilities of medical professionals are framed within a human rights perspective. Medical professionals should act in ways that uphold the human rights of all women and girls, and avoid encouraging or accepting practices which hinder these rights. WHO and its partners establish four actions as essential to meeting this goal. First, mobilize political will and funding. Second, strengthen the understanding and knowledge of health-care providers. Third, create supporting legislative and regulatory framework. Fourth, strengthen monitoring, evaluation and accountability. Each of these actions is followed by additional detailed requirements.
The strategy ends with a call to action: “All health-care providers take an oath of practice in line with the Hippocratic Oath and other relevant statements of ensuring no harm against any patient. Health-care providers should know and respect the health and human rights aspects of FGM and refrain from supporting or performing any form of the practice. Governments must create a supportive legal and educational framework with corresponding national guidelines and policies that can guide the work of all categories of health-care providers, including reporting and monitoring routines and providing the necessary budget to discourage medicalization of FGM within the overall framework of total elimination of the practice. They should also ensure that health-care providers are given comprehensive training and acquire the necessary knowledge and competencies to provide care for girls and women suffering from complications caused by FGM and strengthen their capacity to act as advocates for abandonment of the practice.”