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- Author or Editor: Richard A. Shweder x
Should there be gender equity in genital cutting? In Germany (and much of Europe), the native inhabitants tend to argue there is moral equivalence between customary male circumcision and customary female circumcision and both should be proscribed. In Sierra Leone (and several other countries in Africa), the native inhabitants tend to argue there is moral equivalence between customary male circumcision and customary female circumcision and both should be permitted. In the United States, the native inhabitants tend to argue against moral equivalence, permitting customary circumcisions for boys while proscribing them for girls. Who has the better of the argument? And what are the implications of the argument for Jews and other circumcising ethnic groups living in Europe, Africa, and North America?
To the extent that the Dawoodi Bohra custom of circumcising girls as well as boys (1) has broad support among Dawoodi Bohra women, (2) is motivated by a gender-equal interpretation of the Abrahamic covenant (Genesis 17 of the Hebrew Bible) traceable to the views and sayings of the Prophet Mohammed, (3) is less physically invasive than a legal male circumcision as practised by Jews and Muslims, and (4) there is scant evidence of serious harms associated with the procedure, it seems reasonable to suggest that space should be made in a liberal, multi-religious, multi-ethnic, multicultural society for this particular long-standing family life custom. When and if those four conditions hold, the custom is arguably protected by principles of religious liberty, family privacy, parental rights and equal protection for both females and males before the law.
Muslim women of the Dawoodi Bohra community have recently been prosecuted because they customarily adhere to a religiously based gender-inclusive version of the Jewish Abrahamic circumcision tradition. In Dawoodi Bohra families it is not only boys but also girls who are circumcised. And it is mothers who typically control and arrange for the circumcision of their daughters. By most accounts the circumcision procedure for girls amounts to a nick, abrasion, piercing or small cut restricted to the female foreskin or prepuce (often referred to as ‘the clitoral hood’ or in some parts of Southeast Asia as the ‘clitoral veil’). From a strictly surgical point of view the custom is less invasive than a typical male circumcision as routinely and legally performed by Jews and Muslims. The question arises: if the practice is legal for the gander why should it be banned for the goose?