It’s a terrible fact. And somehow, despite international media campaigns, activist organizations, and UN resolutions, it’s a fact that has escaped the notice of many Christians in other areas of the world.
In Africa, many Christians circumcise their girls.
In some places, female circumcision is more prevalent among Christians than it is among Muslims. 29 countries were tracked as problem areas in the most recent UNICEF report on FGM, and of those countries, 14 have more Christians than Muslims.
The practice is also present among Muslims in Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Middle East, but its extent among Christians there is more difficult to determine.**
The diversity of this practice is extensive:
- Age – Many girls are old enough to remember the event for the rest of their lives. Some are as old as 15, while some are infants.
- Justifications – These include hygiene, health, morality, tradition, and avoiding cultural stigma. More on this below.
- Forms – In Africa, relatively minor forms (less damaging than modern male circumcision) are practiced in the north. Destructive infibulation (stitching closed) is practiced in the south. Several forms exist in between. The more minor forms are most common.
The WHO identifies four general categories of female genital mutilation, with multiple subcategories. Its descriptions follow:
Type I — Partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or the prepuce (clitoridectomy).
Type II — Partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (excision).
Type III — Narrowing of the vaginal orifice with creation of a covering seal by cutting and appositioning the labia minora and/or the labia majora, with or without excision of the clitoris (infibulation).
Type IV — All other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, for example: pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterization.
Female circumcision in the United States
As our blog is based in the USA, our readership is made up mostly of Americans. Many of you will be surprised to hear that female genital mutilation was once an option in the United States. Indeed, until 1977, Type I FGM was covered by the major insurance company Blue Cross Blue Shield.**
Some women born in the USA of the mid-20th century have publicly shared the stories of their mutilation, such as Patricia Robinett’s The Rape of Innocence in 2006. These women still must cope with the permanent consequences of having a God-designed part of their anatomy removed for bogus reasons.
But this practice never took hold in the USA as firmly as male circumcision – which became popular around the same time and for the same reasons. The American Christian public mistakenly thought that modern male circumcision was the same as the biblical mark, but we rightly saw no parallel between female cutting and Scripture, and so hesitated to adopt it.
FGM in U.S. hospitals finally stopped entirely in 1991 and became federally illegal in 1996. A statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2010 suggested that a form of Type IV FGM should be allowed in the United States, but the statement was quickly retracted after the ensuing public outcry.
So far in the U.S., there has only been one conviction under the federal law banning FGM. But the Population Reference Bureau estimates that 500,000 girls in the United States – mostly girls of Central African origin – have had the procedure performed or are at risk of it being performed.
As immigration from Central Africa continues, the number of American girls at risk is expected to rise. After all, the practice remains a cultural staple in much of Africa, even in areas where the population is now mostly Christian.
Why do Christians do this?
In Central Africa, uncircumcised women may be socially ostracized. As pro-FGM Kenyan president Jomo Kenyatta said, “it is impossible for a member of the tribe to imagine an initiation without clitordectomy.” Like male circumcision in the Philippines, female circumcision in Central Africa is a ticket of admission to society.
In these cultures, an uncircumcised young woman is excluded. She is seen as dirty, a girl whom potential husbands will immediately reject.
Female cutting entered the Christian community in Africa from the surrounding culture, as modern male circumcision did in the United States. But this doesn’t mean FGM will be easy to uproot from Christian groups. In some places, female cutting has even been moving out of the fields and into sterilized hospital settings.
Many people in Africa believe that female circumcision is cleaner. They believe it lowers risk of HIV and other infections (claims supported by some medical studies). Some believe it makes women more chaste. Some actually believe it is a religious requirement, or at least an important cultural tradition. And some say, “shouldn’t a girl look like her mother?”
With such cultural forces behind FGM – with so many deep-seated myths to dispel – our fight to spread correct information and respect for the wisdom of God’s design will be difficult.
Hope for Change
Thankfully, the world as a whole has turned against FGM in recent years. Christians in Africa and around the world should be the ones to lead this fight. Circumcision is an attack on God’s design, showing disrespect for His creative wisdom and lack of care for His little images.
We who believe the Gospel must not sit idly by as girls made in God's image are mutilated. #NoFGMClick To Tweet
We who believe in the life-transforming and world-transforming Gospel of Jesus Christ must not sit idly by as little girls made in the image of God have pieces cut off of them – especially when it is Christians who do so, blinded though they may be by culture and convention.
You can help right now by spreading the word. Start by sharing this article or related articles. Mention the issue in conversation. Follow and support groups like Little Images and others who are writing and working against the practice. Soon enough, this information will begin reaching more African Christians, missionaries, mission agencies, traveling Christians, Christian authors, and Christian preachers. Together, we can stand up for this generation of African girls, and by the grace of God, things will change.
There are many other pressing issues in this world. But Christians unknowingly disregarding the wisdom of the Creator and thus mutilating and harming their own children? Sounds like a priority to me.