I don’t want to imply any less seriousness surrounding these findings, because they’re worth noting and correcting:
Nearly 60 percent of women in Ethiopia is subject to sexual violence by a partner, a new UN report revealed yesterday.
The report said violence against women persists at high rates around the world, and governments are not doing enough to prevent it.
At a news conference launching the report, Undersecretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Jose Antonio Ocampo called violence against women “a pervasive phenomenon- it’s really a global problem that has to be addressed.” “According to the quantitative estimates, which certainly underestimate the amount of violence that occurs, at least one out of three women experiences violence at some stage of their lives,” he said. “The report states that the major form of violence takes place at the domestic level, in the households … and it takes place in societies throughout the world.” In addition to spontaneous violence, the report also condemned what it found to be high levels of institutionalized violence, such as female circumcision, estimating that 130 million girls and women living today had undergone this practice.
I’ve made the distinctions between male and female genital mutilation before, mostly to explain that it’s a difference in degree, not kind. I stand by that. The UN rightly addresses female circumcision as institutional violence, yet promotes male circumcision as an appropriate prevention tool against HIV infection. From the Fact Sheet, consider these statements:
Depending on culture, circumcision is usually performed soon after birth or during adolescence as a coming-of-age rite.
It is estimated that globally, about 20% of men, and some 35% of men in developing countries, are circumcised for religious, cultural, medical or other reasons.
Female genital mutilation/cutting (sometimes incorrectly referred to as female circumcision) comprises all surgical procedures involving partial or total removal of the external genitalia or other injuries to the female genital organs for cultural or other nontherapeutic reasons.
There is no condemnation of injuries to male genital organs for cultural or other nontherapeutic reasons, even though such reasons are explicitly included to explain why parents cut their male children. If the UN (and anyone else who denies the obvious similarities) browsed through justifications for female circumcision in countries that permit it, they would recognize arguments bearing a striking resemblance to the reasons given for male circumcision in developed nations. Hygiene, aesthetics, partner approval, they’re all there. So what’s different? Do we permit assault because it’s not as bad as murder?