29/08/2014 13:42 BST | Updated 29/10/2014 05:59 GMT

Not Sexist to Leave Male Circumcision Out of the Debate and Only Focus on Female Genital Mutilation

Male circumcision vs. FGM

A common question I am often asked is "Leyla, isn't male circumcision (MGM) just as bad as FGM? Is it not sexist to leave male circumcision out of the debate and only focus on female circumcision?"

Okay. Deep breath. Let me start by saying I do not think any child should be cut whether it's a boy or a girl. I do not agree with the practice of circumcising a male baby for non-medical reasons, as babies and children cannot give consent. Having said that, I cannot accept a comparison of male circumcision to FGM. The practices themselves, as well as the intent behind them, are fundamentally different. Allow me to explain.

The purpose of FGM is to control a woman's sexuality. Full stop. FGM is done to prevent a woman from enjoying sex in order to keep her "pure." Male circumcision is done for completely different reasons, including religious, aesthetic, or hygienic reasons. (Many studies show that uncircumcised men are no more at risk for STI's than circumcised men as long as they follow basic hygiene and sexual health practices, but that's a separate debate.) In other words, a circumcised male can still enjoy sex, and the practice is not done to decrease a man's sexual pleasure. FGM is far more damaging to a woman's sexuality than MGM is to a man's.

Another key difference is the act of circumcision itself. There are various types of FGM, Type 1 being the partial or total removal of the clitoris. Type 2 is the partial or total removal of the clitoris and labia minora. The most severe type of FGM, Type 3, is the narrowing of the vaginal opening by cutting and sewing over the outer labia. This leaves women with a very small opening in which to pass urine, menstrual fluid, have intercourse, and give birth. Each of these practices are extremely painful and distressing, and often cause medical problems throughout a woman's life.

Male circumcision involves the removal of the foreskin, which (when not used to treat a small number of medical conditions) is also wrong and violating in my view, but not as extreme. The male equivalent of typical FGM procedure would be cutting off the end of the penis (glans). There is just no comparing the two practices.

One final key difference is the way in which the two practices are carried out. FGM is often done by an elderly woman in the community who has never attended school and knows nothing about the human body. She uses blunt, crude, and non-medical tools such as broken glass or thorns. The conditions are unsanitary and no anaesthesia is used. The health risks of this are severe, including recurring infections, chronic pain, infertility, haemorrhaging, reduced sexual desire, infant and maternal mortality, and long-term mental health problems.

Almost every culture that has ever existed has been male dominated, including cultures that practice MGM. Comparing male circumcision to FGM ignores the social and cultural norms in which FGM is practiced, and undermines the severity of the physical and psychological ramifications FGM victims have to live with for the entirety of their lives.

Overall, MGM is less painful, less dangerous, and very rarely carries long-term medical and mental health consequences. We should absolutely campaign against male circumcision, because cutting any child, male or female, is wrong. However, this should be a separate campaign and a separate debate. Otherwise, we risk distracting and derailing the campaign to end FGM once and for all.