The Deeply Rooted Parallels Between Female Genital Mutilation and Breast Implantation
Last week, a UK government review of the French breast implants that have caused panic from Australia to Uruguay concluded that there is no evidence the implants should be removed. The Australian Medical Association thinks women should at least get their implants checked out. But neither the reviews nor the media coverage of the implant panic has dealt with the real question at stake: what makes women voluntarily cut open their bodies to permanently implant foreign objects to the potential detriment of their health?
The answer to this question is potentially uncomfortable. I have often asked the students in my health rights seminars to articulate the principles that make us distinguish between voluntary female genital mutilation in adult women and voluntary breast augmentation surgery. Apart from the fact that the former makes us queasy and the second doesn’t, there really is none.
To be sure, female genital mutilation (FGM) is often performed on girls who are unable to consent to—or, indeed, understand—the violence asserted on their bodies. And, because FGM is prevalent mostly in places where health infrastructure is weak or non-existent, the intervention is often unsanitary and ultimately can be deadly.
But even if FGM were carried out in the best of clinical conditions on a consenting adult woman, we call it a human rights violation. Why?