1 Feb 2019

On the Edge: A Traditional Business section on page 23 of the Velasquez textbook

In over 28 countries, mostly north African nations, female circumcision—or female genital mutilation, as its critics call it—is generally accepted.58 Female circumcision is normally per- formed when a girl is between 7 and 12 years old. It involves cutting the girl’s external genitalia. In most countries, the pro- cedure is done by a female “practitioner” who uses a small knife or razor blade but no anesthesia. A young girl will often resist, so several women must hold her down while the practi- tioner works. The women who perform circumcisions charge for their services and see their work as a business. It is esti- mated that in countries where the practice is widely accepted, the annual fees collected by all the businesses that provide circumcision services total tens of millions of dollars.
Mothers in these countries feel they must have their daugh- ters circumcised because otherwise no “good” man will marry them. Many believe that circumcision controls a woman’s sex- ual desires and cleanses her spiritually so that others can eat what she cooks. Although the practice is not mentioned in the Koran, many North African Muslims believe that female circum- cision is required by certain sayings they attribute to Muham- mad, the founder of Islam. However, Muslim scholars dispute both the authenticity and the interpretation of these sayings.
Many Americans and Europeans feel strongly that female genital mutilation is an immoral assault on a helpless and unwilling girl, an assault that provides her no medical benefit, risks serious infection, and permanently deprives her of the ability to feel sexual pleasure. They have pressured foreign governments to outlaw the practice and to crack down on the women who make a business of it because they are violating the human rights of thousands of girls.
Practitioners claim that Westerners who w want to prohibit female circumcision are trying to impose their own morality on others. A Somali practitioner said: “This is a great offence and a great interference with our lives and our lifestyle. For too long Europeans have come into our countries and told us how to live our lives and how to behave and we believe that is totally unac- ceptable. We will not allow foreigners to tell us how to behave or put our businesses at risk any longer. In order for our daugh- ters to be free they must have this procedure. It is their right as women and our obligation as adults to make them into the best young women we can. Circumcision is a fundamental part of becoming a young woman and we will not deny them that because of some misplaced sense of morality from foreigners.”
Phillip Waites, a doctor and medical analyst for a news service noted, “The core issue here is whether or not Europe- ans have the right to step into another country and demand that they change their traditions and culture.” Remarking on the many practitioners for whom female circumcision is a busi- ness, he said: “There aren’t a whole lot of jobs in Somalia. There really isn’t a whole lot of anything in Somalia frankly, and these women have a specialty that not only garners them a good living but also gives them a certain status in the country that they might not otherwise have.”

Is the business of providing female circumcision services morally wrong? Why?

If a practitioner asks for a small business loan from a Western "micro-finance lender" like www.kiva.org (Links to an external site.) would it be wrong for the lender to refuse?

Would it be wrong for the lender to agree? Explain.

Is it wrong for Westerners to pressure North African governments to prevent practitioners from doing female circumcisions?

Does the case support ethical relativism or does it suggest that there are certain things that are wrong no matter what, or neither of these positions?

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Casey Durgan
Casey DurganLv2
1 Feb 2019

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