Female genital mutilation
Female genital mutilation (FGM or FGC) - or in less loaded terms, "female genital cutting" - is a pretty horrific cultural tradition seen primarily in sub-Saharan and Eastern Africa. The World Health Organization, in an attempt to bring focus to the issue and hopefully outlaw the practice worldwide, has provided the definition as "all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons."  It should be noted the WHO has no such definition for male mutilation and in fact endorses the practice as it "might help retard the spread of AIDS" 
The specific procedure of FGC varies from region to region and ranges from a symbolic pricking of the genitals (Type IV), to removal of the clitoral prepuce (Type I), to full removal of the outer genitalia including the clitoris and labia (Type III).
Consequences of female genital mutilation depend on the severity of the procedure, but can include inability of the woman to enjoy sex, genitourinary tract complications, increased risk of fatality during childbirth, and the risk of infection or death from the unsafe conditions under which the procedure is done.
Although the practice predates Islam by over a thousand years, it has become largely associated with Islam due to the geographic collocation of countries practicing female genital mutilation and Muslim countries.
 Historical context
Female and male tribal markings, including genital markings, have long been a part of human culture as a way to say "you are part of our tribe, and not that tribe", as a way of acknowledging membership to the tribe via the sacrifice of flesh or blood, and as a way of marking ascension into adulthood with associated responsibilities  From piercings and light scarification, to tattooing, to circumcision and even castration, the body has been used throughout history by a variety of cultures to mark identity.
Cutting or scarification of the female genitals is known throughout the world, including Australian aboriginal tribes, ancient proto-Hindu cultures, and several South American tribes. In these cases, the goal is a sacrifice of the flesh and blood to the tribe or the gods, resulting in scarring and marking and not an impediment to sexual function or pleasure.  
Female circumcision as it is known in the Middle East is generally viewed to have begun with the Pharaohs of Egypt, as early as the 3rd Dynasty (3000-2800BC). Mummies have been found with Type I (removal of the clitoral hood), and type III (infibulation - total removal of the external genitalia, and suturing to a tiny hole which allows for urination, but must then be cut open for sex). The term "pharaonic circumcision" which is used throughout the Middle East to describe a full infibulation arose out of this practice. The Romans had a lovely ceremony where they pierced the outer labia of infant girls with a fibula (broach), that would be removed by the husband on the wedding night.
While Judaism requires male circumcision, there is no indication anywhere in the Torah or commentaries that even contemplates female circumcision. However, the Ethiopian Jewish community (Beta Israel) practice FGC as part of their Ethiopian identity. . Though the religious body of Judaism asserts that at no time in Jewish history have any women been circumcised, S. Cohen suggests evidence for small communities who practice the right. However, both during Pharaonic Egyptian era, and in the face of the Muslim wars beginning in 600 CE, there were strong cultural reasons to separate Jews from those who practiced this rite.
Christianity, as it moved into Africa, also adopted the rites of circumcision.
 FGM and Religion
In the modern Western world, female genital mutilation is most often considered a religious practice; however, this is factually wrong. Studies by the US department of Health and the World Health Organization, among others, using the material from a host of anthropologists  have consistently stated that FMG is part of cultural rituals associated with tribal identity and tribal markings, and not with a particular religion . In Africa and parts of the Middle East, the practice flourishes within the community at large, regardless of the religion of the individuals. In Guinea, for example, where over 90% of the population are "cut", it includes Christians and Muslims. Rural Israel reports incidents of cutting in the Coptic Jewish community as well as the Muslim communities. .
Not one religious text from India to Christianity or Islam references, much less requires, such an abhorrent act, at least not on girls. 
 Legal Status
Many countries, including countries where FGM is practiced, have laws outlawing the procedure, though these can be difficult to enforce as they are often performed locally without medical supervision. Many Western organizations are working to pressure governments to pass additional laws and step up enforcement methods.
As of 2011, 13 countries have fully outlawed any instance of FGM:
- Sweden (1982)
- Britain (1985), and the rest of the UK (2005)
- Most of Australia (1994 - Note: 2 states have not passed any legislation on FGM)
- New Zealand (1995)
- Norway (1995)
- Canada (1997)
- United States (1997)
- Belgium (2000)
- Cyprus (2003)
- Denmark (2003)
- Spain (2003)
- Italy (2005)
- France (2007) (though one of the last to catch up, they have prosecuted those who practice FGM on children under existing child abuse laws)
African nations, attempting to grapple with not only the moral and ethical issues of FGM, but also the AIDS crisis, have enacted a variety of laws regarding the legality of such practices.
 How common is it, really?
 Middle East and Africa
The UN/WHO study on FGM lists the following percentages of the female population from 15-49 years old who have undergone some level of FMG.
- Egypt - 95%
- Ivory Coast - 42%
- Ethiopia - 74%
- Guinea - 97%
- Kenya - 32%
- Mali - 92%
- Nigeria 20%
- Somalia - 98%
- Northern Sudan - 80-90% (this is an approximation, as many people are tribal, and the studies consistently vary)
No official studies have been done in the following countries, but unofficial reports estimate at least 25% of the female population are circumcised. 
- Israel (this includes the Jewish population, not just the Muslim population)
- United Arab Emirates.
Countries that have had no studies, but clearly still practice the procedure include:
In these four non-African Muslim countries, the practice is considered to be undesired, so estimates range in the 5-25% of adult women are mutilated.
 United States, Canada, UK
In the US, UK and Canada, all forms of FGM are illegal, even the simple tribal markings of "nicking". In the UK, a BBC report on the ethics of "female circumcision" reports that 76,000 women living in the UK are not only circumcised, but have undergone the procedure in the UK. Anywhere from 25,000-100,000 more women are circumcised either before they arrive in the UK, or in what can best be described as legal family supported "abductions" to countries where the procedure is performed, then returned home. 
The United States CDC has estimated that nearly 300,000 girls have undergone the surgery illegally in the US, and like the UK, they suspect that thousands more may have had the procedure done in other countries .
Australia has a somewhat unique problem, in that a form of cutting, the "nicking" form is practiced by aboriginals. There is no real harm to the woman, other than the pain and scaring of the puberty ceremony. However, the concern for protecting the rights of native tribal people pales in the face of the problem of immigrant populations doing full FGM. Like the US and UK, all forms of cutting are illegal in Australia. The Royal Woman's Hospital in Melbourne has stated they see roughly 700-1000 women per year who have had some moderate to extreme procedure done to them at some point in their life. Often, they are in the hospital due to associated complications during pregnancy.
In all three of these countries, laws have been proposed to allow medical professionals (surgeons) to do a form of tribal genital cutting, or removal of the clitoral hood as is done with male circumcision. The argument is twofold. One, professionals would be using antiseptic conditions, professional tools, and would be less likely to botch the procedure. Two, if "something" were offered, perhaps the trend of total infibulation or removal of the clitoris would not be seen as necessary. However, none of these "sane alternative" laws have gained much legal support.
 But, not so fast
Before we go patting ourselves on the back about how great the Western world is, to not be doing such horrors to women, it was less than 100 years ago that doctors felt the appropriate way to cure women's "hysteria" was to give them a hysterectomy - often whether they wanted it or not. It was more than common on Native American reservations to tie women's tubes, or even sometimes give them a hysterectomy to prevent the savages from breeding more savages - again, usually without their knowledge. And just 10 years ago, a judge ordered a drug addict's tubes be tied, if she wanted to be released from jail. Control over women, their bodies, and their sexuality is not something reserved for those "primitives" in some "exotic place", nor for the "foreigners" who's "religion is sickening".
 Something to consider
Cutting up little babies and kids before they have any say is vile, whether it's boys or girls. Reinforcing it "because it was done to me, so therefore you should have to face it" is equally vile. Religion adding its ten cents to "mark people as God's chosen" does not help.
But in our campaign to outlaw the practice, or to rush to the rescue of these girls and women, we should take some time to consider exactly what we are talking about. Note: the World Health Organization considers any and all cutting of a woman to be mutilation. A tribal nick (generally cutting a piece of flesh off the fleshy parts of the girl, the size of a piece of rice or corn) is considered exactly the same as cutting out the entire labia, clitoris, and inner lips, then stitching the woman together so even urination is difficult. But are these really the same? And when you find that a country with a 90% rate of FGM has at least 50-75% of those being the minor nicking, yet still being reported as "90% FGM" - are we intentionally making associations to make it look worse than it is?
- ↑ The WHO has advocated the term "cutting" instead of mutilation
- ↑ http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs241/en/index.html
- ↑ http://www.who.int/hiv/topics/malecircumcision/en/
- ↑ based on studies that have long been questioned, are correlative only, and do not posit medical explanations for why this would be so. UN reportSee also http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/resources/factsheets/circumcision.htm which states clearly that "it is possible", but questions how much faith should be put into the three trials when assessing a policy for circumcision.
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=18718&Cr=genital&Cr1=mutilation
- ↑ Mustafa, A. Z. (1966), FEMALE CIRCUMCISION AND INFIBULATION IN THE SUDAN. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, 73: 302–306.
- ↑ 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 Circumcision: a history of the world's most controversial surgery By David Gollaher, 2000.
- ↑ It is again worth noting that male circumcision throughout the world can be horrific and violent as well. In Australian Aboriginal culture, the women are merely nicked, but the man's penis is sliced open from the tip - a practice called subincision.
- ↑ Shayne D. Cohen, Why Aren't Jewish Women Circumcised?: Gender and Covenant in Judaism, 2005
- ↑ , Gollaher, RO Hayes, H. Lewis, AM Gibeau as examples have all studied and written about the history of FMG, and the core "tribal" identity that transcends religion
- ↑ See "Female Genital Mutilation, World Health Organization's Handbook for frontline workers, 2000 as an example
- ↑ http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/female-genital-cutting.cfm
- ↑ Though it is worth noting that the equally abhorrent act of cutting boys is required by all of those from the Jewish faith.
- ↑ http://reproductiverights.org/en/document/female-genital-mutilation-fgm-legal-prohibitions-worldwide
- ↑ Also from the WHO document
- ↑ http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/blog/2008/nov/13/female-genital-mutilation-sexual-dysfunction
- ↑ http://www.bbc.co.uk/ethics/femalecircumcision/femalecirc_1.shtml
- ↑ UKs policy about what to do if things "go wrong" overseas, indicating that the UK government is aware of this fact, but can do little to prevent it.
- ↑ Female Genital Mutilation, NCIB, 1997 (pg 372)
- ↑ http://www.adelaide.edu.au/apsa/docs_papers/Others/Pringle.pdf
- ↑ http://www.abc.net.au/news/2010-02-06/female-circumcision-happening-in-australia/2594496