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The Globalization Reader, 5th Edition by John Boli, Frank J. Lechner

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40 The Evolution of Debates over Female Genital Cutting

Elizabeth Heger Boyle

In 1958, the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations formally requested that the World Health Organization (WHO) study FGC [female genital cutting]. WHO refused, claiming the practice was outside the organization's competence because it was of a “social and cultural rather than medical nature.” Three years later, African women attending a UN seminar in Addis Ababa reiterated the request to study FGC, but WHO's response was the same. The organization had a policy of not intervening in domestic politics without an explicit invitation from a state, and invitations were not forthcoming.

By the mid-1990s, the situation had changed completely. The international community was centrally involved in eradicating FGC. Amnesty International included private abuses in its annual country reports for the first time, specifically referring to the practice. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank (with impetus from the United States) linked aid to reform efforts. Four other prominent international governmental organizations (IGOs, including WHO) issued a joint statement condemning the practice as a violation of women's rights. In a short span of decades, the ancient practice of FGC had become the target of unified international action. How did this change come about? […]

The Health Compromise

In the early years of the UN system, international intervention into local politics was highly ...

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