Drop the word 'male' from 'male circumcision'

[Sign the petition] The term 'male circumcision' implies that female circumcision also exists. Females who are subjected to genital cutting are said to have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM) or cutting (and not circumcision). Responsible professionals no longer use the term female circumcision. That is why the word 'male' is redundant. All circumcision is performed on males only. Growing number of activists at the XIX International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012) are signing a petition for replacing the term 'male circumcision' with 'circumcision'. The petition will be submitted to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Joint United Nations programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) asking them to replace the term 'male circumcision' with 'circumcision' and treat women with respect, said Jamie Uhrig, who also manages HIV Information for Myanmar (HIM).

Voluntary medical circumcision protects against HIV. "There are over 40 observational studies among heterosexual men, which show that circumcised men have about a 60% reduced risk of HIV compared to uncircumcised men. There were then three randomised controlled trials conducted in Sub Saharan Africa that showed circumcised men were at 60% less risk of HIV than uncircumcised men. All these three trials were stopped by independent Data Safety Monitoring Boards as the effect was so strong and it was thought unethical to not offer circumcision to men in the control arm" had said Dr Helen Weiss, Reader in Epidemiology and International Health, The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) to Citizen News Service (CNS). Dr Weiss added: "There are biological mechanisms by which the foreskin increases the risk of HIV. The foreskin is rich in HIV target cells that are particularly attracted to HIV that is why uncircumcised men are at high risk of HIV compared to circumcised men."

Voluntary medical circumcision has demonstrated public health benefits. The growing concern is with the use of the term 'male circumcision' because it implies female circumcision also exists. There is no 'female' circumcision justifiable by public health or social justice advocates, female genital mutilation or cutting is strongly condemned, and that is why the word 'male' is redundant in the term 'male circumcision'.

Agrees Aditya Bondyopadhyay, who heads 'Adhikaar' in New Delhi, India and is a noted lawyer and advocate for LGBT rights: "This is a really important petition, for it shows that the world of activists are not concerned only with their own, but also with what ramifications their actions and words can have on the lives and situation of other victims of violence. Female Genital Mutilation is one of the grossest forms of violence against women, and every attempt at conflating that mutilation to circumcision and thus providing it with a form of validity and legitimacy must be opposed in the strongest terms possible."

Let us hope that UNAIDS and WHO will listen to the community voices and act responsibly by replacing the term 'male circumcision' with 'circumcision'. 
Bobby Ramakant - CNS


  1. "Circumcision" is itself a euphemism with religious connotations of "purification". ("Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart"! Deut 10:16)

    Call them "male genital cutting" and "female genital cutting" and be completely neutral.

    50 boys have died of tribal male genital cutting in one province of South Africa alone this year. Millions of girls are minimally, surgically, genitally cut in Indonesia and Malaysia, by mothers who believe that is required by Islam. It is a practice entirely comparable with male genital cutting.

    Both are human rights violations when done to non-consenting people (including youths who are misled about the effectiveness of MGC in protecting them against HIV). Both should end.

  2. Actually this petition could backfire, if it is adopted and the message taken to areas where female and male genital cutting are both called "circumcision".

    Without the world "male", people will imagine that they must continue - or even start! - to practise FGC in order to protect girls from HIV.

    Be careful what you wish for...

  3. Voluntary foreskin amputation to reduce HIV infection risk is foolhardy. Most of the US men who have died of AIDS were circumcised at birth.

    But forced foreskin amputation (of children) is far worse than foolhardy. It's a human rights atrocity. If a man is persuaded that giving up the best part of his penis and risking surgical complications is his best option to fight HIV I support his right to make that choice.

    But we must protect the rights of children to keep their whole intact bodies until they can make their own rational informed choice.