Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS)


Gender and Feminism Network Seminar: Genital Alteration and Gender Equality - The future of policy

23 November 2016, 4:30 pm–6:00 pm

Gustave Tuck Lecture Theatre, Wilkins Building

Event Information

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Gender and Feminism Network


Institute of Advanced Studies
Gower Street
United Kingdom

In this seminar, Dr Rebecca Steinfeld (Goldsmiths) will discuss the tendency of global and Western states' policies toward genital alteration to focus on eliminating female genital mutilation, or FGM, while tolerating or even encouraging male circumcision.

On the surface, this seems unproblematic: within global health and human rights circles, FGM is almost universally regarded as bad and barbaric - as a savage and severely harmful manifestation of the patriarchal drive to control female sexuality - whereas male circumcision is seen as benign or even beneficial. Yet mounting empirical evidence and ethical critique calls into question these contrasting perceptions, and in turn the divergent policies they underpin.

In this paper, Dr Steinfeld argues that maintaining policies premised on sex-based distinctions seems unsustainable, as well as incompatible with gender equality. Instead, she suggests that meaningful age-based distinctions between those unable (children) and able (adults) to give informed consent could constitute more ethical and effective policies. She evaluates the merits and demerits of both permissive and restrictive approaches to female and male genital alteration, and assesses the advantages and disadvantages of some specific alternative policies. In so doing, she points towards a gender equal future for genital alteration policies.

Dr Rebecca Steinfeld is a political scientist researching the politics of reproduction and of genital alteration. A Visiting Research Fellow at the Centre of the Body at Goldsmiths, University of London, she is writing her first book, entitled Wars of the Wombs: Struggles over Reproduction in Israel, for publication with Stanford University Press. Rebecca is a co-founder, together with her partner, Charles Keidan, of the Campaign for Equal Civil Partnerships in the UK, and the pair are also co-litigants in a Judicial Review challenge to the Government's ban on different-sex couples' access to civil partnerships. She received her DPhil in Politics from the University of Oxford in 2012.