A sad day for women

South Luangua, Zambia. (Michel Botman Photography 1994)

How can one still take UN decisions seriously?

On the eve of March 8, 2011, International Woman’s Day, the UN appointed Iran to its Commission for the Status of Women!

How can a country that still stones women to death be sitting on a UN Commission working towards protecting women’s rights?

If it were not such a sad and abject decision, it would be the best political joke of the year.

Iran is sadly only too well known around the world for its antidemocratic, repressive theocracy and as one of the leading countries in terms of cruelty and oppression towards women.

I recently wrote a letter to Regina Bresler of Shalom Life regarding female genital mutilations – which are still widely practiced in many African, Arab and Muslim countries – Iran included. Today I wish to dedicate this open letter to Zahra Kazemi, Sakineh Ashtiani, and all women killed, raped and tortured in Iran and around the world.

Dear Ms. Bresler,

From a medical standpoint, male circumcision is very much like tonsil ablation, wisdom teeth extraction or mastectomy, painful, but of some documented medical usefulness – although the medical value of such procedures will always remain highly debated.

It is always a very difficult decision to opt for or against any of such surgical procedures. We have a very good friend that in regards to an apparent hereditary tendency of developing breast cancer has recently decided to opt for preventive mastectomy. Her sisters, so far, opted against it.

It was an extremely courageous and radical decision, but perhaps a life-saving one. It is also a very personal one.

In the case of circumcision, it is unfortunately not a decision that is generally taken by the subject of the medical act. Parents often have to take medical decisions on behalf of their under-aged children. When our little boy was born, we opted in favor of circumcision. (We are a mixed couple. My wife is Jewish by birth. I am not). Later in life, our son was confronted with multiple ear infections. We were advised to have his tonsils removed. Again, after careful consideration, we took the decision in favor of the procedure.

As parents we are often required to take such decisions and are guided in so doing by what we believe to be the best interest of our children. These are decisions that should never be taken lightly. Of course one could argue that such procedures should not be undertaken until the child has reached the age of 18 and is able to decide on his or her own. However, in that case some of the benefit of the procedures may be lost, and in all honesty it would be highly unlikely for 18 year-old boys to develop a longing (or should-I say shortening?) for the alteration of the matter at hand – as you incisively noted.

A few years back, as I was considering conversion to Judaism and ritual circumcision, I spoke to a gentleman who opted for the procedure in his mid-forties to control repeated infections. Although from a medical standpoint the operation was a success, it had left him with severe pain and a loss of sensation. He clearly did not recommend adult circumcision, unless absolutely required for medical reasons.

From a sensual standpoint, there appears to be a consensus on a possible loss of sensitivity following circumcision. This makes absolute sense since the most sensitive area of the male anatomy is no longer covered by a protective layer of skin. It is clearly an unfortunate downside, but again one that is fairly minor and cannot be compared with the dramatic consequences of female circumcision.

While many surgical procedures could be qualified as “mutilations” (defined as the separation of a body part), I believe that it is essential to stress that male circumcision has absolutely no correlation of any kind with female circumcision, also known as excision, cliterectomy or infibulations.

I wish that this issue had been addressed in greater depth in your article – or perhaps in a future article.

Few things in life are either black or white. As a preventive measure, circumcision does have documented benefits and some potential drawbacks (particularly in the case of adult circumcision). However, as in the case of mastectomy, circumcision would usually not be referred to as a “mutilation”. On the other hand, excision, infibulations, and cliterectomy are clearly horrific mutilations in the full extent of the term and recognized human rights violations.

They are of no medical benefit for the little girls and women who have to endure such gruesome torture. These are barbaric and extremely dangerous practices with the main goal of reducing female “promiscuity” by eliminating almost entirely any source of sexual pleasure.

A good friend of ours, an OB-GYN medical doctor, who worked in Africa for most of his career, told me recently that he was personally aware of one young girl who died of septicemia following excisions completed with unsterile instruments. He also told me of the incredible suffering that some of these girls go through, for the rest of their lives, when having sexual relations or giving birth.

While male circumcision will surely remain a hot and debatable topic, it is of utmost importance to voice with maximum resolve the unequivocal condemnation of female genital mutilations, which present absolutely no benefit of any kind and undoubtedly constitute one of the most reprehensible acts that can be undertaken against defenseless girls and young women.

Yours truly,

Michel Botman

Additional information: Female Genital Cutting

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About Michel Botman

Michel Botman was born in Belgium, where visual arts have always flirted with the limits of reality. In the eighties, Michel Botman started exploring the first tools to manipulate images though computers. For about 15 years, Michel Botman worked throughout Europe in the emerging field of Computer Applications for the Graphic Arts. Extensive experience in Digital Imaging allowed Michel to move into the field of computerized systems for Diagnostic Imaging. As VP Sales & Marketing for eSys Medical and later with Eclipsys, Michel Botman always remained dedicated to the creativity and innovation that are at the heart of his career. At the present time, Michel Botman is refocusing his life towards graphic arts. “I studied photography in Europe, but never had time to practice it enough. Life took me on other paths towards computer technologies and running a business. I enjoyed it very much, but I also love art. I always keep my eyes open for exciting opportunities and people that touch my heart.” Michel Botman lives in Toronto with his wife Lindy and son Noah. Above Gravatar pictures are of Michel Botman, his wife Lindy Amato and his son Noah Botman.
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