Between Irua and 'Female Genital Mutilation': Feminist Human Rights Discourse and the Cultural Divide

56 Pages Posted: 9 Jan 2008 Last revised: 1 Feb 2015

See all articles by Hope Lewis

Hope Lewis

Northeastern University, School of Law (deceased)

Date Written: 1995


This 1995 article surveyed western, indigenous, and cross-cultural feminist discourse on the status of "female genital mutilation" (FGM)/"female genital cutting" (FGC) under international human rights law. These harmful traditional practices, (referred to in the article variously as "irua," FGM, FGC, or "female genital surgery" (FGS)), involve the most private aspects of individual female physical and cultural identity. Yet, the damaging physical and emotional health effects and the gender discrimination implications made the practices a topic of widespread international feminist human rights advocacy. The article examined the key controversies raging at the time--terminology, domestic criminalization, international condemnation, health education approaches, and gender-based asylum. The paper assesses the known origins of the practices and traditional justifications as well as indigenous and international efforts to eradicate FGM-FGC. In addition, the article explores the meanings of cross-cultural solidarity among feminists in the African diaspora and feminists in practicing regions on the African continent. The article concludes that feminist human rights approaches to FGM-FGC must address the unavoidable conflicts associated with eradication efforts and seek to create opportunities for engaged cross-cultural dialogue on ways to end the practices.

Keywords: female genital mutilation, FGM, Female genital cutting, FGC, international human rights, women's rights, Africa, African-American, tradition, culture

Suggested Citation

Lewis, Hope, Between Irua and 'Female Genital Mutilation': Feminist Human Rights Discourse and the Cultural Divide (1995). Harvard Human Rights Journal, Vol. 8, No. 1, pp. 1-55, 1995. Available at SSRN:

Hope Lewis (Contact Author)

Northeastern University, School of Law (deceased)

United States

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