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Arch Sex Behav. 1995 Oct;24(5):571-5.

Ritual female genital surgery among Bedouin in Israel.

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Kupat Holim Clinic, Rahat, Israel.


Ritual female genital operations are common in many parts of the world, with varying degrees of mutilation from clitoridectomy and removal of the labia to removal of the clitoral prepuce. Interviews of 21 Bedouin women in southern Israel revealed the practice to be normative in several tribes. However, physical examination of 37 young women from those tribes at a gynecological clinic revealed only small scars on the labia in each woman. Bedouin in southern Israel may offer a model of evolution of female circumcision into a nonmutilative ritual incision.


Interviews conducted in 1992 with 21 Bedouin women living in southern Israel suggested that female circumcision may be evolving into a symbolic operation without the major mutilation associated with this procedure in much of Africa. Respondents ranged in age from 16 to 45 years. The reasons most frequently cited for ritual female genital surgery were pressures to maintain tradition and the belief that food prepared by uncircumcised women is neither tasty nor clean. Only two of the women interviewed--the youngest (16 and 18 years old) and most educated in the group--stated they would not permit their daughters to undergo the ritual. Physical examination of 37 additional Bedouin women 17-36 years of age revealed that all had small scars on the prepuce of the clitoris or the upper 1 cm of the labia minora near the clitoral prepuce. None had undergone clitoridectomy or removal of the labia minora or majora. Although all of the examined women reported pain on intercourse in the months after marriage, they approved of the practice and intended to continue the tradition. Recommended, both to protect the health of young women and uphold cultural norms, is the training and licensing of health-religious functionaries in the performance of a symbolic version of female genital surgery under sterile conditions.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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