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Female genital mutilation among Israel's Negev Bedouins has virtually disappeared -- BGU study

BEER-SHEVA, ISRAEL February 20, 2009 A follow-up study by researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) in Beer-Sheva has determined that the once prevalent custom of female genital mutilation (FGM) among Israel's Bedouin population in the Negev has virtually disappeared. The findings were reported in the Journal of Sexual Medicine 2009; 6:70-73.

FGM, also known as "female circumcision" or "female cutting," is still practiced in many cultures around the world. "It is of great interest to define processes or situations that can lead to a reduction in the incidence of this phenomenon in cultures where it is practiced," explains BGU Professor of Psychiatry Robert H. Belmaker. "FGM is a culturally entrenched procedure and unless a prohibition of the practice is accompanied by educational efforts, the effectiveness of legal action is low."

In 1995, Prof. Belmaker studied the Bedouin of Southern Israel, a heterogeneous group of tribes for which FGM was a common practice. At the time, a large number of women said that they planned to continue this custom, which involved a ritual incision but no tissue removal, and would perform it on their daughters. This led the researchers to believe at the time that the process was already undergoing modification.

BGU researchers decided to re-survey the Bedouin population nearly 15 years later, and again focused on women in the tribes previously reported to have performed this practice. In the new study, 132 women under 30 were given a gynecological examination and oral questionnaire. They found that none had scarring from the type reported in 1995.

Bedouins have become more westernized since Israel's independence in 1948. Israel's Bedouin demographic data shows that health care, school attendance, school years completed, and literacy have continued to improve over the last 15 years and may be associated with the long-term decrease in FGM since 1995. Today, approximately 180,000 Bedouin live in Southern Israel.

The World Health Organization has made the eradication of female genital mutilation a major goal in Africa, Asia and Australia. Prof. Belmaker says, "Direct eradication by making the custom illegal has had limited success. As in several other areas, such as childhood immunization and literacy, in the elimination of female genital surgery Israel's Arab population is among the leading populations in the Middle East."


Contact: Andrew Lavin
American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

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