One of the perennial questions that genital autonomy organizations have to grapple with is whether they should take positions on human rights issues not directly related to genital cutting.  There are valid arguments on both sides. 

On the one hand, the genital autonomy movement consists of possibly the most diverse group of activists that has ever coalesced around a single cause in the history of causes.  The people committed to this movement include members of virtually every race, ethnicity, nationality, religion (including – but not limited to – Judaism, Christianity and Islam), it includes freethinkers (atheists and agnostics), members of every sex (female, intersex and male), and it includes members of every sexual orientation and gender identification.  Intactivists also represent the widest possible spectrum of political viewpoints, spiritual beliefs and ethical philosophies – from hardcore men’s rights activists to radical feminists, from conservatives to progressives, from those who think we should make common cause with anti-FGM activists and anti-IGM activists to those who do not, from practitioners and supporters of allopathic medicine to vaccine skeptics, from LGBTQIA+ rights advocates to religious fundamentalists and reactionaries and so on.  With such disparate backgrounds and views, it is inevitable that intactivists will disagree on many, perhaps most other issues.  For this reason, there are some who feel that genital autonomy organizations should never, under any circumstances, adopt a public position on matters not directly related to genital cutting lest they alienate others within the movement.

Contrary to this is the view that, when distilled down to its essence, the genital autonomy movement is conceptually indistinguishable from numerous other human rights causes.  This means that, despite our differences, the cause of genital autonomy ultimately rests on universal principles of human rights that all of us (it is to be hoped) support.  It also means that the vehemence with which intactivists may disagree on other issues is exceeded only by our shared passion for the cause to which we are all fervently committed – creating a world in which the right of everyone to genital autonomy is respected and legally guaranteed.

At GALDEF, we regard the latter as the more hopeful, the more positive and, ultimately, the view that is more likely to succeed strategically, particularly if we are to expand the genital autonomy movement beyond its current cadre of enthusiastic supporters.  It’s not just that this view is informed by GALDEF’s Values – there is also ample historical evidence to justify it.

For example, when NOCIRC began to alternate its international symposia between locations inside and outside of the United States, it was criticized for losing its focus on the problem of male genital cutting in America.  And yet, In the long run, those international symposia served to develop a global movement for children’s genital autonomy.

Another example is from the early 1990s when GALDEF president and founder, Tim Hammond, observed that intactivism had much in common with the struggle for gay rights because of medicine’s and religion’s historical attempts to suppress and control the sexuality of others.  As someone with extensive experience in both movements, Tim suspected that the politically influential LGBT community would be open to hearing and might even respond favorably to our message about respecting each individual’s right to do with their genitals what they wish. For this reason, he argued in favor of building alliances with the gay community by participating in Pride events.  At the time, some intactivists countered that the two movements had nothing in common and even warned that it would be political suicide to align our movement with “those people.”  Fast forward to 2023  – not only are intactivists now ubiquitous at Pride festivities across the United States but we are welcomed there with loud and appreciative cheers as we display our shirts and signs proudly emblazoned with the message that “Intact Genitals are a Human Right.”

Still another, more recent, example was GALDEF’s February 2023 endorsement of the International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM.  Even this was criticized on the grounds that we were shifting our focus away from male genital mutilation.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  We simply felt that it was important to show our solidarity with women fighting for their bodily integrity.

Part of GALDEF’s mission is to expand our outreach within the genital autonomy movement, to build alliances with mainstream human rights organizations and to communicate the rightness of our cause to society at large.  This last is especially critical since our goal of launching costly impact litigation will require financial resources and networking that exceed the capabilities of the genital autonomy movement.  Part of that outreach necessarily involves positioning ourselves on human rights issues that might not directly relate to male genital cutting but which resonate with the broader society. 

There are bound to be those who question this approach and, while GALDEF remains open to constructive, good-faith criticism (we even sometimes have lively but respectful disagreements within our organization!), we feel that donning our blinkers and shielding ourselves from everything else that is going on in the world is short-sighted.  If we want to reach only that segment of society that already agrees with us on the topic of genital cutting, then, by all means, we should limit our outward-facing profile strictly to the topic of genital cutting.  That might enable us to avoid criticism from some within this movement but it will do nothing to increase the visibility and appeal of GALDEF – let alone the visibility and appeal of the genital autonomy movement broadly –  to the wider public.  We need to expand this movement and, in order to do that, it’s imperative that we make those who support other human rights causes but do not yet share our views on genital cutting understand that the same values that motivate us – respect for science and reason, respect for fundamental rights, respect for personal autonomy and dignity – are essentially the same values that motivate them.  That means conspicuously and unapologetically establishing our message within the broader context of fundamental, universal human rights.

By demonstrating that GALDEF is not afraid to take a principled stand for universal human rights, we believe that we are setting an example for other human rights organizations and activists and that they, in turn, will come to join us in taking a principled stand on behalf of children’s genital autonomy. 

There may be times when GALDEF’s positions do not precisely align with all of our supporters’ political or other views but we remain no less committed to validating their past support and earning their future support by steadfastly pursuing the goal that we all support: creating a world in which the right of everyone to bodily integrity and the freedom to choose what’s done to their genitals is legally protected.



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