Do non-practicioners have any right to criticize this practice and attempt to end it? Is this practice really bad for women at all, or isn't merely western cultural colonial point-of-view? Some African women, who are anthropologists, are currently presenting a different perspective.
These women seem to have voluntarily undergone the ritual in their home regions, as adult women choosing for themselves, which, I would think, have a different effect and reception upon those who are choosing to experience the practice as physically mature women, with all the rights of being American citizens, with full cultural-anthropological knowledge, than it is upon those it was forced upon as infants, children and pubescents, all with the spoken or unspoken enforcement of ostracization, inability to be married, etc. if not mutilated -- in other words you must be mutilated to be part of the group. Inside the group is protection (as far as that goes these days); outside the group there is nothing for you other than prostitution and degradation. While with the more severe forms of fgm, you have massive infection, sterility and / or fistula. (The number of African somen suffering from fistula is enormous, and far higher than anywhere else, and is directly connected to severe fgm.)
Dr. Ahmadu, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Chicago, writes:
[ It is difficult for me — considering the number of ceremonies I have observed, including my own — to accept that what appears to be expressions of joy and ecstatic celebrations of womanhood in actuality disguise hidden experiences of coercion and subjugation. Indeed, I offer that the bulk of Kono women who uphold these rituals do so because they want to — they relish the supernatural powers of their ritual leaders over against men in society, and they embrace the legitimacy of female authority and particularly the authority of their mothers and grandmothers. ]
The article about this conference, with links to the writing / work of the African anthropologists - apologists for fgm, is in the NY Science Times here. The discussion thread following the article should also be read.
And, as it inevitably does in any discussion of female genital mutilation, the practice gets called circumcision, and becomes skewed to discussing of male circumcision, and then gets compared to vanity-cosmetic surgeries among non-African women.