Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Title

International Journal of Human Rights


Taylor & Francis


School of Medical and Health Sciences




Nuzzo, J. L. (2023). ‘Male circumcision’and ‘female genital mutilation’: why parents choose the procedures and the case for gender bias in medical nomenclature. The International Journal of Human Rights, 27(8), 1205-1228.


Cutting of boys’ and girls’ genitalia is a debated human rights topic. Here, the first aim was to summarise why parents choose to have these procedures performed on their children. Results from 22 survey studies on ‘male circumcision’ and 27 studies on ‘female genital mutilation’ revealed that non-medical reasons, such as tradition, are prominent in the decisions for both procedures. The second aim was to describe researchers’ use of medical words (i.e. ‘circumcision’) and non-medical words (i.e. ‘cutting’, ‘mutilation’) when referring to these procedures. Relevant phrases were searched in titles and abstracts of articles indexed in PubMed. Total article count was similar for male (1721 articles) and female (1906 articles) procedures. However, for female procedures, ‘genital mutilation’ was used most frequently (61.7% of articles), whereas for males, ‘circumcision’ was used almost exclusively (99.4%). Because both procedures involve significant alteration of genitalia, and social/culture reasons are prominent in parents’ decisions for both, the results suggest a gender bias in medical ethics applied to bodily integrity, which manifests itself in nomenclature that expresses negative value judgement toward the female procedure (‘mutilation’) but not the male procedure (‘circumcision’). The results add to emerging evidence of a ‘male empathy gap’ in public health.



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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

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