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Published on January 15th, 2013 | by Louisa Tratalos
Image © [caption id="attachment_11613" align="alignnone" width="566"] © (Ed Andrieski/AP/Press Association Images), A doctor hugs a victim of FGM[/caption]   In December, the Australian government introduced new legislation protecting girls from ‘Female Genital Mutilation’ (FGM) – as it is referred to in the publication from the Minister for Health. Each state and territory across the country now considers ‘FGM’ to be a criminal offence and the procedure of ‘cutting’ can result in penalties of up to 20 years in jail.  Here in the UK, Female Circumcision is considered illegal but we are yet to prosecute anyone for their involvement in such an act.   There is an estimated 140 million females living with the consequences of FGC with three million at risk in Africa each year. The number of those at risk in the UK is minute by comparison. However the BBC suggests a shockingly high figure of 20,000 annually with the Home Office predicting an even higher 24,000. Worryingly, this is triple the figure published in a report in 2005. There is difficulty in monitoring FGC accurately due to the secretive activity of the ‘cutting’ as well as the controversy which surrounds methods of monitoring young girls. In France, “the genitalia of baby girls are routinely examined for signs of mutilation” and then “responsibility is handed over to school medical teams” with continued inspections. Responding to this however, Sue Lloyd Roberts for the BBC points out that “such a thing would be unacceptable in Britain.” FGC is carried out in countless communities and is considered tradition for many different reasons which range from a symbol of chastity to femininity and cleanliness. Despite being a serious violation of human rights, it is often incredibly damaging to accuse and furthermore punish its perpetrators on the basis of it being cruel with horrific consequences. FGC is received in diverse ways across a broad spectrum of communities with some women forced to undergo the procedure and others preferring to be cut. In any case, there is always a cultural or traditional set of values which are associated with the activity and it is, in the majority of cases, a method by which girls are considered more suited for marriage. I do not believe that prosecution is the correct approach to ending or helping influence the prevention of such a practice and that education and discussion are more effective tools in the fight against the widespread practice of FGC. Tostan is a charity which uses a Community Empowerment Program to promote women’s health. It teaches local women in Africa the truths about ‘cutting’ and encourages them to spread awareness in their own communities - creating a more grassroots movement.  Discussing this tabooed subject demands respect and sensitivity and the dialogue which stems from it must abide by this - Tostan uses the term FGC (Female Genital Cutting), as opposed to FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) based on the etymology. According to the majority of people they have worked with, is that the terminology is “less judgemental and value-laden”. Tostan argues against the prosecution of those involved in the tradition and advocates the education of communities as a more effective method of dealing with the problem. Communities need to acquire the appropriate knowledge from within. In the UK difficulties in the educations based strategy lie in indentifying the isolated communities where FGC takes place - but also the complications in offering the training programme. Many girls who undergo the operation in this country believe that this is a method by which they can retain their cultural identity and in fact “women more actively perpetuate FGC than do men”. So how can girls and their parents in certain communities in the UK become aware of the risks of such practices? In addition to the recent ban of ‘FGM’ – as they refer to it - the Gillard Government of Australia has also invested $500,000 in education surrounding the subject -people need to help reduce the taboo and begin to talk openly about the health risks of FGC. FGC serves as an umbrella term for all female genital alterations and the large variety of different methods have simultaneously ranging consequences.  In addition to certain cases resulting in fatality (in 1996 it was estimated that fatality occurred in a third of girls with FGC in the Sudan where antibiotics are not available) FGC can make passing urine and having sexual intercourse excruciating and infections and cysts common for its sufferers. Praising Tostan for their work in his ‘Female Genital Cutting: The Beginning of the End’, Gerry Mackie acknowledges the importance in their scheme which “does not accuse people of intentionally doing wrong to their children”. However, he doesn't object to the prohibition of FGC in this country claiming that “the children of the immigrants aspire to participate in their uncut host societies”. I don’t believe that countries like France, Australia and the UK should prosecute those who ‘cut’ their children or other females in their communities. Knowledge and education are the most important factors in diminishing the practise of FGC and girls, as well as boys, should have the opportunity to learn the realities of this harmful tradition and as Mackie highlights, “The people who practice FGC are honourable, upright, moral people who love their children and want the best for them. That is why they practice FGC”.

1

Dealing with Female Genital Mutilation

© (Ed Andrieski/AP/Press Association Images), A doctor hugs a victim of FGM

 

In December, the Australian government introduced new legislation protecting girls from ‘Female Genital Mutilation’ (FGM) – as it is referred to in the publication from the Minister for Health. Each state and territory across the country now considers ‘FGM’ to be a criminal offence and the procedure of ‘cutting’ can result in penalties of up to 20 years in jail.  Here in the UK, Female Circumcision is considered illegal but we are yet to prosecute anyone for their involvement in such an act.  

There is an estimated 140 million females living with the consequences of FGC with three million at risk in Africa each year. The number of those at risk in the UK is minute by comparison. However the BBC suggests a shockingly high figure of 20,000 annually with the Home Office predicting an even higher 24,000. Worryingly, this is triple the figure published in a report in 2005. There is difficulty in monitoring FGC accurately due to the secretive activity of the ‘cutting’ as well as the controversy which surrounds methods of monitoring young girls. In France, “the genitalia of baby girls are routinely examined for signs of mutilation” and then “responsibility is handed over to school medical teams” with continued inspections. Responding to this however, Sue Lloyd Roberts for the BBC points out that “such a thing would be unacceptable in Britain.”

FGC is carried out in countless communities and is considered tradition for many different reasons which range from a symbol of chastity to femininity and cleanliness. Despite being a serious violation of human rights, it is often incredibly damaging to accuse and furthermore punish its perpetrators on the basis of it being cruel with horrific consequences. FGC is received in diverse ways across a broad spectrum of communities with some women forced to undergo the procedure and others preferring to be cut. In any case, there is always a cultural or traditional set of values which are associated with the activity and it is, in the majority of cases, a method by which girls are considered more suited for marriage. I do not believe that prosecution is the correct approach to ending or helping influence the prevention of such a practice and that education and discussion are more effective tools in the fight against the widespread practice of FGC.

Tostan is a charity which uses a Community Empowerment Program to promote women’s health. It teaches local women in Africa the truths about ‘cutting’ and encourages them to spread awareness in their own communities – creating a more grassroots movement.  Discussing this tabooed subject demands respect and sensitivity and the dialogue which stems from it must abide by this – Tostan uses the term FGC (Female Genital Cutting), as opposed to FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) based on the etymology. According to the majority of people they have worked with, is that the terminology is “less judgemental and value-laden”.

Tostan argues against the prosecution of those involved in the tradition and advocates the education of communities as a more effective method of dealing with the problem. Communities need to acquire the appropriate knowledge from within.

In the UK difficulties in the educations based strategy lie in indentifying the isolated communities where FGC takes place – but also the complications in offering the training programme. Many girls who undergo the operation in this country believe that this is a method by which they can retain their cultural identity and in fact “women more actively perpetuate FGC than do men”.

So how can girls and their parents in certain communities in the UK become aware of the risks of such practices? In addition to the recent ban of ‘FGM’ – as they refer to it – the Gillard Government of Australia has also invested $500,000 in education surrounding the subject -people need to help reduce the taboo and begin to talk openly about the health risks of FGC. FGC serves as an umbrella term for all female genital alterations and the large variety of different methods have simultaneously ranging consequences.  In addition to certain cases resulting in fatality (in 1996 it was estimated that fatality occurred in a third of girls with FGC in the Sudan where antibiotics are not available) FGC can make passing urine and having sexual intercourse excruciating and infections and cysts common for its sufferers.

Praising Tostan for their work in his ‘Female Genital Cutting: The Beginning of the End’, Gerry Mackie acknowledges the importance in their scheme which “does not accuse people of intentionally doing wrong to their children”. However, he doesn’t object to the prohibition of FGC in this country claiming that “the children of the immigrants aspire to participate in their uncut host societies”.

I don’t believe that countries like France, Australia and the UK should prosecute those who ‘cut’ their children or other females in their communities. Knowledge and education are the most important factors in diminishing the practise of FGC and girls, as well as boys, should have the opportunity to learn the realities of this harmful tradition and as Mackie highlights, “The people who practice FGC are honourable, upright, moral people who love their children and want the best for them. That is why they practice FGC”.

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About the Author

Louisa Tratalos

Louisa Tratalos graduated in Visual Culture from Goldsmiths, University of London. Her interests lie in human rights and environmental issues, with a specific current focus on the Syrian conflict. She appreciates the importance of online digital content especially as a political tool for young people. She aims to follow a career in documentary film-making and the production of videos which can serve as campaign vehicles.



  • Hilary

    Thanks for raising this very important issue.

    I'd like however to disagree with you fundamentally on the issue of prosecution: http://hilaryburrage.com/2012/11/28/the-uk-can-le

    Of course you are absolutely correct that knowledge and education are critical in eradicating FGM, but this can't be the only approach.

    People who perpetrate FGM may well be 'loving' parents – and most of us understand that FGM is at least overtly about marriageablity etc (though marriage to whom? is a big question in regard to parental aspirations…), but FGM KILLS and MAIMS, even if that's not the overt intention.

    No child should be subjected by anyone, parent or otherwise, gratuitously to a risk of death; and we have to remember too that another aspect of FGM is powerful embedded patriarchy, another prospect whether intended by particular parents or not that no girl or woman should be forced to face.

    Hilary http://hilaryburrage.com/tag/fgm/ @NoFGM1

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