Should FGM be considered sexual abuse?

NaBloPoMo November 2013- Post 2.

This morning I was listening to radio 4 and heard that there are recommendations that female genital mutilation should be classified as sexual abuse and that medical staff would have to report it as such. This announcement filled me with frustration for several reasons:

a) It is currently very fashionable to campaign against FGM, especially in certain ‘women’s rights’ circles and here was further evidence of this fashion.
b) Does our government think that prosecuting individuals that may have been forced to make their daughters to have this procedure help with this issue?
Let us be clear, I do not agree with FGM. I do not agree with parents taking their daughters abroad to have this procedure done and am aware of the terrible physical complications that can arise from having this procedure done. However, I feel that the men and women who enable FGM to happen to their daughters are pinioned by a culture that says a woman’s virtue is defined by what is between her legs. There are much bigger issues here, and ones I feel that the criminalisation of FGM will ignore. The main issue being of being a woman living within a sexist society with little power and control. 
We already know that making something illegal, does not make it go away. I believe criminalising FGM will not help to eradicate the practice, but potentially send it further underground. As the procedure happens to girls of Middle eastern, African, Arabic and Islamic descent, we will be disproportionately punishing those parents for ‘sexual abuse’ or potentially depriving children of their parents;and also add to the myths of those cultures and their ‘barbaric practices’.
The report recommends that health workers identify girls at risk and treat them as if they were at risk of child abuse. 
Girls at risk are defined as girls born to a woman who has undergone FGM or a child who lives closely with someone who has.
This statement is very judgmental, do we judge the children of alcoholics or drug addicts that have been sober for 15 years as at risk? Should we? I disagree with the infatuation that certain individuals have with this particular issue whilst ignoring the sexual abuse, rape and violence to women and children that happens within their own communities.
FGM happens within a cultural context, just as cosmetic vaginal reshaping does. We cannot ignore the cultural context and so I believe that if the government choses to criminalise and reclassify FGM as sexual abuse then they also have a further duty to commit to education and training for representatives that work in sexual health,  and in particular with immigrant communities.
The comments below from the Guardian comments section, sum up my thoughts:
 ”Just because FGM affects mostly black or minority ethnic women does not make it the responsibility of white people to eradicate it. The fact that FGM affects mostly black or minority ethnic females is a reflection of their lack of access to education and the power of local beliefs, religion and superstitions”.
“I believe that the solution needs to be led by women within their communities, with the support of the authorities”.
I have deliberately left out arguments on human rights because I believe this is just one aspect of the issue. Yes it is a European/ American human right to prevent harm to children but to what degree can we enforce this abroad? Also this piece is about a British response to FGM within the UK or happening to British children.
What do you think?

6 thoughts on “Should FGM be considered sexual abuse?

  1. Should FGM be considered abuse? No. Infant genital mutilation (male or female) should be considered abuse, and equally abusive. If a full grown adult wishes to have their genitals mutilated, that is their call male or female. If you are going to mutilate the genitals of an infant male or female then that is abuse.

    • Thanks for your comments genderneutrallanguage (nice user name!). I have wondered about the differences and parallels between fgm and male circumcision. I disagree with the latter also but rarely come across dissenting opinions on the matter. Why is it that male infant circumcision doesnt cause an uproar? Because it is done for religious reasons? Because it is now performed by doctors? Incidentally have you read Tanya Gold’s defence of male circumcision?

      • Why Mutilating the genitalia of males doesn’t raise the same ire as the mutilation of female genitalia is an interesting question.

        If you actually look at the reasons for infant genital mutilation, they are all founded in religious dogmas.
        If it was because of medical training, we would be talking about requiring a doctor to preform female circumcision, not genital mutilation.
        Anti-semitisim? Well again all infant genital mutilation is based in religious dogma, so anti-FGM is as Islamaphobic as Anti-circumcision is anti-semitisim.

        My theory is much simpler. Male genital mutilation is done to males. Female genital mutilation is done to females. No one cares about the pain and suffering of males, but hurting females is wrong. So we fight to protect females, and only females. Men just don’t matter. We live in a very misandric world.

        Also, whites mutilate the genitalia of infant males. It’s non-whites that mutilate the genitalia of infant females. So Whites, the group in power right now, don’t have to change their practices if we only stop the half of infant genital mutilation that they don’t practice.

        The real reasons for the lack of interest in stopping infant male genital mutilation is racism and sexism.

  2. FGM is already (and has long been) criminalized and recognized as a child protection issue by the UK government – this new report was not published by the government and doesn’t call for any changes to the law, it simply urges that health professionals treat FGM in line with existing law. would you go as far as to suggest that it should be decriminalized? or are you simply saying that the rhetoric that frames FGM as child abuse is stigmatizing and neglectful of the context in which it takes place?

    i heard recently that increasing numbers of girls are being sent to the Britain from France to be cut because the UK laws are viewed as lax in comparison to those in France. i’m not sure of the evidence for that (and it has echoes of the popular claim that immigrants come to the UK cos it’s seen as a ‘soft touch’ which makes me a bit suspicious) but if it is the case it would be interesting to look at the difference in approaches.

    one thing i find interesting is that the UN and organisations like Tostan and the Orchid Project are against FGCnot specifically because it has serious associated health risks and is often carried out on girls too young to consent, but more generally as an oppressive practice and a human rights issue. at first glance that feels a bit arbitrary – if you object to cutting on grounds that is a form of oppression then surely you could also object to a whole host of cultural practices which could similarly be interpreted as patriarchal oppressions – everything from the veil to vaginoplasty. perhaps this is part of the reason why the rhetoric about it being a ‘barbaric’ practice has taken such a hold in the media i.e. it’s harder to dispute that it is a physically harmful practice than that it’s an oppressive one? in some places (e.g. parts of Ethiopia) cutting is done to women over the age of 21 and in others (e.g. Indonesia) it has become medicalised so as to greatly reduce the health risks, but such examples are rarely brought into the discussion, the focus is mostly on harm done to young girls.

  3. An officer from the Met Police recently came to speak at my workplace about FGM/FGC (I see that Orchid project refers to FGC – I don’t know enough about the politics of the terms to choose!). She also spoke about people coming to Britain from other European countries to have the procedure carried out because of the legal situation, I’ve no reason to doubt this. In France there have been cases of people in the community reporting those who carry out the procedures. She also said one of the reasons there has been a reduction in France is because children’s genitals are inspected when they return to school each year. This will never happen here, there’s a different view of the role of the state, multiculturalism and so forth. No one including the police is calling for that here as far as I know.

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