Tag Archive | "FGM"

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When Law is not Enough: How to Eradicate Female Genital Mutilation


Girls in Egypt 2015 (photo by Christina Mourad – UNFPA)

The practice of female genital mutilation (“FGM”) has many psychological, emotional, and physical effects.  The international community recognizes the practice FGM as a human rights violation.  There has been a global effort to eradicate the practice by both firmly categorizing FGM as a human rights violation and by making the practice illegal in countries where it is practiced.  Despite these efforts, and despite the increasing awareness of the risks linked to FGM, millions of young girls are still affected today.  This is because condemnation by the international community and even successful efforts within countries to make FGM illegal have done very little to change the social and cultural realities surrounding the practice.  Until that happens, FGM will continue to effect women across the globe.

Currently, countries such as Somalia, where the rate of FGM is 98 percent, are considering passing legislation that will make FGM illegal.  Making the practice illegal is an important step, however, simply changing the law will not, on its own, eradicate FGM.  In Egypt, for example, although the practice has been illegal since 2008, the rate of FGM for married women is still at 92 percent.  Furthermore, despite the fact that a doctor was recently convicted of manslaughter for performing FGM (his patient died), many doctors are still willing to perform the procedure.  Even countries where FGM has not historically been woven into the fabric of society are struggling with eliminating the practice.  For instance, in the United States, where FGM has been illegal since 1996, “the number of women at risk for female genital mutilation has practically doubled in the last decade.”

The continued pervasiveness of FGM, even in countries where it is explicitly illegal, is due to the fact that it is deeply woven into the fabric of society in many cultures around the world.  Whether or not a girl goes through FGM is directly linked to her marriage prospects and to her acceptance into society.  So for a family to forge the procedure or for a girl to refuse the procedure can have lasting and devastating effects. One girl in Sierra Leone was pulled out of school for two years for bringing shame on her family for refusing.

Legal action and international condemnation usually ignore these important cultural issues.  The “knee-jerk” reaction in Western cultures is to completely demonize FGM and ignore sincerely held cultural beliefs.  However, it turns out that one culture judging and attacking another does absolutely nothing to change the minds and practices of the judged culture.  FGM is no exception.

The reality of the situation is that education and uniting the community are the keys to eradicating FGM.  This approach must take into account the traditions and ancient cultural roots of FGM so as to not alienate communities.  This is because the entire community needs to come together for this goal to be achieved.  Especially since it is the adults who are ensuring and, in some cases, forcing children to go through the process.  Without collective and coordinated action in the community, social pressures will continue to allow FGM to flourish.

Simply making something illegal without also changing cultural attitudes underling a practice will do little to eradicate the practice.  Neither will condemning the practice outright and without any attempt to understand the underlying reasoning for the practice to continue.  The increased international attention to the harms caused by FGM, and the attempts by some countries to eradicate the practice through passing legislation, are important.  However, for the sake of the millions of girls still at risk of the procedure, more needs to be done.  It is only by addressing the cultural issues realistically and sensitively that FGM can be reduced and hopefully eradicated globally.

Allison Derschang is a 3L at the University of Denver Sturm College Law and a Staff Editor on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy

Posted in Allison Derschang, DJILP Online, DJILP Staff, Featured ArticlesComments (0)

ICC: Consider yourself on notice.

Kudos to Senegal for ending female circumcision. Now, ICC, prosecute the remaining offenders…

Kudos to Senegal for ending the horrific practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) as reported by the New York Times last weekend.  Leadership on this issue needs to come from Africa and so it is very encouraging to see Senegal act so decisively.

ICC: Consider yourself on notice.

ICC: Consider yourself on notice.

However, in places like Sudan and Somalia 90% of the girls are still subjected to it.  The international community should not sit idly by waiting for deep-seated cultural traditions to change at the expense of hundreds of thousands of girls.  So here is my message to you, International Criminal Court (ICC): prosecute FGM as a crime against humanity.  It is plain and simple torture (I refuse to euphamize it by calling it a “practice”) committed against underaged girls.  To qualify as a crime against humanity, it must be part of a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population.  You are covered, ICC.  FGM is prevalent in 27 countries and the World Health Organization estimates that 100-140 million women live with its after-effects.   It is perpetrated against the vast majority of girls in Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and substantial numbers in parts of Egypt and Kenya.  If you are Sudanese girl of twelve, it is a virtual certainty that one day soon you will held down and against your will and without anesthesia your clitoris will be cut out with a razor  and your legs tied together for days.  And that girl would consider herself lucky she wasn’t subjected to the more severe form of FGM.

Lucky for you ICC, you have several options at your disposal.  FGM would qualify as torture (article 7(1)(f)), sexual violence (article 7(1)(g)), persecution based on gender (article 7(1)(h)) and other inhumane acts (article 7(1)(k)).  So buck-up, muster some righteous indignation and prosecute away.  Rest assured that it is no defense at the ICC that a criminal act is also a cultural traditional.  Slavery was once a global norm but we nonetheless criminalized it.   ICC, you should not be deterred by the fact that FGM is often committed by a girl’s own family members or community.  It was also seen as normal at one time for parents to sell a child into slavery to settle a debt.  (Heck, some parents still try to do this.)  We did not carve out an exception in the prohibition of slavery for a parental prerogative.

Finally ICC, don’t be dissuaded from prosecuting FGM by the argument that prosecuting it is a form of neocolonialism.  If ending the torture of little girls is a new form of colonialism, I welcome it.  In fact, hand me a pith helmet and I’ll wear it with pride.

Posted in David Akerson, DJILP Online, Featured ArticlesComments (1)

University of Denver Sturm College of Law