Female Genital Mutilation
FGM is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. It is nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children. The practice also violates a person's rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death.
FGM is a practice heavily debated about within international relations due to the ethical concerns it raises and ultimately infringes. Cultural relativist positions would argue that is necessary to understand the behaving of different groups due to cultural backgrounds, yet the stance that we should simply accept differences is highly critiques where FGM is concerned. In my critique, the practice is one worthy of severe condemnation, yet through little fault of the people continuing it but rather the myths and general history surrounding it. Hence, ultimately it is these myths and historical factors that need to be eradicated in order to promote the safety of women across the globe, particularly in less-developed countries. Thus this essay has agreed with and supported the argument put forward by Nussbaum that it is legitimate for states like the US and UK to intervene to bring the practice of FGM to an end yet this is relative to the situation. My core argument however remains that if women are being forced to undergo genital mutilation, then it is acceptable for states to intervene through the measures discussed previously. However, if the procedure if consented to and women are voluntarily wishing to go through with it out of their own freewill, then states are not legitimate in intervening. Intervention thus is dependent on the factor of choice towards FGM, yet women and men alike should be educated about the medical and psychological consequences of it. Additionally, such education should enlighten communities about the falsities of the myths they cling on to and how they are in actual fact untrue. The ‘Capabilities Approach’ is fundamental to this process of education as it informs the public of how FGM can harm and worsen the capabilities of women. Education however will not work alone and must be accompanied by a series of other policy measures, namely legislation, regulatory policies and reproductive services. It is therefore legitimate for states like the UK to intervene to halt practices like FGM, according to the circumstances outlined in this essay and through the policy recommendations suggested.
However, the community involvement and legislation, which was enacted in 1999, have not completely eliminated the practice within the Senegalese borders. In 2005, six years after the law was enacted, the World Health Organization reported that the prevalence rate of female genital cutting, for women between the ages of 15-49, was estimated at 28.2% (Joyce Mulama, 2004). While this rate is better than many other nations, it shows that more than one fourth of Senegalese women surveyed have undergone female genital cutting, pointing to the fact that there are communities where the procedure is still practiced (Sally Engle Merry). Senegal presents an interesting case study because of the relatively low prevalence of female genital cutting, presence of legislation banning the procedure, and the community involvement in the discussion of the procedure. Unlike Kenya, it seems that there is a foreseeable end to female genital cutting in Senegal.
Altogether, FGM also impacts on the right to dignity and directly conflicts with the right to physical integrity, as it involves the mutilation of healthy body parts. The Committee on the Convention on the Rights of the Child has said that States party to the Convention have an obligation “to protect adolescents from all harmful traditional practices, such as early marriages, honour killings and female genital mutilation” (2003).
Joyce Mulama, A Disturbing Trend in Female Genital Mutilation, IPS News, June 9, 2004, available
Sally Engle Merry, Human Rights Law and the Demonization of Culture (And Anthropology Along the Way), 26 Polar: Political and Legal Anthropology Review 55, 66