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Female Genital Mutilation: Does the West Have the Right to Intervene? Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by adele, Canada May 24, 2002
Human Rights , Culture   Opinions
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"Advanced or developed cultures should have the right to impose
their laws on cultures that are less advanced or developed.."

The gap between first and third world countries has become increasingly more obvious in today's world. While the economically advanced countries continue to change and develop, many of the under-developed countries remain true to their ancient cultures, and rooted in their century-old traditions. World-wide there is obvious support for the preservation of these practices, with the claim that there is no need to change what has already existed for years. However, a large problem is formed when these traditions extend beyond their boundaries, and begin to severely infringe on the rights of human beings. It is the responsibility of a G7 country, a member of the United Nations, to take a stand against all forms of human rights abuse, and if necessary, step in to prevent any obvious harm to individuals or any group or people.

The practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) is a violation of universally accepted human rights, and it is estimated that over 95% of women have endured the procedure in countries such as Egypt, Somalia and Djibouti. FGM involves excision, the removal of part or all of the female genitalia; and is performed on young females with the purpose of protecting their virginity until marriage. Infibulation, often used in addition to excision, is the process where the vulva are crudely stitched together, causing extensive pain to a women each time she urinates or menstruates. Lifelong health problems, along with increased infection rates and risks of contracting AIDS, coincide with the highest death rates for both the mother and baby in regions where FGM is practiced. This is without reference to the many psychological effects that accompany this breech of freedom. There can be no justification for making a life more painful or reducing any life expectancy.

Although for the women of these cultures, female genital mutilation is an important ritual, it is hard to imagine any girl would chose a life of suffering for herself is she originally knew the consequences.
Alex, a teen from Cameroon argues against female genital mutilation:
Man makes customs, and man can still change these customs. For [the tribe leaders FGM] is good, but at an older age, these young girls cry about the stupid act that was committed on them without their opinion. What ever people think about female genital mutilation, I strongly condemn it. Such laws are accepted according to customs, but for me, they are completely wrong. I wish it stops one day in some of these local villages around Cameroon, and other countries in the world."
Since 1979, the World Health Organization has recognized FGM as a problem, and is now distributing The Childbirth Picture Book (CBPB) to areas where FGM is practiced to help educate people of FGM's many negative effects. It has been so successful that results in Sierra Leone have shown that with the distribution of enough books in a certain area, the majority of people (especially local leaders) stop having their daughters circumcised. This is perhaps the most important evidence that intervention can create positive change. If we in developed countries direct our feelings against FGM towards the production and distribution of such educational tools, we can create a change that these cultures will support; as opposed to creating governmental laws which will instigate rebellion if not supported by the people. This educational method might prevent us from seeing any more horrid events such as the incident in which a man tried to perform FGM on his daughter with a pen knife, causing her to bleed to death . In a world where an estimated 114 million people have undergone FGM, we can not place a numerical value on the number of lives lost or ruined, all we can say for sure is that with each step towards ending the practice of female circumcision, more and more lives will be preserved.

In 1999, an African woman living in France was sentenced to eight years in prison for performing female genital mutilation on 48 girls, and in UK a family GP was removed from the medical register for medicalizing the practice. In 1994 in Ghana, FGM was added as a criminal offence to the Criminal Code, and in April, 2001, Nigeria outlawed the long-existing practice. These countries set an example, but we can go further. It is not enough to just outlaw FGM in some countries, and in doing so only restrict the areas in which this harmful ritual can be practiced; we must take the issue to the grass roots level and prevent it from happening in the first place. The abuse of a child without their consent is immoral and wrong regardless of the circumstances, and if this practice is condemned in some parts of the world because of the numerous hazards, there is no reason for it should be accepted in any country.

In the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights, Articles 3 and 5 state respectively that "Everyone has a right to life, liberty, and security of person. No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment." The act of female genital mutilation clearly goes against the Human Rights code, and gradually must be demolished. Today there is solid evidence of its negative effects, support from within third-world countries for the elimination of FGM, and many countries changing both their laws and views to counter this harmful practice. We have only begun a global effort, but we can pursue it much further, for there is no downside if all forms of FGM cease. While the theory of cultural relativism is a great one, we can not look to this as an excuse for not actively involving ourselves in the eradication of the problems often found in third world countries. It is as basic a human right as any to be free from harm. There is no excuse for damaging the mind or body, regardless of reason, law, religion or custom.

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emily churchill | Jul 12th, 2002
thanks for this article, i'd never heard of FGM before i read it & i was shocked at how widely it has been practiced. i find it sexist that measures are taken to stop females having sex and not males, but i think that the issue of one culture imposing its values on another is a difficult one. in this case i agree that education is the key, and i do think that outside countries have a right to do this as human beings are having FGM imposed on them without a real choice (it sounds like females involved in FGM are often too young to make an informed choice about it).

Outlawing is not enough...
Brique Zeiner | Dec 13th, 2002
FGM is outlawed in Kenya for example. That changes nothing -except that it is done behind even heavier curtains than before. When a head mistress at a primary school tells me that she believes in the necessity of FGM and only has a problem with the HIV/AIDS that can be contracted through it - well, I was speechless (and that says a lot...). She told me that she was speaking from experience. An educated, strong woman who believes that FGM is necessary in order to keep a girl in place! How can a change take place when the people with the position to change things are against change?! The president of Kenya outlawed FGM - although it is practiced in his own tribe - but still hospitals are performing it for the wealthy people's daughters. FGM is a sin to womanhood - a sin to humanity - and it most certainly is all of our "business" no matter where we live. Whoever knows and does nothing is at fault too.

no western inteference is good!!
merle | Mar 3rd, 2003
I live in South Africa and according to me and what I know, where ever the west interfere bad things are bound to happen. I feel that although fgm is not right according to western ways and according to human rights it's still what these women see as something that must be done and in judging these people's way of life and interfering in their bussiness is also wrong. The west is so keen on capitalism and individualism, yet when something they do not agree with happens they forget about that and want to interfere. Quite frankly i'm fed up with the west interferring in everything in the world. it is any ways their fault that Africa can't stand on her own two feet. Cultural relativism is an lazy approach yes but still in their writing they leave you to decide how to feel about whatever.

A change from within
Charis Demetriou | Apr 25th, 2003
I have done extensive research about FGM, and believe that although it is necessary for organizations such as The UN Population Fund and WHO to get involved, it would be much smoother, if the West helps to promote the banning of of FGM from within the communities practising it. People should see it as a maturing modification of their culture that will benefit them, and not as an interference... but of course it will not be easy!

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